Thirty years ago, a 25-year-old bull rider named Lane Frost rode a bull named Takin’ Care Of Business for prize money on a dark, cloudy and drizzly Sunday afternoon at the renowned Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo in Wyoming.
At the final performance of the sport’s equivalent to a Wimbledon stage, the 1987 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world champion bailed off of the bull after eight seconds of bone-jarring work and rolled onto the soggy soil. Takin’ Care Of Business then charged and plunged his ivory horn into Frost’s back. The sudden but hard blow caused internal injuries, ending Frost’s life within minutes, medical officials said.
Frost’s legacy lives, however, and the 30th anniversary of his death has been a topic of discussion this year. He was killed on July 30, 1989.
I witnessed the fatality while reporting on the ’89 Cheyenne rodeo for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I had the privilege of speaking to Frost briefly in the sports medicine trailer shortly before the matinee performance began.
I witnessed the accident from near the roping chutes while interviewing a cowboy (Chris Lybbert) from near Fort Worth who had just won the tie-down roping event. But I paused and watched Frost make a prize winning ride. He got up after being hit by the bull. He began walking back toward the bucking chutes and waved for help as he went down.
However, his accident didn’t really look that serious. I was not alarmed. It looked like he had gotten roughed up and just needed a little help.
But when I walked back around to the area behind the bucking chutes, Frost was on a stretcher and en route to the hospital. And someone said he didn’t have any brainwaves.
Later that evening, the media received official word that Frost was dead. The rodeo world mourned and I well remember the feeling of heaviness.
Frost was a charismatic cowboy who became an instant folk hero after his death. His biography is portrayed in the 1994 Hollywood movie “8 Seconds,” with the late Luke Perry playing the lead role. Today, a statue of Frost riding a bull graces the hallowed grounds of Cheyenne’s famous rodeo, which concluded its 123rd edition on July 28.
Today, Frost’s parents, Clyde and Elsie Frost, live in Lane, Oklahoma, and they have published a Bible that also features a picture of Frost and a testimony about his Christian faith. His mother says the story of Frost’s faith has influenced people to become Christians when his life testimony has been read from the Lane Frost Cowboy Bible.
Kellie Macy was Frost’s wife at the time of his death. She grew up in the Northwest Texas town of Quanah and she and Frost lived in Quanah during his glory days as a pro bull rider. Today, Macy is married to two-time National Finals Rodeo team roping competitor Mike Macy. They live near Post and faithfully have promoted Frost’s legacy.
Two anniversaries that acknowledge Frost’s remarkable career and legacy that are to be reflected upon this year are the 30th anniversary of his 1989 death and the 25th anniversary of the 1994 movie about his life.
A couple of other anniversaries to remember this year is 45 years ago (in 1974) Don Gay clinched his first bull riding title, and 35 years ago (in 1984), Gay snared a world record eighth bull riding world title on the PRCA circuit. When Gay snared a gold buckle No. 8, it broke Jim Shoulders’ record of seven that was set in 1959.
Gay, who lived in Mesquite during his heyday, was the consummate bull rider. He traveled relentlessly to rodeos and he conquered the tougher bovines of his day.
For example, 45 years ago, in 1974, Gay conquered a bull named Tiger during the opening night of the National Finals Rodeo, which was in Oklahoma City at the time. Gay turned in a lofty score 94 during the NFR Round One performance on his way to winning his first of eight world titles in 1974. The 94 still is an NFR record for the highest bull riding score in Round 1.
Some other notable anniversaries are:
1959: The inaugural National Finals Rodeo was conducted at Dallas’ Fair Park Coliseum 60 years ago. The total purse (prize money) at the Dallas NFR was $50,000. At the time, the NFR for team roping, barrel racing and steer roping was conducted in Clayton, N.M. The purse for team roping was $5,000, the purse for barrel racing was $5,000 and the purse for steer roping was $5,000. Today, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is conducted at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas and the purse for the 2019 edition was $10 million. The purse for the 2019 National Finals Steer Roping in Mulvane, Kan., was $425,000.
1959: Jim Shoulders, an Oklahoma cowboy, clinched a then record fifth world all-around title 60 years ago. Shoulders record was broken by Larry Mahan, who won a then record sixth world all-around title in 1973.
