By Ann Bleiker
The 2017 ProRodeo Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will mark the 39th annual induction but will have an added flair for this year's event. For the first time in the history of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, barrel racers from the Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) will be amongst the class of inductees.
The PRCA, the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, and the WPRA are pleased to announce their inaugural class will be Wanda Harper Bush, Charmayne James and a joint PRCA/WPRA equine inductee Star Plaudit "Red." They will be joined by the PRCA inductees which will include Buck Rutherford (All-Around), Enoch Walker (Saddle Bronc), Cody Custer (Bull Riding), Tommy Puryear (Steer Wrestling), Mike Beers (Team Roping), Randy Corley (Contract Personnel), Bob Ragsdale (Notable), Smith & Velvet (Livestock) and Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo (Committee).
Wanda Bush is the most decorated cowgirl in the history of the WPRA (formerly the Girls Rodeo Association) with 32 world titles. Photo by Kenneth Springer
Wanda Harper Bush was multitalented, becoming the most decorated cowgirl in the history of the WPRA (formerly the Girls Rodeo Association). When the GRA first formed in 1948, Bush was one of the first to sign-up. All totaled she won 32 world titles - nine all-around (1952, 1957-58, 1962-65, 1968 and 1969), two barrel racing titles (1952-53), two cutting world titles (1966, 1969), one flag race world title (1969), 11 calf roping titles (1951-56, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1966-67) and seven ribbon roping titles (1951, 1953-54, 1956-59). She finished as reserve world champion in the barrel racing three different times. While Bush's barrel racing world titles came before the NFR began, she qualified seven times (1959-60, '62-65, and '74) for the NFR during her career.
"That is awesome and really great. We are really proud she will be honored in this way," said Shanna Bush, Wanda's daughter, who qualified for the NFR in 1984, upon hearing the news. "She would be very honored and humbled. She would be very glad to be a part of the Cowboys Association (PRCA) because she always worked for that to be the case. She always wanted them to get along and to better themselves by being associated with each other. This is a very special honor."
While in the sports world Billie Jean King is credited with being the first to match the men, it was in fact a Texas Cowgirl and her horse, Eagle, that entered a match roping on six head against a man and Wanda won. It was not a story known far and wide because the humble cowgirl just went in there, took care of business and then moved on, not making a big deal out of it.
Bush's two main horses that played pivotal roles in her success was Dee Gee and Flying Eagle. Both were versatile, competing in many different events with Dee Gee serving as Bush’s GRA barrel racing horse. The mare was retired in 1955 and joined the broodmare ranks in 1958. The Bush family raised seven colts out of her and top competitors are still riding some of that lineage today. Another top mare from the Harper Bush Ranch was Phoebe Chess. Wanda's husband, Stanley Bush, was a master at starting young cutting horses and the best one he ever rode was Royal Chess, which was inducted into the National Cutting Horse Association Hall of Fame in 1970. Royal Chess was out of Phoebe Chess. Together Dee Gee and Phoebe Chess would provide much of the family's foundation stock at the ranch.
Not only was Bush a great horse trainer, but she was also a great teacher putting on clinics across the country. It was said she would get on every horse at the clinics and make them all look like world champions.
She served on the GRA/WPRA board. During the 80s, when the barrel racers were requiring committees to have equal purse money in the barrel race before the WPRA would approve them, Bush played a critical role as the Texas Circuit Director. She was well respected and was able to get every rodeo in Texas to raise the money to keep the barrel racing event.
Bush will be inducted posthumously having passed away on Dec. 29, 2015.
Charmayne James and Scamper's legendary 1985 bridleless run on Friday the 13th. Photo by Kenneth Springer
Although she had to wait 22 years to join her legendary horse Scamper in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, Charmayne James is honored to be part of the inaugural class and going in with Wanda Bush.
"I am thrilled to be going in as part of the inaugural class and what this represents for all barrel racers," said James, who now makes her home in Boerne, Texas. "To be going in with Wanda is very exciting. Wanda was such a pioneer for our sport. Throughout my entire career her presence and forging through on issues with barrel racing was there and evident and why we are where we are today.
"Scamper has just been waiting for me and I was fine with that as he really deserved the honor. This news made my whole day."
