Pete Bruised Head is a little ticked off on this January day. His team roping partner for a rodeo in Arizona later this month just cancelled on him, and he’s going to have to find someone else to rope with.
“But I’m going to send in my membership fees anyway,” the southern Alberta cowboy stated, with certainty.
That would be membership in the National Senior Pro Rodeo Association. And not everyone can keep pace with this active, enthusiastic rodeo competitor, who’s still got the urge at 76 years old.
“I’m still riding horseback every day,” he adds. “I keep my horses broke that way.”
In fact, Bruised Head has a remuda of about 30 horses around his place, just east of Standoff along the Belly River. They’re good quarter horses, he stresses, and not for sale. They keep him and his family rodeo ready, and well-mounted.
“I still start breaking the horses, and then my boys finish them off,” Bruised Head explains. “I’ve got eight boys, and half of them like to rodeo, and six daughters. There’s 34 grandchildren, I think, but I’ve lost count there,” he chuckled.
It’s hard to determine which is greater, the impact rodeo has had on the Bruised Head family; or the impact five generations of the family has had on the sport of rodeo.
Pete’s father, Pete Bruised Head Sr. was the first man to ride the legendary bronc Midnight, in 1924, and he was a two-time calf roping champion at the Calgary Stampede. But he was also a farmer and rancher.
“We grew up breaking horses,” recalled Bruised Head. “We used to plow the fields with horses, and cut hay. Everything was powered by horses. But in 1950 we bought a Massey Harris tractor, and gave the work horses a break. They got too fat, so when the old man was away, we put bronc saddles on the horses!”
“We’d ride some cows when he wasn’t around too!”
That’s where the boys’ love of bronc riding was born, and by 1953, Pete and his brothers began showing their skills at the Calgary Stampede.
“There were a few years when all six of us rode at the Stampede. We stuck together.”
In those days, no one worked a single event only, and Pete Bruised Head was skilled in all the rodeo contests. But rodeo was a summer pastime only, so he went in search of work for the rest of the year. He developed his cowboy skills on sheep and cattle ranches both sides of the border.
“I worked on some million dollar ranches in Wyoming where we’d have big cattle drives, moving a thousand head or more to summer pasture. It could take all day to go 10 miles, because the calves would get tired and lay down.”
Pushing cattle in all kinds of weather wasn’t as glamorous as the movies make it, and was something a lot of people wouldn’t do. But with his horse and cattle skills, and willingness to work, Bruised Head was a hand in demand.
“I liked the job. It was good exercise, and there was good steak, a t-bone steak in the hills. Those were fun days.”
Bruised Head does admit staying in the saddle for up to 18 hours a day in a blizzard was no fun, although he believes it all made him a tougher rodeo cowboy.
The family has had a long tradition with the Calgary Stampede, and Bruised Head himself was also involved in chuckwagon racing. He remembers doing everything from outriding, to cooking pancakes for the famous breakfasts downtown on 8th Avenue.
But when he watched his friend Gordon Crowchild get run over by a wagon in a race, the danger factor overrode the fun one, and he decided to stick to the rodeo arena. (It took Crowchild more than a year to heal up, but Bruised Head points out Crowchild is still alive today.)
Yet, some would argue rodeo isn’t all that much safer, especially when Bruised Head participated in calf roping, steer wrestling, bareback and saddle bronc riding, and bull riding too!
When his competitive days in those events were done, the versatile cowboy kept busy with his role as a mugger in the Wild Cow Milking!
Bruised Head took part in both the WCM and the Wild Horse Racing at the Calgary Stampede for many years, winning several titles and plenty of cash as he pursued both events there, and at rodeos across the prairies and in the northern states.
But as full of accomplishments his own rodeo career has been, Bruised Head is just as proud of achievements by family members, and a legion of young people he’s helped launch in the sport as well.
“We were gone every weekend to high school rodeos. My daughter, Hennie, was the only Indian girl ever to win in cutting, and she won Alberta, and went to the National High School Finals four years in a row.”
Sons Wright, Clinton and Ivan have all won Indian World Champion steer wrestling titles.
Bruised Head’s wife, Margaret, was also a star in rodeo, competing in barrel racing, calf roping, team roping and ribbon roping.
“She made the Senior Pro Rodeo Finals in Amarillo, Texas three times,” he says proudly.
Sadly, Margaret passed away in 2010 after a battle with cancer. The two had been married 49 years, and Pete still misses her daily. Fortunately, he has family just down the road where he can drop in for breakfast or coffee, when he’s not out rodeoing.
Bruised Head has a full summer schedule planned on the Senior Pro circuit and at the run of Indian rodeos in northern Alberta, taking part in team roping, along with both breakaway and ribbon roping.
“I’ll probably just stay in Alberta this year, because there’s more money up north now than there is south of the border for us.”
Give Pete Bruised Head a good horse, family nearby, and a chance in the rodeo arena, and he won’t ask for more.
“I enjoy it. All the friends I’ve got. I know a lot of cowboys. Some of them are gone now.”
“I made a lot of money in the calf roping and steer wrestling. I would win go-rounds, but never could win the world. But I placed lots, so I never went broke, and I’m still smiling!”