It’s been pretty cool over the years how many rodeo people have named their kids Jake or Clay after Clay (Cooper) and I. I was named after my Great Uncle Jake McClure, who was the 1930 world champion calf roper. I’m pretty proud of that, and like hearing old stories about the cowboy and rancher he was. They say he was known for using a really small loop and putting a lot of speed on it. The Lea County Fair & Rodeo in his hometown of Lovington, New Mexico, is held in the Jake McClure Arena in his honor. If only that old arena and ranch country could talk.
Jake McClure was my Grandmother Jane’s brother. Grandma Jane was my dad’s (Raymond) mom, so her brother Jake was my dad’s uncle. They say Jake McClure was a really classy guy who dressed sharp, and roped in a necktie. I’ve read that he roped calves, steer roped and team roped, and had a really unique style with that little loop that was so successful that it impacted the styles of a lot of other ropers.
Jake McClure was 12 flat to set the world calf roping record—back when conditions were so different, scores were much longer and calves were way bigger than they are today—at the rodeo in London, England in 1934. My Great Uncle Jake was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame as a calf roper, but he won calf roping, steer roping, team roping and all-around titles at a lot of the big rodeos, like Pendleton, Cheyenne, Houston, Deadwood, San Antonio and Prescott.
I’ve always been fascinated with what rodeo was like back then, and they say cowboys in Uncle Jake’s era made bank. Those guys were ranchers, and rodeo was their sport. When the rodeo came to town, it was a big deal. And the guys who won a lot, like Uncle Jake did, bought big ranches with their rodeo winnings. They say Jake and that little loop of his put together 16 sections of land.
Old-time cowboys like Uncle Jake were true cowboys—cowmen—and they learned to rope working on those ranches. Between rodeos, cowboys would stay at the ranches of fellow competitors, and they gathered, branded and worked hard to help each other out.
My grandparents ranched just north of Lovington near Tatum, by a little town called Crossroads, that amounted to a restaurant, a gas station and a post office. I have fond childhood memories from that country, and got to experience a lot of cowboy life in that area. I grew up quite a ways from there in Bloomfield, New Mexico, but my sister (Roma) and I went there in the summertime and helped my grandparents and their neighbors brand and get the ranch work done.
I learned how to drive at 10 years old sitting in my grandpa’s lap on those old ranch roads in New Mexico, and figured out young that being on the back of a horse, and roping and dragging calves to the fire was the best place to be in a branding corral.
The weather in New Mexico dictated everything. Winters were harsh, and there wasn’t much rain, so there was a lot of draught. I remember helping my grandpa fix windmills. I was afraid of heights, so I dreaded having to climb up there to do that. But it had to be done. That was ranch life, and we got up early every day to gather eggs and milk cows.
It was special getting to rope in that Jake McClure Arena in Lovington over the years in my career. When I look back on it, it gives me goosebumps. New Mexico and Texas were calf roping hubs when I was a kid, and to think that my Great Uncle Jake was one of the guys who made New Mexico famous for being cowboy country is cool.
They say Will Rogers noticed Jake McClure’s trick and rodeo roping when he was a young man, that they became friends and Will followed Jake’s roping career. Sadly, my Great Uncle Jake died young after a roping wreck on the ranch in 1940, when he was only 37. They say his style changed the game for good. I sure wish I could have known him.