He also clinched a then record seventh world bull riding title 60 years ago. That record was broken by Don Gay who won an eighth bull riding gold buckle in 1984.
1969: Walt Arnold of Silverton clinched the PRCA’s steer roping world title 50 years ago. He was inducted in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2009, 10 years ago.
1974: Hollywood film producer Kieth Merrill released the movie, The Great American Cowboy, 45 years ago. The rodeo was primarily built around the 1972 world all-around title race between Larry Mahan and Phil Lyne (which Lyne won). The movie earned an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 1974.
1979: Tom Ferguson, who competed in steer wrestling and tie-down roping, won a record tying sixth world all-around title 40 years ago. He tied Larry Mahan’s record of six all-around titles that was set in 1973.
1984: Charmayne James, who lived in Clayton, N.M., at the time, earned her first of 11 barrel racing world titles on the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association circuit 35 years ago. James earned 10 consecutive WPRA titles from 1984 through 1993 aboard her American Quarter Horse whose nickname was Scamper (AQHA registered name Gils Bay Boy). In 2002, she clinched her 11th world title aboard another horse whose nickname was Cruiser.
1989: Ty Murray, who lived in Odessa at the time, earned his first of seven all-around titles 30 years ago. Murray, bucking stock rider, clinched the all-around title with $134,806 that he earned during the regular season and at the 1989 NFR in Las Vegas. Roper Clay O'Brien Cooper finished second with $117,489. Murray's uncle, Butch Myers of Athens who competed in tie-down roping and steer wrestling, finished third in the 1989 world all-around title race with $116,390.
Murray earned six consecutive world all-around titles from 1989 through 1994. He earned a then record seventh world all-around title in 1998, breaking Larry Mahan’s and Tom Ferguson’s record of six.
1994: The Professional Bull Riders conducted its first World Finals at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas 25 years ago. Brazilian Adriano Moraes clinched the 1994 PBR title. Today, the PBR is the world’s toughest and highest-paying circuit for bull riding. The world champion bull rider receives a $1 million bonus.
1999: When Fred Whitfield clinched the world all-around title 20 years ago, the star roper became the first African-American cowboy to win the coveted award.
2004: Guy Allen clinched a record 18th steer roping world title 15 years ago. Allen’s 18 world titles in steer roping is a record for most world titles in a single event. Trevor Brazile has a record 25 world titles, but they are multiple categories (14 all-around, seven steer roping, three-tie-down roping and one team roping heading).
2009: Roping superstar Trevor Brazile, who lives in Decatur, clinched a record tying seventh world all-around title 10 years ago. Brazile tied Ty Murray’s record of seven that was set in 1998. Brazile went on and broke Murray’s record the following year by winning world all-around title No. 8 in 2010. Brazile clinched a record 14th world all-around title last year and then entered into semiretirement.
2009: Ryan Gray, a former Texas Tech star who lived in Petersburg at the time, turned in PRCA bareback riding world record-tying score of 94 in 2009 aboard a bronc named Grass Dancer (owned by Pete Carr who owns a rodeo stock ranch near Athens) in Eagle, Colo. Today, Gray shares the bareback world record score with three other former Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifiers. Wes Stevenson, another former Texas Tech star, turned in a 94 in 2002 aboard Kesler Rodeo’s Cover Girl in Dallas. Will Lowe, a three-time world champion who is from Canyon, turned in a 94 in 2003 atop Kesler Rodeo’s Sky Ranch in Omaha, Neb. Tilden Hooper, who is from Carthage, turned in a 94 in 2010 on Classic Pro Rodeo’s Big Tex in Silver City, N.M.
2014: Richmond Champion, a Tarleton State student at the time, earned $1.1 million for clinching the bareback riding title at the inaugural RFD-TV’s The American at AT&T Stadium in Arlington five years ago. The 2014 American offered competitors $2 million, a record purse for a single performance rodeo. When Champion pocketed the $1.1 million, it was the maximum amount that a competitor could earn at The American.
It was a record paycheck for a rodeo competitor at a rodeo that featured standard rodeo events.
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