The year was 1979. The rodeo season was in full swing. Denny Flynn and I were traveling together and we were both having a successful season so far. We were to ride in Branson, Missouri and leave immediately to head for Cherokee, Iowa where we’d ride the next afternoon.
As soon as we arrived in Branson I saw my good friend Roy Carter. The first thing out of his mouth was the devastating news that our friend Mick Whitely from Halfway, Oregon had been killed the night before in Inglewood, California. A bull had stepped in his chest with both feet and he died before he got to the hospital. Mick was a close friend; just a few weeks earlier he, Wacey Cathey and myself had spent nearly a week in the same hotel room in Edmonton, Alberta. How was I to know it would be the last time I’d see Mick?
But that wasn’t the end of the bad news in Branson that night. Brian Claypool, Gary ‘Moon’ Logan, Calvin Bunney and Lee Coleman, all Canadians, had left Cloverdale, BC in Brian’s private plane on their way to Las Vegas. After clearing customs in Salem, Oregon they were never heard from again. After an all-out intensive search no evidence of the guys or the plane was found. In fact, it was later in the year during hunting season that hunters happened on to the wreckage.
I didn’t know Bunney or Coleman; they were young and just starting their professional rodeo careers. But Brian Claypool was a great friend. We’d become friends soon after I cracked out in ’72. He was a great bull and bronc rider…one of the best, and the ‘fittest’ guy I ever knew. Gary Logan, or ‘Moon’ as we all called him, was also a good friend and great bareback rider. Just two weeks before there were two carloads of us staying at our ranch in Allison, Texas. The last day before we all left and went different ways Gary and I were working on a new pair of spurs of mine. Looking back it was a great day, always lots of laughs with Moon. It would be the last time I’d ever see him.
There’s an incredible camaraderie in the rodeo world, more like a brotherhood! It wasn’t just that we’d lost some friends, we’d lost family! Denny and I headed out for Cherokee. I’m not ashamed to say I shed a lot of tears that night. We stopped at a truck stop somewhere and I called Julie…just to hear her voice. I called my dad hoping that he’d say something to make me feel better. I didn’t want to go to Cherokee, I didn’t care anything about riding bulls. I just wanted to go home…but we were already committed. I guess in a lot of ways I grew up some that night.
My traveling partner and best friend Denny Flynn and I talked a lot about the guys, and a lot about life that night. We both had our turn at driving but I don’t think either one of us slept a wink. We rolled into Cherokee, not very fresh and not thinking much about bull riding. It was the longest night I ever spent.
Click this link to hear a song written about this by one of our rodeo friends, Ivan Daines: