A picture is worth a thousand words.
The setting: A rodeo arena in front of the bucking chutes. The chute gate is opened flat against the fence. Spectators on the left side in the bleachers look mesmerized. A cowboy on the catwalk behind the open chute has an, “I don’t believe it!” countenance on his face.
The photographer has captured the bull from the left hindquarter angle. The bull’s hind feet are planted, his front feet well off the ground and his big horned head appears to be inches from the arena fence. The bull rider is sitting upright, legs tight around the girth and hat missing.
So far, so so. But what distinguishes this photograph is the presence of a cowboy, not the rider, arms straight along his sides, legs together, hat on his head in what one could describe as a skier lifting from the edge of the swooping ski jump.
The flying cowboy’s left boot is obscured by the bull rider’s head. Judging from his relationship to the slide rail above the chutes, the apogee of his arc will be 12 feet above the arena floor.
Your first thought is that someone skilled in graphic arts has “dubbed” the flying cowboy into the picture. But the photo has aged (as have all the rodeo pictures from our youth), and it looks real. I mean, where would you find a picture of a flying cowboy that you cut and paste over the bull rider in the first place? At an Olympic diving competition when the competitors were required to wear boots, jeans and a hat? Or maybe a cowboy bachelor party where they were bobbing for apples in the stock tank? Or an extreme cowboy contest that involved being fired from a cannon?
No, you come away thinking it must be authentic. The real story is that the flying cowboy was the gate man. He let the bull out and waited behind the gate. The bull began to bang his head on the gate, mashing the cowboy who side-stepped to the right and out of harm’s way, or so he thought.
The bull swung after him, charged, lifted and literally slung the cowboy into orbit. In fact, on his descent caught in the photo, he kicked the bull rider in the head! You will not find this photograph in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City or the PRCA Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs. It is on display behind the hat steaming table in Crutcher’s Western Store in Lawton, Oklahoma.
Oh, one more thing. In the photo, the flying cowboy appears to be looking down at the bull ride in progress like a man who just spit off the Empire State Building and wants to see where it lands.
I guess the caption for the photo could be, “Splat!” PD