One of the great roping and rodeo patriarchs of our time was laid to rest this week in New Mexico. Jimmie Tom Cooper, who called Monument home, led a long line of timed-event cowboy and cowgirl greats in his 94 years here on earth. Perhaps the most fitting comment after his passing was, “The only thing he loved more than the cowboy way of life was his family.”
“Big Jim” was buried in nearby Hobbs beside his parents, Alaska James and Tommie Lou Cooper. He’s survived by his wife of 68 years, 85-year-old Betty Patricia Baum Cooper, who’s known to locals as Betty Baum and within the family as Betty Pat or “Bebe.” Big Jim was preceded in death by his fellow cowboy character big brother, Tuffy Cooper, who also had a bride named Betty—in her case, Betty Rose.
Jimmie Tom—the original Big Jim—actually handed that handle down to his son, 1981 World Champion All-Around Cowboy Jimmie B. Cooper. And yes, that B stands for Baum to honor Momma Betty’s side of the family.
“My dad was always ‘Big Jim’ and I was ‘Little Jim,’ or he was ‘Jimmie T’ and I was ‘Jimmie B,’” said ProRodeo Hall of Famer Jimmie. “Then Jake and Jim’s friends started calling me ‘Big Jim’ and him ‘Little Jim’—so as not to be confuse me with Jim Ross—and my dad became ‘Papa.’
“My dad was a character. He was 5’ 10”, weighed 185 pounds, and was not afraid of a Grizzly bear. He had a lot of confidence. My dad loved pulling practical jokes on people. He was very outgoing. He loved people. He loved telling a good joke, and he had a lot of friends. My dad served in the Army, and was in Japan the end of World War II. My dad always told me to work hard and tell the truth. Dad said the years he rodeoed were the greatest years of his life.”
Jimmie T. Cooper was a world-class calf roper and bulldogger. Back in his day, the wild cow milking was also a pretty big deal. In an era of cowboys staying all week in the same town for a single rodeo, he also worked as a pickup man for the likes of Tommy Steiner, and used that pickup-man money to pay his entry fees.
“Winning the calf roping at Calgary in 1949 was a real highlight for my dad,” son Jimmie B. said. “My dad told me that Shoat Webster was the first guy to get off the right (side of a calf horse), and he was the second. But Dad and Uncle Tuff had the ranch and a gas station at the north end of the ranch here in Monument, where they pumped gas, changed oil and fixed tires. In the summertime, they’d trade off going rodeoing for six weeks at a time, so one of them could always be home to take care of the ranch and the gas station. One year, Big Jim was winning the world in the calf roping, but had to go home to take his turn pumping gas.”
With this year’s Fourth of July rodeo run right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to tell one of storyteller extraordinaire Jimmie T’s favorite rodeo tales.
“The story goes that when Dad was rodeoing, him and a couple other guys flew from Red Lodge (Montana) to another rodeo,” Jimmie said. “The plane ran out of gas, so they stopped in a farm field and got a farmer to put some of the fuel from his tractor into the plane. Somehow, the landing gear was damaged in the process, and the tractor gas didn’t have enough octane to take back off. So the other two guys had to stay behind, and my dad went on with the pilot, because he’d done good in the first round at Red Lodge.
“Because the landing gear wasn’t functioning, the wing on one side tipped and hit the runway, and the wheel on that side gave out. The pilot had to lift off again, because of the landing gear, so my dad grabbed his rope can and baled. He and that rope can rolled and rolled. The airplane went ahead and flipped over and crashed, but Dad got to the arena and roped calves and bulldogged. When I first started rodeoing, the announcer at Red Lodge introduced himself to me and told me that story—just the way I’d always heard it.”
When I think of all the life Papa Jimmie packed into his 94 years, and the love and pride he felt for his family, I know he headed to Heaven one content cowboy.
Think about this…
He got to raise two kids—Jimmie and his sister, Adana—with the love of his life, and spend 68 precious years with her by his side.
He got to see his son crowned the all-around champ of the world, then inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and others.
He got to see his nephew Roy Cooper revolutionize calf roping.
He got to watch his other nephew—Clay Tom Cooper, who shared Jimmie Tom’s middle name—rope calves at the NFR.
He got to see his cowgirl pioneer badass niece Betty Gayle Cooper Ratliff pave the way for today’s cowgirl heatwave before cancer took her way too soon.
He got to see Betty Gayle and Rip’s son, Cooper, grow into a handsome young cowboy who does his momma and all Coopers so very proud.
He got to see all three of his great nephews—Clint, Clif and Tuf Cooper—rope their own rodeo and NFR headlines.
He got to watch his grandsons—twin team ropers Jake and Jim Ross Cooper—rope at the NFR; that first time on the same team, no less.
He got to see his granddaughter, Jill Cooper Tanner, bring the house down with the 2021 breakaway roping win at The American, and take her daughter and his great granddaughter Georgia center stage with her. (Don’t think Betty Gayle wasn’t beaming from high above about that $100,000 breakaway roping check being cashed by a Cooper.)
He got to see his grandson-in-law, Jimmy Tanner, win back-to-back NFR team roping average titles with Brad Culpepper in 1998-99.
He got to be Papa to grands Jake, Jim Ross, Jill, Will and Kate, and great grands Jimmie Cade, Callahan, Georgia, Emery and Dani.
“He loved them all so much,” Jimmie said.
Of course he did. And one can only imagine the Heavenly big time had by all when Tuffy and Betty Gayle were there to welcome Jimmie Tom home.