Bronc riders and bullriders the world over owe a debt of thanks to a quiet, unassuming Canadian cowboy born more than a century ago known today as the father of modern rodeo.
The late Earl W. Bascom (1906-95) single-handedly designed and built several key rodeo components that improved the sport.
Rodeo’s first side-delivery bucking chute, first hornless bronc saddle, first one-handed bareback rigging and first rodeo chaps are all Bascom inventions.
“He was at the right place at the right time with the right abilities and inventiveness,” said his youngest son John Bascom who lives in Utah.
“He brought in more safety to the rodeo and better riding. Showmanship was better and it changed rodeo completely.”
John was recently in Calgary to accept honours for his father, who is recognized as the first rodeo champion to be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Considered the world’s greatest inventor of rodeo equipment, Bascom was awarded the Canadian Sports Legend title during induction ceremonies at the hall of fame museum.
“The thing that I think is wonderful is it started right in Canada,” said John.
“The influence from these Canadian inventions has now spread throughout the world of rodeo.”
Bascom was born in Utah in 1906. The family moved to Alberta in 1914 to work for Ray Knight of Raymond, Alta., and eventually moved to a farm at Welling Station in Cardston County.
Sometimes called the bronc bustin’ Bascom boys, brothers Raymond, Mel, Earl and Weldon, as well as their father John W. Bascom, were among the early pioneers of rodeo in Canada.
Bascom introduced Brahma bull riding during a rodeo he put on in Columbia, Mississippi, in 1935. It was also the first rodeo in the world to be held outdoors at night under electric lights.
The popularity of Brahma bull riding quickly spread and Bascom became known as the father of Brahma bull riding.
Bascom cowboyed and rodeoed across the West, winning several All-Around Championships and was a life member of the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association.
During his rodeo career spanning 1916 to 1940, Bascom competed in the rough stock events of saddle and bareback bronc riding, bull riding (with and without a saddle), as well as steer riding, steer decorating, steer wrestling, wild horse racing and wild cow milking. He also performed trick riding and was a bullfighter.
Bascom’s first invention came in 1916 when he designed the first side-delivery bucking chute. He followed that up with rodeo’s first hornless bronc saddle in 1922.
Cowboys soon called it a mulee saddle, comparing it to a cow without horns. It caused a sensation during the Cardston Stampede that same year. Before designing the mulee, John said his father de-scribed the many times during competition when the reins would hook on the horn, or on the rider’s belt and flip him out of his saddle.
“I’d be better without a horn,” John remembers his father saying.
In 1924, Bascom developed rodeo’s first one-handed bareback rigging, which soon became the standard.
“He made it because the ones that were available were actually two-handed,” said John.
“Dad said this wasn’t good so he designed a one-handed rigging.”
The invention of modern high cut, rodeo style chaps followed two years later.
“Dad took his chaps and cut them up high. He made it above where the knee bends, whereas before it was below and it would crinkle and bind as you spurred,” said John. “He said this will make it look wilder.”
Like all the other inventions, this one was copied and eventually manufactured by someone else.
“He was more interested in the invention rather than the production of it,” said John.
Bascom finished the 1940 season and retired from rodeoing, alt-hough John remembers seeing his father riding a bull during an event in 1963.
“He was 57 years old,” said John.
Bascom trained as an artist and eventually became internationally recognized for his bronze sculptures, which depict his cowboy and rodeo experiences.
Related to legendary cowboy artists, Charlie Russell and Frederic Remington, Bascom has also been acclaimed as Canada’s most famous cowboy artist and sculptor.
He is the only cowboy artist selected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts of London, England since its establishment in 1754.