Romance of the Rodeo Cowboy

Spiritual Smart Aleck


Dear readers: I am taking a break from rants about current events to do some straight up storytelling. 2020 is making me tired.

“There’s a young man that I know, his age is twenty-one
Comes from down in southern Colorado
Just out of the service and he’s lookin’ for his fun
Someday soon goin’ with him someday soon”*

Remember that song? Written by Ian Tyson and originally recorded by Ian and Sylvia, then covered by Judy Collins, Linda Ronstadt, and others.

Ian Tyson rode the rodeos in his late teens and early twenties, so that is where he was coming from when he wrote this – painting a picture of the sweet faithful young woman waiting for the rascally rodeo rider, i.e., him.

“My parents cannot stand him ‘cause he rides the rodeo
My father says that he will leave me cryin’…”
We all hummed and sang along.
“He loves his damned ol’ rodeo as much as he loves me
Someday soon goin’ with him someday soon.”

After my experience with rodeo cowboys, when I hear that song I want to say, “Run, girl, run! Your parents are right!”

The story: as a senior in high school I was accepted by the two colleges to which I applied – UC Santa Barbara, and Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

I chose to go to Cal Poly as a journalism major instead of to the University of California at Santa Barbara as a music major. For some reason I thought that journalism would get me a job, whereas music would not. Wrong – in the sixties women weren’t being hired for journalism jobs like they are now. It was a man’s world.

I knew that Cal Poly was the choice that would please my parents because it was a conservative school. It was also an engineering and agriculture school with a ratio of three male students to every female student (“Cal Poly- where the men are men, and the sheep are nervous”).

This was 1965, when the Free Speech movement had taken off in Berkeley, quickly followed by the Filthy Speech Movement. My older brother had gone to Berkeley, but I knew that my parents would never allow me to go to that cauldron of Communism and dirty language.
My mother drove me down to San Luis Obispo one September day and got me checked into my dormitory, and I was launched on college life. Once ensconced in my dorm room, I got to know my roommates Sandy and Judy, and then the girls living across the hall, Julie and Carol. Cal Poly had a championship rodeo team (still does), and Julie and Carol were barrel racers on that team.

Please don’t make me come down there and explain barrel racing.
So there I was, 17, literally a farmer’s daughter fresh out of the apple orchard, turned loose at college, and I had new cowgirl friends.

That first quarter I met some of the cowboys on the rodeo team, and those rodeo cowboys – holy carp. They were there to rodeo on that championship team. Academics came a distant second in their priorities.
Well, third, after drinking.

One Friday evening late that fall I went to a cowboy party. Some of the team riders were there, and soon I realized that I was the only sober person in the room.
Guess what happened.

One drunk cowboy got into an argument with another drunk cowboy, and soon that escalated to one taking a swing at the other and connecting solidly. The kid who’d been hit went down like a tree falling over and struck his head on the refrigerator. I couldn’t tell if he was bleeding from a head wound or one of his existing orifices, but there was blood, and he was no longer conscious. The drunken party goers scrambled around, trying to figure out what to do. It was decided to carry him to a bedroom where he could sleep it off. No one thought to take him to an ER or call an ambulance.

If I had any illusions of rodeo cowboys being romantic or glamorous, those illusions died that night.

Ian Tyson’s fantasy about that nice girlfriend waiting for him at home and following him anywhere no matter how badly she was treated – that was his illusion.

After my disillusionment with rodeo cowboys I started hanging around with the beatniks, bohemians, poets, and folk singers at school, so my parents’ worst nightmare about me falling in with the commies was realized.

Of course there was nary a commie among them. They were young people who drank a little (not as much as cowboys), played guitars, and sat around talking. They weren’t violent, and they had some conversation.

Big improvement over the rodeo cowboys, I thought.