This collection features two photographs of well-known livestock contractor and rodeo producer Harley Tucker. He was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1997.
Harley Tucker, the stockman’s “stockman” was a pure admirer of bucking stock. Essential to Harley were the stock’s development, conditioning, individual needs and habits, and nutritional requirements. No one fed, worked, or flanked a Tucker animal except Harley himself. He even spent hundreds of hours every year trucking his stock over 75,000 miles, from rodeo to rodeo and back home again. Although there were others who could have carried out these chores, there was not another human being who accomplished it with the love and devotion that Harley had, especially for his animals.
This true admiration for livestock enabled Harley to build one of the finest rodeo companies in the Pacific Northwest. Tucker established himself as one of the premier rodeo stock contractors in the late 40s and 50s, and was justly rewarded by having more head of stock selected for the first two National Finals Rodeos than any other single rodeo producer.
It all started during the Depression era when tent shows and Wild West troops brought the spirit of “The Old West” to droning sun-baked prairie towns such as Joseph. It was here, in this little eastern Oregon town, where economically Harley was a rancher; mostly sheep and a few cattle. Emotionally, however, he was a cowboy boomer, a Rodeo Romantic. Tucker and Ben peal started the first rodeo type celebration in this tiny community in 1945 when they put together a group of would-be cowboys and a small string of spoiled saddle horses. This celebration took place with no chutes, arena, or fences, in a natural formed bowl at the head of Wallowa Lake about six miles from Joseph. Things were unorganized, wooly, and wild, but fun was had by all.
From Tucker’s enthusiasm and his readiness to organize the rodeo on a big time basis, his firsthand friendship with most of the top cowboys in the region, and his zest for rodeo – the Chief Joseph Days rodeo began. This was the beginning of the Harley tucker Rodeo Company that would grow from these roots to produce 20 to 25 rodeos a year throughout the Northwest.
Tucker was a member of the Cowboy Turtles Association before the Rodeo Cowboys Association formed, and he was the 28th person to become a member of the RCA.
Once he became a stock contractor Harley’s string of rodeo stock grew to 200 head of bucking horses, 40 Brahma bulls, 40 doggin steers, 150 Black Angus cross cows and calves, 12 matching parade and grand entry horses, and several pickup and arena horses. One of the added attractions at a Tucker rodeo was a covered wagon drawn by a team of six oxen, which he had raised. Still, his greatest pride and joy were his bucking horses, such as saddle broncs: Miss Dynamite, Second fiddle, Nobody’s Darling, Radar, War Dance, PDQ, High Desert, Brown Bomber, Smokey, Stingarea, Internal Revenue, Muldoon, Frightful Mac, Newsflash, Squaw Mary, Mike D Salle, and Big Three. Favor bareback horses included: Miss Joseph, Colored Boy, What’s My Line, Fairy Tales, Twelve Bells, High Society, Teachers pet, Border Patrol, Ranchway, and Little Abner. Bulls included: Blacksmoke, H-B, #29, #00, #15, #4, Purple People Eater, Atomic Power, and many more. Of these animals 17 head were selected to buck at the NFR in Dallas, Texas. The great bull Blacksmoke was chosen the second best bull at the 1959 NFR.
When Harley Tucker produced a rodeo, it was full of colorful fast paced action from the opening grand entry, led by matching white horses and riders, to the last bull ride. The showmanship was never slighted in any of the twenty or more rodeos produced every year, whether it be a little rodeo like Halfway, Oregon, Sandpoint, Idaho, or St. Paul, Oregon, Walla Walla, Washington, or even the Pendleton Round-Up. Harley also furnished stock at the likes of the Cow Palace, Snake River Stampede, Salinas, Forth-Worth, and Tucson. No rodeo was too big or too small! Tucker, along with Howard Harris, III, was instrumental in starting college rodeos in the Northwest and furnished stock at several college spring rodeos, long before rodeo teams were common on most campuses. There was nothing Tucker enjoyed more than seeing someone buck off, especially a Gold Buckle, but he always wanted them to have a fair chance. He always said, “I don’t want wild, crazy ornery animals, be it bulls or horses, you need one with a good heart, one that’s a ‘stayer’ or one that’s been worked a while.”
Harley possessed an uncanny ability to see the potential of a bucking animal that has never before or since been equaled. He not only could spot a good bucking animal, but he had the ability to nurture and develop an animal that didn’t show a great deal of promise at the first tryout, into a NFR bucking horses.
Harley Tucker was summoned in the “Last Roundup” on April 2, 1960, doing what he loved best, flanking bucking horses at a rodeo in Vancouver, Washington. He died instantly, at the age of 52, of a massive heart attack behind the chutes. He was survived by his wife Bonnie, daughter Darlene, and son Butch. The tradition that ‘the show must go on’ was carried out by the family and all of the remaining contracts were fulfilled. In the spring of 1961, at Walla Walla, Washington, the entire rodeo string was disbursed at one of the most successful rodeo auctions ever held. The rodeo string that Harley loved so much is gone, but the name lives on in the hearts and minds of his family, many friends, and rodeo fans everywhere. Harley dedicated his life to the sport of rodeo and would have been so proud to see what some of his early ideas and philosophies have turned into.
The above biography was written by Harley Tucker’s son, Butch Tucker. It is included in Tucker’s Rodeo Honoree Vertical File.
Tucker was born in 1908 and raised in Joseph, Oregon. After producing rodeos and contracting stock for over 20 years he died of a heart attack while flanking horses at a rodeo in Vancouver, Washington, in 1960. He is buried in the Prairie Creek Cemetery in Joseph, Oregon.
Harley Tucker was inducted into Oregon’s Pendleton Round-up Hall of Fame in 1981. He was later inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1997 at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma.
Scope & Content Note
This collection contains two photographs of Harley Tucker and his horse.
This collection was accessioned on October 23, 1997, from a gift made by Judy Dearing. A scope and content note was written by librarian Karen Spilman in February 2003. The current finding aid was written and posted online in October 2009 by archivist/librarian Laura Anne Heller.
The Judy Dearing Collection of Harley Tucker Photographs is the property of the Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Literary right, including copyright, belongs to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, with the exception of copyrighted artwork images and published literary works, which are the property of the respective copyright holders. It is the responsibility of the researcher, and his/her publisher, to obtain publishing permission from individuals pictured, relevant copyright holders, and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
Restrictions on Access
The collection is open for research. It is advisable for researchers to discuss their proposed research with staff prior to visiting the Center.
Judy Dearing Collection of Harley Tucker Photographs, Box ##, Folder ##, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
|Series 1: Judy Dearing Collection of Harley Tucker Photographs|
|Box/Folder #||Accession #||Description|
|01/03||Rod.97.001||“Harley Tucker w/Pal. Inducted Rodeo Hall of Fame 1997.” Photograph, b&w, 11 x 14 in.|
|Rod.97.002||“Harley Tucker w/Pal. Inducted Rodeo Hall of Fame 1997.” Photograph, color, 11 x 14 in.|