According to seven-time World Champion Header Jake Barnes—who, as a kid, got to witness the wolves at work at a little roping down near El Paso—nobody was doing it like H.P. Evetts was. And it was game changing.
“The area that I was in,” Barnes explained, “that was unheard of. Nobody had ever seen anything like that before.”
Barnes went home that day and started practicing and perfecting his reach.
For Monty Holcomb Paul “H.P.” Evetts, his introduction to reaching wasn’t entirely different.
“There was some people like old Jack Gomez, and he used to throw a long ways, so I thought that was cool,” Evetts said.
Evetts also recognized room for improvement in Gomez’s technique.
“He couldn’t tell, though … at the ropings, there are places where you don’t need to reach to rope fast. So, I just tried to get to where I could catch, but also to where I could reach farther.”
Evetts, now on the eve of his 68th birthday, grew up roping with his dad, Hoke, in California’s Central Valley.
“I started roping when I was 6. My dad would enter me. He was an auctioneer, and he traveled a lot selling cattle and then, when he’d come home, we’d go roping. That was a big deal.
“I always wanted to rope. I think I roped at Oakdale when I was 8. But I’d rope the dogs, cats, anything when I was a little kid. When I was little, they didn’t have all them roping dummies and stuff like that. But I always wanted to rope.”
Evetts’ other early roping buddies were the Camarillo brothers.
“When I was a little kid, my dad knew Jerold and Leo Camarillo, and they’d always say, ‘When you gonna rope with me, boy?’ So, it was just like, I was going to do that. My dad, he bought me their pony. Jerold’s a few years older, but that’s a lot when you’re little. I guess you could say I always wanted to rope with them guys. That was my goal: To rope with them.”
The Camarillos, including cousin Reg, were NFR frequent fliers from 1968 to 1984—the first year that recognized both headers and heelers as World Champs—and until 1986. Evetts made the top 15 for nine years between 1970 and 1981, and in seven of those years, all four of the wolves earned a spot amongst the best ropers in the world. During their reign, the entire pack earned a gold buckle at least once, including Evetts in 1974, at the age of 23.
Looking back on it all, Leo remembers when Evetts, after a particularly good week of partnering with both him and Jerold in the early summer of 1974, was finally given the attention Evetts—and team roping—deserved.
“At that time, they had a Justin Salutes Cowboys in the ProRodeo Sports News,” Leo said. “When the paper came out, [they would feature] whoever it was that had a fantastic weekend and whatever, and Evetts made that Justin Salutes back in the day because he did that fantastic of a job. I don’t remember how much money he made but it was quite a bit for that time, and it was quite a feat he had done.”
The ad, which ran in the June 15, 1974 publication, ran a profile picture of Evetts with a bushy mustache and donning a felt hat with a tall and unshaped crown atop his wavy, ear-covering hair. It reads:
This veteran Californian roper—son of life member Hoke Evetts—salted away three first-place victories in the span of a week-and-a-half to move into the world leadership in the team looping with a year’s total of $7,511. H.P., who also enters the bull riding on occasion, nabbed first at Las Vegas, Nev., Inglewood and Santa Maria, Calif., for a total take of $3,632. He usually teams with former world champion Jerold Camarillo.
For those reading along and romanticizing the old days, it’s best to remember that these moments were hard won.
“It was a hard fight,” Evetts remembered. “People would say, ‘Why’d you do that? Why would you do that?’ And I missed a few cattle learning how to do it. At the end it all come out, but when I first started, it was a tough deal.”
According to Evetts’ wife, Stephanie, Evetts was branded an outlaw. The way he dressed, talked, threw his loop—he just wasn’t like the rest of them. Leo remembers it, too.
“He roped and that’s what he did and that’s what he liked, but he had a different pace when he was doing it. He didn’t have much to say. He just wanted to rope in his style. I don’t know where that came from, but he wanted to win first. He was all about being faster. He was all about being his own person. That guy, in my book, is No. 1.
“He’s the one that started what they do today and, of course, many of them got it from him,” Leo continued. “And when you throw a three-pointer and it goes in, you’re a hero. You’re amazing. But when you miss, a lot of them will say, ‘Why’d you take that stupid shot?’ It’s not a high-percentage shot but, I tell you what, it’s going to happen. And when it happens, it’s going to be for first place.”
Ironically, on that day that Barnes first witnessed Evetts at work and decided he’d do his best to rope like the champion, there was one run in particular that made its mark on the young Barnes. In the run, Evetts threw his loop, caught both horns, and was left with nothing in his hands. He’d thrown his whole rope away.
In a move that often caused doubt and criticism among the naysayers, a World-Champion-to-be saw the future.
“He’s a legend, really,” Barnes concluded.
Following his jam-up decade-plus of NFR runs, Evetts became a stuntman and actor in films like “Here Comes a Horseman” and “Dances With Wolves” and now helps his sister, barrel racer Charlene Jespersen (who competed at the NFR the same year her brother won his gold buckle), run Alma’s Flea Market in Hanford, California—a business his mother, Alma, started and ran.
“My mother never started riding until she was 40, but then she never stopped until she was 82,” Evetts added.
He continues to rope on the regular at World Series events, enters Salinas each year, and enjoys roping with his kids, too.
When asked what it is he loves so much about roping, Evetts offers a casual quip.
“I love to hear my name.”