IDAHO FALLS – A late Idaho cowboy and rodeo champion is earning international accolades.
Earl Bascom, who passed away in 1995 at age 89, was recently inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and is the only rodeo champion to be made a member of Canada’s Order of Sports.
“It’s mind-boggling, but it’s wonderful,” Earl’s son, John Bascom, tells EastIdahoNews.com. “In November, he’s supposed to be inducted to a hall of fame in Texas. I don’t know of anyone who’s been inducted into more halls of fame than him.”
Earl was inducted into the Idaho Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2016.
In 1922, he created the first hornless bronc riding saddle, which today is an industry standard used at rodeos across the globe. The Severe Brothers Saddlery in Oakley was the first to produce Earl’s saddle design commercially. That saddle is included as part of this honorary recognition as a “legend of rodeo.”
The birth of a champion
Earl was born in Vernal, Utah in 1906 and raised in Alberta, Canada, but he came to eastern Idaho in the 1930s to work for Doc Sorenson’s Flying U Rodeo company near St. Anthony after several years in the rodeo industry.
“He was rodeoing across the west. Idaho was good to him and so he did a lot of the rodeo circuit in Idaho. Doc Sorenson needed help so (that gave him another reason to come to Idaho),” John explains.
Earl’s interest in the rodeo stemmed from his childhood in Vernal, where he and his brother grew up riding calves, sheep and colts on the family farm for entertainment.
“There was nothing else to do. There was no television so that was fun for the boys. His dad would strap a belt around the calf and they’d hold on and away they’d go,” John explains.
One time, Earl’s dad took him to a rodeo to see Steamboat, the name of a renowned bucking horse at the time, and Earl was hooked.
In 1914, Earl’s father took a job as a ranch foreman in a small town in southern Alberta called Raymond. The town is named for Raymond Knight, who owned a ranch there and started the first rodeo in Canada.
“The boys (Earl and his brother) were there and continued their weekend entertainment by putting on little rodeos bucking horses. Ray Knight had the boys try out his horses so they could find the best bucking horses for their rodeo,” says John.
John is named after Earl’s father, who had worked as a frontier lawman in Vernal in the late 1800s. John says his grandfather spent time chasing Butch Cassidy back in the day. Earl’s grandfather had also been a lawman, first as Provo’s chief of police in 1856 and later as a constable in Mona about 45 miles south of Provo.
Earl cut his teeth riding broncs with the Raymond Stampede Rodeo before going on to become a professional rodeo cowboy.
“He was mainly a rough stock rider — saddle bronc, bareback and bull riding. It was steer riding before bulls (were introduced). He did try his hand at steer wrestling and steer decorating, which was the Canadian version of steer wrestling. He broke a world record in 1933 for steer decorating,” John says.
Earl and his younger brother, Weldon, rodeoed together in Idaho throughout the 1930s. They bunked at the Henry Jones farm in Menan.
Here, John says his father mentored Henry Jones’ son, Cecil, who went on to compete in some of the biggest rodeos of the day and organized the first rodeo in Japan in 1945.
An accomplished life
John explained how Earl came up with the idea for his hornless saddle.
“He said, ‘I really don’t need a horn. In fact, it’s best to not have a horn.’ So he just left it off,” John explains. “If a horse fell over backwards, that horn could punch a hole in you. Another thing the horn would do is grab on to your buck rein and pull it out of your hand or it could hook onto your belt and flip you out of the saddle. So not having a horn was actually safer. That’s why they have no horn today.”
Earl also created the modern bucking chute and the first one-handed bareback rein, which gave riders a greater ability to spur the horse more intensely. This, in turn, made staying on the horse a bigger challenge and a greater test of one’s ability.
Earl stepped down in 1940 at age 34 to attend Brigham Young University in Provo. He sustained a back injury while riding a bull in Montana that year and at the urging of his wife, made the decision to retire.
After the war, he pursued a career as an artist. Western art aficionados will recognize his numerous bronze sculptures, including one of his saddle.
Like his rodeo days, Earl became quite accomplished as an artist, earning multiple industry awards. He died of congestive heart failure in 1995.
John acquired his father’s love of art and is carrying on the western tradition as an artist. He lives in Tooele, Utah with his wife. Today, there are numerous members of the Bascom family living in Idaho, including a nephew, Tom, near Aberdeen.
John describes his father as a great man and he’s grateful for the lessons his father taught him. There’s something Earl said that still resonates with John today.
“He said, ‘If you want to be a champion bull-rider, you have to ride the toughest bull.’ In life, you’ve got to (do hard things) or you’ll never know if you’re the champion or not. Don’t give up, do the best you can and take every opportunity, even though it might be scary to achieve,” John says.