The rodeo family is mourning the sudden loss of 1990 National Finals Rodeo cowboy Casey Cordell on July 24. Harold “Casey” Loyd Cordell Jr.—who was the only son of his late dad, Harold Cordell, and mom, Ginny—was out working on his ranch when he died of an apparent heart attack. He was 52.
“Casey was out in a field flood irrigating and checking water with his girlfriend (Holly Van Cleve) at about 7 Friday evening,” said Joey Almand, who’s one of Casey’s best friends and a longtime business partner. “They wormed some horses and fed, then Casey said, ‘Let’s go check water,’ so they jumped on his Polaris Ranger. Holly took a phone call, and all of a sudden Casey was slumped over the steering wheel. He was gone.”
According to Almand, who’s the rodeo coach at Southwest Texas Junior College in Uvalde, Casey dealt with some heart issues three years ago.
“That happened in 2017, and when he got out of the hospital Casey had to wear a vest that monitored his heart 24 hours a day for six months,” Almand remembers. “Since then, he’s gone to the heart doctor every six months to get checked out. Three months ago, he got a clean bill of health, and they said everything looked good.”
Casey was born on December 15, 1967, in Silver City, New Mexico. He qualified for the New Mexico High School Rodeo Finals all four years before graduating from Cliff High School in 1984. Casey then attended Cochise College in Douglas, Arizona, on a full-ride rodeo scholarship. He competed at the College National Finals Rodeo three times before the highlight of his professional rodeo career, which was heeling at the 1990 NFR.
At that time, only the Top 15 individual team ropers qualified for the Finals. They then “invited” a partner. Casey qualified, and after weighing a number of factors invited Tom Self to head for him. Casey loved to rope, but he did not care for all the travel. Late in 1990, he moved to Del Rio, Texas, and that’s where he dove into his true calling as a kingpin rodeo-steer trader. Casey loved Mexico, and became fluent in Spanish.
“I’m not from South Texas—I was born and raised in Waxahatchie, Texas,” Almand said. “I’m from a family of bulldoggers. When I moved to South Texas in 1995, (ProRodeo Hall of Fame steer wrestler) Roy Duvall called and asked me about getting some bulldogging steers. That’s when I met Casey and his family. I went to Del Rio, where they cross cattle, to find some steers. I asked around about who I needed to talk to about finding rodeo steers, and they all told me, ‘Casey Cordell.’
“I went and met with Casey, and we became unbelievable friends. When I started buying those steers, we became partners for a long time. I sold the bulldogging steers, and Casey sold the roping steers. It didn’t take long before Casey became one of my best friends. Losing Casey so suddenly like this is a big shock. We talked on the phone all the time, and he was just here at my house a week ago, when he was coming back through from San Antonio. I live about 70 miles from Del Rio now.”
Bret Boatright roped with Casey part of that 1990 regular rodeo season, and helped get him to the Finals.
“I roped with Casey that summer and up in the Northwest that fall,” Boater said. “Casey and I got along really good, and I’ve enjoyed visiting with him ever since. I’d just roped with Steve Northcott at the Finals in 1989 (they won the average), and Casey was really tight with Steve. We kind of laughed about how Casey was almost like Steve’s bodyguard. Anyway, I started 1990 with Steve, then when he started roping with Charles (Pogue), I roped with Casey.
“Casey was really easy to get along with, and his mom was always the nicest lady. Casey liked to rope, but staying gone rodeoing really wasn’t his deal. He was an entrepreneur, and buying, selling, trading and swapping horses and cattle was what he loved to do. I didn’t get to see Casey much anymore, but I always enjoyed it when I did. He was darn sure a cowboy, and not just an arena roper, but a real cowboy.”
There once was a roadside incident that was so scary and hairy it took even tough-guy Casey’s breath away.
“I had a horse named Dragon that I won a bunch on, and he was snakey, watchy and hard to catch,” Boatright said. “He always ran out of the trailer as fast as a horse could back out of one. Casey and I were up on I-80 in Wyoming or South Dakota, and I felt some floundering around in the trailer. I pulled over on the interstate, and Casey’s horse was down and under the divider. I was trying to get the wreck straightened out so he could get up, and I yelled at Casey to catch Dragon when he came flying out the back of the trailer.
