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Reba Perry Blakely Papers

Reba Perry Blakely

Reba Perry Blakely Papers
Creator: Reba Perry Blakely
Dates: 1903-1997
Quantity: 15 inches


Papers and photographs of rodeo performer and researcher Reba Perry Blakely, which include extensive correspondence with the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and fragmentary correspondence with several rodeo personalities, subject files connected with various writing and research projects, some of Perry’s articles in manuscript and printed form, and over 60 photographic images, mostly copy prints associated with her writing projects. Some correspondence connected with her research and writing activities and very sparse and fragmentary financial records are also included in this small collection.


Rodeo performer and writer Reba Perry Blakely was born on April 3, 1908 near Puyallup, Washington. Her father was a rancher and former railroad surveyor who married late in life, and her mother grew up around horses in Minnesota. Reba was the last of nine children. Her mother had typhoid fever while she was pregnant with Reba and, probably as a result of her mother’s illness, Reba had to wear leg braces during her first 13 years. She took to horses early and by age nine was delivering more than 200 daily and Sunday newspapers on horseback. The Perry ranch overlooked the Puyallup Fairgrounds and the rodeo performances she witnessed there, especially the horse riding of the Drumheller family of Walla Walla, Washington, inspired her dreams. By 1926 Reba Perry had become a rodeo performer.

Perry sought out specialists to teach her what she needed to know to be successful in rodeo. Vera McGinnis taught her trick riding, Gordon Jones taught her trick roping, and Ollie Osborn taught her relay racing. Between 1928 and 1935 Reba Perry relay raced against the best and had her share of success. She also trick roped and trick rode with her horse Buddy. By 1936 she was out of rodeo, although she did make a brief comeback between 1940 and 1943. She settled in California and started writing, primarily about horse subjects.

Perry began a relationship with the Yuba/Sutter 13th District Agricultural Fair in Yuba City, California and was a fair and horse show manager at the facility off-and-on between 1942 and 1954. During World War II she took a 5-year lease on the Yuba City Fairgrounds to start a horse boarding business, but the facility reverted to the city after World War II and she ended up losing money on the venture. Also during World War II, she was married to William E. Blakely, a sheep rancher from Redmond, Oregon. The marriage ended, but it is not clear how or when.

Over the years Reba Perry Blakely worked at a variety of occupations including postal and government employee, grant funded researcher, practical nurse, and writer. In 1979, she was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame primarily for her rodeo writing and research, but also for her rodeo career. In 1985, she was awarded a historian/journalist award by the Rodeo Historical Society. As the 1980s and 1990s wore on, she continued to write, but failing eyesight and mental acuity began to take their toll. She died in a nursing facility in Alturas, California on September 13, 2002.

Scope & Content Note

The Reba Perry Blakely Papers have been arranged in five series: correspondence, financial, subject files, writing, and photographs.

Series 1: Correspondence (1972-1997)
The largest series in the collection; the bulk of the series consists of letters between Blakely and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (NCHF). The NCHF correspondence concerns articles she is writing for NCHF rodeo publications, potential articles she is pitching, her research and rodeo photography collections, and recommendations for inductees to the Rodeo Hall of Fame at the NCHF. Many of Blakely’s later handwritten letters are very hard to decipher due to her failing eyesight.

Correspondence with rodeo people is another focus of the series. Correspondents include Rodeo Historical Society honorees Buff Brady, Jr., Polly Burson, Ray Bell, and Sam Garrett. Garrett’s letters discuss his life and answer Blakely’s questions about the 101 Ranch and the early days of rodeo. An interesting letter from E. Roland Harriman, honorary board chairman of the Union Pacific Corporation, concerns his memories of rodeo entrepreneur C. B. Irwin. Other letters concern article research and sales as well as general business correspondence.

Series 2: Financial (1980-1984)
The smallest series is primarily comprised of payment vouchers for Blakely articles and research that appeared in the NCHF rodeo publication, The Wild Bunch.

Series 3: Subject Files (1903-1994)
Includes autobiographical and research material Blakely collected for her articles on rodeo and other subjects. Blakely and her life is documented in several photocopied clippings and her self-penned manuscript Outline for an Autobiography, which focuses mostly on her parents. Other rodeo subjects, primarily documented through photocopied clippings and Blakely’s notes, include the 1912 Calgary Stampede, Sam Garrett, Bonnie Jean Gray, Harry and Pete Knight, and Lucyle Richards. Additional subjects include President Theodore Roosevelt, performers Tom Mix and Will Rogers, and the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, which inducted Blakely in 1979. One of the most interesting items in the Subject Files is a reminiscence of the 1939 cross-country horse race from Fort Worth, Texas to San Francisco, California sponsored by Nocona Boot Company founder Enid Justin, which was written by race participant George Cates.

Series 4: Articles (1962-1994)
Includes 14 articles written by Blakely, in both printed and manuscript form. The majority of these articles deal with rodeo, and article subjects include Sam Garrett, Fox Hastings, Hippy Burmeister, and Pete and Harry Knight. Other article subjects include sculptor A. Phimister Proctor and actor Tom Mix.

