Rodeo Heroes

Jackson Sundown

Jackson Sundown
Photograph courtesy of Thain White

In 1916, Nez Percé cowboy Jackson Sundown became the first Native American to win the world bucking championship and hold the all-round title at the Pendleton rodeo. Born in the 1860s, he became an icon of Native culture and the archetype of the Native cowboy.

When Jackson Sundown was about 40, he began to ride bucking stock at rodeos and give demonstrations using the name Buffalo Jackson. As his reputation grew, people refused to ride against him, and stock contractors removed their bucking horses from competition. Sundown would stay on bulls or horses until they came to a stop. Once ridden by him, some animals never bucked again. Wearing shaggy orange angora chaps with black spots, brightly coloured scarves and his hair in two braids secured under his chin, he became a favourite with rodeo crowds.1 Sundown was in his fifties and at the end of his rodeo career when he rode Angel to win the championship at Pendleton. That ride has often been written about:

The instant the blindfold was pulled from Angel, the outlaw whirled twice and made a bone-jarring, jack-knife leap. "Sundown held fast as the huge bay thundered to the ground from leap after leap," witnesses to the event described it. As the superb riding exhibition continued, the capacity crowd rose to its feet yelling "Sundown! Sundown! Ride 'em Sundown!" Then the shot rang out signalling the end of the ride and the crowning of the fifty-year-old [sic] Indian as the Champion of the World.2

1. Rowena L. Alcorn and Gordon D. Alcorn, "Indian Legend on Horseback", Frontier Times, n.s., vol. 40, no. 2.
2. Idaho Country Free Press, 1966

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