“Casey couldn’t get him grabbed, so there was my good head horse running up and down the interstate. I think back on how lucky I got that Dragon never crossed traffic or got hit. We laughed about it later on, but at the time neither of us was laughing. We were too busy panicking.”
Northcott, who was the 1996 world champion heeler, has all kinds of fond Casey Cordell memories.
“We started off rodeoing together,” Northcott remembers. “My rookie year in 1989, I roped with Denton Payne and Casey roped with Rube Woolsey. The four of us buddied January through Reno in June, and we had a lot of fun together. Casey was a really nice, friendly, likable guy. But if you made him mad, he’d whip your ass. He lost his two front teeth defending me at Pueblo one year (a certain Cajun bulldogger got dubbed The Tooth Fairy when he returned those teeth to Casey at slack the next morning).
“Casey truly loved animals, and was always so kind to them. We hauled a goat around with us that rookie year. We hauled him in the back of the truck, and staked him out and roped him during our downtime at the rodeos. We were just a bunch of young, snot-nosed kids roping and having fun. Clay Cooper nicknamed us The Brat Pack. We spent that spring with Jake (Barnes) and Clay at the Gillums’ place out by Oakdale (California). I think it was Clay who named that goat Will He Ever Hop. We were all just out there having fun and trying to learn the business.
“Casey didn’t rodeo for very long, because he liked to be home. He roped really, really good when we were young guys. Once he checked making the Finals off his list, he didn’t care about staying out on the road. He thought we were all crazy for doing that. They bought that place in Del Rio, because crossing cattle was Casey’s passion. He was a competitor, that was the game he loved and he was really good at it.”
There was no limit on the number of rodeos cowboys could count in those early days of their careers. Casey’s dad, Harold, being the nice guy that he was, was always helping cowboys.
“Mr. Cordell was one of the first people to put on big ropings in New Mexico where they gave pickups as prizes in the 1980s,” Almand said. “Harold was as good a man as ever walked.”
It’s unanimous that Casey’s parents always had hearts of gold. And they raised a kid who could really rope.
“I remember The Brat Pack, and how talented Casey was as a young kid coming up,” Barnes said. “Also being from New Mexico, I got to know his mom and dad, and they were really sweet people. And they adored Casey. He was a big, strong, handy kid, and he made his parents so proud.”
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“I liked Casey a lot,” Clay O added. “When he first started rodeoing, Jake and I buddied some with those guys, and Harold drove some horses around for all of us. Casey was a good guy, and he came by that naturally. He was a ranch kid—a big, talented, good old boy—and he could really rope. Those were the young guys we were mentoring and buddying with a little bit at that time. Rube lived at my house, and Denton was from Arizona, too. So we ran with them and whoever they roped with, including Casey.
“I think of Casey as scrappy and savvy to the ways of the world. I always thought he could have made the Finals a lot of times if he’d cared about it. He had that kind of talent. Instead, he migrated down to the Mexican border, and went to trading, which was following in his dad’s footsteps. Casey was a carbon copy of his dad. Casey could have made a career with a rope, but he picked a different path. And he was good at it. Casey lived the way he wanted to, whipping and spurring through life. I hate to see him go.”
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Casey produced team ropings, and provided cattle to countless rodeos and ropings, including the George Strait Team Roping Classic. He farmed hay for those cattle, and lived it up every chance he had when he wasn’t working.
Casey is survived by his dear mom, Ginny; his daughter, Dakota; stepkids, Braelyn and Baker Moltz; and his love, Holly. A celebration of life for Casey is set for 10 a.m. on Saturday, August 1 at Ginny’s home, at 400 Farley Lane in Del Rio. In lieu of flowers, Casey’s family asks that contributions in his honor be made to the Casey Cordell Memorial Scholarship Fund at Hondo National Bank, P.O. Box 708, Uvalde, Texas 78801, 830-278-8765.
“Casey was a great person, and he was so much fun,” Almand said. “Casey lived life to the very fullest, and he liked to have a good time. If Casey thought a lot of you, he’d do anything for you. If you were on that other side of the fence, he might whip you.
“Casey Cordell was a great cowboy who became a world champion rodeo steer trader, because that’s what he really loved. Casey traded those steers like Jake and Clay won gold buckles.”