Series 5: Photographs (1920-1989)
Includes over sixty photographic prints and negatives. The majority of the photographs are copy prints Blakely obtained from a variety of sources to illustrate articles on topics such as the Calgary Stampede, Sam Garrett, Hamley & Co., Tom Mix, Will Rogers, and Theodore Roosevelt. Also included are eight photographs of Blakely herself including a publicity photograph, copy prints and copy negatives of Blakely as a rodeo performer, and an image of Blakely and her fellow inductees at the 1979 National Cowgirl Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

Subject Terms

Personal Names:
Blakely, Reba Perry.
Cates, George.
Garrett, Sam.
Gray, Bonnie Jean.
Irwin, Charles Burton.
Mix, Tom, 1880-1940.
Price, B. Byron.
Rogers, Will, 1879-1935.
Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919.

Corporate Names:
Cowgirl Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Center.
National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center.
Rodeo Historical Society.

Subject Headings:
Calgary Stampede.
Horse racing.
Point-to-point racing.
Rodeo honorees.
Rodeo performers.
Trick riding.
Trick roping.
Women authors, American—California.

Processing Information

The Reba Perry Blakely Papers were donated to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum over the course of several years by Reba Perry Blakely. The Papers was created from mail sent from Blakely to the Museum. Fifty audio cassettes containing research notes, interviews, biographical material, and oral correspondence were mailed to the Museum by Blakely, and they have been separated from the Papers. They are available for research.

Preferred Citation

Reba Perry Blakely Papers, Box ##, Folder ##, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Container List

Series 1: Correspondence

Box Folder Folder title/Description
1 1 B, 1980-1985
1 2 Ray Bell, 1972
1 3 Buff Brady, 1976-1977 and n.d.
1 4 Ruth Brown, 1990
1 5 Polly Burson, 1990
1 6 Ida Church, 1986
1 7 Glenn DeMoss, 1990
1 8 East Oregonian newspaper, 1989
1 9 Sam Garrett, 1977-1989
1 10 E. Roland Harriman, 1974
1 11 John Kaufman, 1988
1 12 Bertha Klausner, literary agency, 1987
1 13 Montie Montana, 1988
1 14-16 National Cowboy Hall of Fame, 1975-1989
2 1 National Cowboy Hall of Fame, 1990-1997 and n.d.
2 2 National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, 1979-1987
2 3 National Retired Teachers Association, 1979
2 4 P-W, 1982-1986 and n.d.

Series 2: Financial

Box Folder Folder title/Description
2 5 Financial, n.d.
2 6 Writing payments, 1980-1984 and n.d.

Series 3: Subject Files

Box Folder Folder title/Description
2 7 Reba Perry Blakely, 1978-1986
2 8 Ben and Bev Boone, n.d.
2 9 Calgary Stampede, 1972 and n.d.
2 10 George Cates, n.d.
2 11 Drumheller family, 1984 and n.d.
2 12 Sam Garrett, 1979 and n.d.
2 13 Bonnie Jean Gray, 1956-1986
2 14 Hamley and Co., 1983
2 15 Pete Knight, 1989 and n.d.
2 16 Tom Mix, 1967-1968 and n.d.
2 17 Montie Montana, n.d.
2 18 Lucille Mulhall, 1967 and n.d.
2 19 National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, 1979-1994 and n.d.
2 20 Lucyle Richards, n.d.
2 21 Rodeo, 1979-1991 and n.d.
2 22 Will Rogers, 1934-1984 and n.d.
2 23 Theodore Roosevelt, 1903-1981 and n.d.
2 24 Western history, 1989 and n.d.

Series 4: Articles

Box Folder Folder title/Description
3 1 “Allen Drumheller, Sr.: The Walla Walla Cowboy,” 1978-1979
3 2 “Buff Brady, Jr.: The Last of the Cowboy Trick Riding Greats,” 1978
3 3 “Buff Brady, Sr.: Five Times World Champion,” n.d.
3 4 “Hippy Burmeister Recalls Confrontation with Steamboat at Alliance, Nebraska,” 1981
3 5 “Howard Thomas, Ellensburg Cowboy who Named ‘Five Minutes to Midnight,’ 1927,” 1988
3 6 “Parade Marshal Famous in Heyday,” 1967
3 7 “Paris and George Williams Story,” n.d.
3 8 “Real Life Study, A. Phimister Proctor, Sculptor, 1860-1949,” 1979
3 9 “The Rodeo Fox,” 1986
3 10 “Rodeo’s Finest Hours,” 1974
3 11 “Samuel J. Garrett: Last of the Real Pioneer Champion Trick Ropers,” 1980-1990
3 12 “Tom Mix Story,” 1982
3 13 “William Jackson Palmer, 1836-1909: Soldier; Railroad Builder,” 1962
3 14 “Yank Versus Cannuck: Pete and Harry Knight, 1903-1937,” 1982
3 15 Notes, 1989-1994

Series 5: Photographs

Box Folder Folder title/Description
3 16 Reba Perry Blakely, 1984 and n.d. [8]
3 17 Ben and Bev Boone, n.d. [2]
3 18 Calgary Stampede, n.d. [8]
3 19 Drumheller family, n.d. [5]
3 20 Sam Garrett, n.d. [6]
3 21 Hamley and Co., n.d. [2]
3 22 C.B. Irwin family, 1989 and n.d. [10]
3 23 Tom Mix, n.d. [2]
3 24 101 Ranch, n.d. [2]
3 25 Rodeo, 1920 and n.d. [3]
3 26 Will Rogers, n.d. [8]
3 27 Theodore Roosevelt, n.d. [2]
3 28 Western history, n.d. [4]

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