James, who grew up in Clayton, N.M., the home of the very first barrel racing National Finals Rodeo in 1959, began her career in rodeo as a member of the Rabbit Ear 4-H Club. Her historic career would be set in motion in 1982 when a bay gelding, registered Gills Bay Boy "Scamper," found a home in James’ barn after she paid $1,100 for what some called a vile-tempered animal after throwing one previous owner and putting him in the hospital. Although she was warned by her father, Charlie James, Charmayne was never scared of him and together they became the most iconic duo in the equine industry, dominating the barrel racing ranks from the early 1980s until his retirement in 1993.
James won the first of 10 world titles at the young age of 14 in 1984. The following year, she and Scamper would make a historic run on Friday the 13th. As James and Scamper entered the arena that night, Scamper caught the bridle on the side of the gate causing the Chicago screws to come out. At the first barrel people started to realize what was happening with the broken bridle and by the third barrel, Scamper spit the bit out with the bridle around his neck. The duo won the round and became a legendary moment in NFR history.
James was the first WPRA member to wear the coveted No. 1 back number in 1987 and became the first barrel racer to cross the $1 million record in career earnings. In addition to the 10 consecutive world titles (1984-1993), James and Scamper won the NFR average title six times (1984, 1986-87, 1989-90 and 1993). In 1996, Scamper became the first barrel horse and only barrel horse (until 2017) to be inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. James and Scamper were featured in countless publications over the years including Sports Illustrated and Guinness Book of World Records.
Together Scamper and Charmayne defined an era in rodeo and their famous round-winning bridleless ride perhaps best epitomizes the relationship between horse and rider. Defying all odds, the unassuming bay and the shy ranch cowgirl raced their way into the hearts of millions and into rodeo record books.
James would add a cherry on top of her illustrious career returning to the top of the sport aboard Cruiser (Cruisin on Six) in 2002, winning her 11th world title and seventh NFR average title.
James now devotes her time to her two passions - her family and love of rodeo putting on clinics across the world.
Sherry (Combs) Johnson
Bringing symbolism to this new chapter in the history of the PRCA and WPRA is best summed up with the induction the horse known as Star Plaudit "Red."
Star Plaudit holds a very unique record in the world of professional rodeo, one that is not likely to ever be duplicated. The bay gelding won two World Championships in the sport in a single year and contributed to a third, at the age of 12. Red, as he was affectionately known, carried his owner Sherry (Combs) Johnson to the GRA World title in the barrel racing and close family friend Tom Nesmith to the RCA world title in the steer wrestling and helped the Oklahoman also claim the RCA All Around championship, all in 1962.
"Lord that is a blessing and a dream come true for him and I," Johnson said of Red being inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. "He was a horse of a lifetime and what he accomplished will never be done again. I had the pleasure of riding him and he had such a big heart. This is just such a wonderful honor."
Johnson first came to know Red when her husband at the time, Benny Combs, bought the horse in partnership with his brother Willard. Red was a bull dogging’ horse and the brothers competed on him for a time before Benny and Sherry bought Willard out. Red was eight at the time and Johnson was in need of a horse to run barrels.
“I was afoot,” Johnson remembers. “We brought him home in the fall and I put six weeks of barrel training on him and took him to Denver.” Barrel racing seemed to come easy to the gelding. “He was just one of those runaway freaks. It was one wild ride.”
Johnson credits the steer wrestling with teaching Red how to run hard through the pattern. Mistakes like going by the first barrel did not cost the horse time in his run like it might other horses.
Red spent his earliest years competing in both the barrels and steer wrestling at most of the rodeos.
“We would always ask that I be put to the bottom of the ground,” Johnson remembers. “The bull dogging was usually right before the barrels so if I was last, it gave Red a chance to catch his breath. I’m not sure they would let you do that now,” she adds, laughing.
When Johnson and Combs divorced, Red became strictly a barrel racing horse owned by Johnson. He was retired at age eighteen and passed away at the age of 22.
Information on the PRCA inductees can be found at www.prorodeo.com.
The ProRodeo Hall of Fame, which is a popular Colorado Springs attraction for rodeo fans and tourists alike, has already inducted 250 people, 27 rodeo committees and 31 animals. The 2017 ProRodeo Hall of Fame Inductions will take place at 10 a.m. MT on Aug. 5, 2017 in Colorado Springs, Colo.