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HISTORICALLY SPEAKING Did you know? CASEY TIBBS RODEO STAR For a half-century, the life-sized form of cowboy star Casey Tibbs sat above the former Hall’s Clothing store, located downtown at Monterey and Sixth Streets. Straddling Warpaint, his beloved bucking bronco, Tibbs appeared poised for action. The scene was meant to memorialize both the famous cowboy and the Gymkhana, a glorious horseshow that put Gilroy on the rodeo map. The fiesta-like Western-style competition ran yearly from 1930 until dwindling attendance closed it in 1956. During its heyday, the Gilroy Roundup and Gymkhana was a major event on the California Rodeo Circuit, featuring ropers, riders and rodeo performers. The celebration was accompanied by a parade featuring up to 1,000 horsemen and a cavalcade of decorated floats and marching bands. Written By Elizabeth Barrett T he youngest of ten children, Casey Duane Tibbs was born on March 5, 1929 at his family’s ranch on Mission Ridge in Stanley County, South Dakota, located about 50 miles from Ft. Pierre. As a child, he attended a rural school at nearby Orton and by age 14 he began breaking horses and trailing bucking stock for several local ranchers. In one year he tamed sixty-three head. Soon, his love of competition and horsemanship led him to entering a local rodeo contest at Ft. Pierre. At the time, World War II was raging and many cowboy competitors were away, serving in the military. It seemed Casey’s time to shine had come: he won four first-place awards at his first rodeo. From there, he began entering local “brush rodeos,” earning both prize money and gaining much-needed experience. In 1944 at age 15, despite early struggles from horse- thrown injuries, his skills were being honed to enter state- wide rodeo contests. At the events, he observed the more experienced cowboys and studied their skills. Before long, he developed the expertise of “floating” a horse, using a method of timing and balance rather than force, to stay on the bucking bronco. From this period, Tibbs began his pursuit of rodeo celebrity in earnest. 58 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN By the following year he held a variety of jobs to stay financially afloat, working in a Wild West show in Wisconsin, breaking horses on a South Dakota cattle ranch, and through contacts, studying to become a professional cowboy, to include the business of promotional and event- staging skills that helped ensure his future successes. By age 19 Casey became the youngest rider in history to win the national saddle-bronc world championship. He earned the distinction from both the Rodeo Cowboys Association and the International Rodeo Association. Over the course of the next ten years, his honors included nine world titles in saddle bronc riding, bareback riding and all-around riding. He also won national bronc-riding championships and scores of other awards at state and local rodeo events. By 1951, when he was only 22 years old, he was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine. By then his flamboyant lifestyle encompassed not only his polished showmanship at rodeo events, but also a lust for purple satin shirts, embroidered chaps, hand-tailored suits, late night parties, driving fast cars (usually Lincolns or Cadillacs), and taking cross-country airplane flights to make it to multiple competitions where he regularly outshone other contestants. february/march 2019