Dale Smith was the first cowboy ever to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo in four events. It’s a rare feat that only two cowboys have ever pulled off, with the other being the King of the Cowboys himself, Trevor Brazile. Both men wore felt back numbers as headers, heelers, calf ropers and steer ropers, and will go down in history as rodeo royalty. Dale died in 2017. But he deserves to be remembered always, not only for his arena accomplishments, but for his lifelong dedication to making the cowboy sport better for the cowboys.
Dale was one of the greatest timed-event cowboys of all time, and always will be. He won back-to-back world team roping titles in 1956-57, and in 1958 missed a third-straight gold buckle by $13 behind Ted Ashworth. In 1959, Dale qualified for the first-ever National Finals in three events—team roping, calf roping and steer roping—and was the first cowboy ever to get that done.
Dale Smith’s rodeo heyday played out before I was born. But I’ve heard all my life about his impact and lifelong dedication to the sport he held so dear. The storyline, as told to me by cowboy elders the likes of Hall of Fame steer wrestlers and lifelong friends Jack Roddy and now late John W. Jones Sr., was that Dale’s service to the cowboy community was a sincere labor of love. Smith—who was inducted with the inaugural ProRodeo Hall of Fame Class of 1979—served as RCA team roping director before dedicating 16 years as the president of the Rodeo Cowboys Association and later Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
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“Smith successfully led the Association through some of its darkest hours,” Dale’s ProRodeo Hall of Fame plaque reads.
Some of this great rodeo history will be lost when their generation is gone. So I called Jack Roddy, who like Dale was a two-time champ of the world, and asked him about Dale Smith the cowboy and leader. Like Dale, Jack made his money ranching and wasn’t interested in being paid in cowboy money. His only agenda was making rodeo better for the cowboys.
“Dale Smith was the best cowboy I ever saw,” said Roddy, 83, who served as Smith’s vice president for 14 of those 16 years, in addition to representing rodeo’s big men as the steer wrestling director. “He team roped—both ends, roped calves and steer roped with the best of them. He had a ranch on the Mexican border in Arivaca, Arizona, and I’ve seen him rope Brahma bulls and wild, F1 cows out on the open desert. Dale was not only a great rodeo hand, but a great ranch cowboy, too.
“Dale also raised and trained some of the very best rodeo and race horses, including Poker Chip (Peake, also an original 1979 ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee, who was a superstar calf roping horse and an own son of Driftwood).”
According to Dale’s old friend Jack, “The Smiths were huge land owners in Arizona. Dale owned the Flying X Ranch in Arivaca, the Diamond Bar Ranch near Kingman and several others in Arizona. He made his wealth in the cattle and ranching business, so he led the RCA (predecessor to the PRCA) and PRCA for the love of the game. We didn’t need or want the other cowboys’ money.
“Dale was a terrific competitor, a good guy and a great leader. He was very business-wise, and the sport of rodeo was very near and dear to his heart. He lived it. The cowboys respected him, and everything Dale did was for the cowboys. I sat next to Dale all my life, and was proud to do it. Dale’s the guy who took the wild days of cowboys fighting barroom brawls to where it is today.”
No need to name rodeo or stock contractor names now, but back when Roddy was the steer wrestling director he had a no-nonsense policy in place to keep eliminators from staying in the draw.
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“I couldn’t be at all places at all times, but by God, if Roy Duvall called and said a steer was no good and took every guy who drew him out of it, I had him bob that steer’s tail,” Jack said. “Those bob-tailed steers were taken out of the draw. I pulled out my pocket knife at one rodeo where the stock contractor pulled in with 40 700-pound, greasy-fat Herefords and bobbed 40 tails.
“In those days, the cowboys ran the rodeo business. We did it because we loved the sport. We didn’t want to be paid to run the rodeo business. We made our money elsewhere. We just wanted to make rodeo better for the kids coming up behind us.”