Yakima Canutt

by Jean Wayt


On Thursday July 4th, 1985, the Belle Foursch South Dakota newspaper headline read, "Over 200 People Greet Hero Of 1920 Roundup. Their hero was the famous Yakima Canutt, four times bronc riding champion, actor, director, and rider of the legendary bucking horse "Tipperary".

That evening at Herrman Park, people gathered to welcome back a Roundup legend after 64 years. Yakima cracked a big smile which lit up his face many times through the evening as he was honored by the town's people. He was swamped by autographer seekers and many gifts.

His smile was the same one seen in old clips from his silent movie era, or in shots of him directing stunts. Even his 90 year old frame shows the lean tough bronc riding body he once possessed.

Yakima was four time world bronc riding champion - 1917,1919,1920 and 1923. He then starred in silent western movies, was a stunt man including such famous stunts as a 90 foot jump into the Bighorn river in the movie "Devil Horse" and sliding under a moving stagecoach, standing in for John Wayne in the movie "Stagecoach". He went on to become a respected stunt director and later received an Oscar for his many years of work.

He was honored this evening for riding the great and famous bucking horse Tipperary 65 years ago and again the next year. He was given a bronze statue made by artist Tony Chytka. He made 100 of these with the wax prototype being signed by Yakima Canutt and gave the first finished one to Yakima and sold the rest of them for $2,000 each. Yakima’s cousin John Crawford then gave a short history of Yakima and what he rembered about the ride in 1920. Yakima started riding at the age of 16 and he won the first bronc riding contest he was in. He had earned one of his World’s Championships when he received a letter from the Secretary of the Tri–State Roundup. The letter was an invitation to come and try to ride their famous bucking horse, Tipperary. However, to Yakima the letter sounded more like a dare. Included in the contract were the rules for riding the horse, which were normal except that Yakima had to ride Tipperary to a standstill! He would receive $500.00 if he qualified and nothing if the horse won and he could make all the side bets he wanted. Yakima accepted the dare.

Now I must stray a little from my story to pay tribute to a great cowboy, Leonard Stroud, who was there. My Dad, Doc Simon, always told me that he thought Leonard was the truly best all-around cowboy he ever knew. There could have been others but Dad didn’t know them. Leonard entered every riding event, broncs, barebacks and bulls and all the roping events, calve roping, steer wrestling, team roping and steer roping. He would trick rope and trick ride and race in chariot races. He invented the "Stroud Layout", something very few other trick riders were able to accomplish.

To continue, Leonard and Yakima were long time friends and Yakima asked him about the horse and all Leonard said was, "Watch out for the third jump!" Charlie Wilson told Yakima before the race that he would never ride Tipperary. But Yakima did. He leaped off the horse, rein in hand, and led him over to Charlie. Charlie said to Yakima, "You rode him, but you’ll never do it again". Yakima came back the next year and rode him again. Yakima then showed the crowd the gold medallion which the Roundup gave him commemorating his two successful rides.

Emcee Bob Hunter then asked how many people here witnessed the first ride last year and at least 30 people raised their hands. Later on in the evening Yakima was asked if he had any heroes since it seemed that a lot of people here treated him like a hero. He responded, "Everyone who came up to me tonight and said hello or welcome back is my
hero".