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Historical Perspectives

Hugh Bennett – a Falcon legacy

Before Woodmen Hills and Meridian Ranch were developed, a man named Hugh Bennett owned the land that underlies parts of the developments. Bennett was a real cowboy, too, and one of the founders of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs.Bennett was born in Knox City, Texas, in 1905. He and his brother, Ralph, honed their cowboy skills on the family ranch in Yoakum County.At the age of 27, Hugh Bennett won the world title for steer wrestling – known as “the big man’s event.”Steer wrestling, also known as “bulldogging,” is where the cowboy on horseback charges after a steer, jumps off, grabs the steer by its horns, plants his feet in the ground and tosses the steer on its side.Whoever does that the fastest – usually three to four seconds – is the winner.By Bennett’s day, steer wrestling had advanced from its origins in the early 1900s when the black cowboy Bill Pickett (also from Texas) earned national fame for his bulldogging technique. Pickett jumped from his horse to the steer’s back, bit the steer’s upper lip and then grabbed its horns for the throw to the ground.For some reason that method went out of style!In 1936, Bennett joined the Rodeo Train, which drew cowboys to the East Coast, where rodeos were a popular form of entertainment.The train was sponsored by banker, rancher and rodeo promoter Col. W. T. Johnson (also from Texas), who had cornered the market on rodeo productions since he set his mind to it in 1929.Johnson charged each cowboy $50 to ride the train, another $50 for his horse and an entry fee for every event.The first stop was Madison Square Garden in New York City. There, the cowboys were surprised to learn the purse for all events at the Garden was just $30,000.The next stop was Boston Garden in Boston, Mass. The cowboys learned the Boston Garden management had provided just $7,000 as the purse. It was also common knowledge that Johnson’s fee for producing the Boston event was $80,000.Bennett and others tried unsuccessfully to get Johnson to increase the purse. After working the first day of the rodeo, 61 cowboys signed a petition asking that their entry fees be added to the purse. When Johnson refused, the cowboys rode out on strike.For the next day’s rodeo, Johnson recruited grooms, stable boys, Wild West actors and roustabouts. During the show, the striking cowboys sat in the audience and booed. The Boston Garden management called a halt, refunded ticket fees and told Johnson to “get right with the cowboys” or he would get the boot.Johnson negotiated with the cowboys, who by then had formed the Cowboys Turtle Association – so named because they had been slow to organize but had finally stuck their necks out.The CTA was the first association of rodeo contestants; promoters and managers had formed the Rodeo Association of America seven years earlier.The cowboys repeated their modest request: Add their entry fees to the purse.This time, Johnson agreed.Bennett was the CTA’s first secretary and treasurer, serving from October 1936 to 1941.He continued to compete on the rodeo circuit while running the CTA out of the trunk of his car with the help of his wife, Josie.In 1938, Bennett won the world title for steer roping; and, in the 1940s, he settled in Falcon, where he bred quarter horses.His brother, Ralph Bennett, also followed the rodeo circuit and captured numerous state fair championship roping titles. He settled on a 3,600-acre ranch in Peyton in 1950.Hugh Bennett remained active in the CTA as the organization changed its name to the Rodeo Cowboys Association and then to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.He and his colleagues founded the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1979, and Bennett was among its first inductees that same year.Bennett also participated in the formation of the American Quarter Horse Association, the Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse Association and the Pikes Peak Cattlemen’s Association. He served as president of all three.Bennett died July 15, 1994. An article in the July 2008 issue of “Cowboy’s and Indians” acknowledged Bennett as one of the top 15 cowboys to shape Western culture.Falcon resident, Kathy Hare, said when she and her husband first moved to Falcon in the 1970s, one small white house stood at the corner of old Woodmen Road and Meridian Road. “It was owned by the Bigelow family. Next came the Bennett Ranch, and nothing else existed,” she said.Hare also remembers that one of Bennett’s barns (“the really old one”) stood on the same piece of land now occupied by Woodmen Hills Elementary School.Ralph Bennett’s granddaughters continue to run his ranch in Peyton, where they breed registered quarter horses.

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