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:
13 thoughts on “Branson to Cherokee – The Longest Night I Ever Spent”
It touched everyone in our “family”..Brian was on the way to pick me up to go to Inglewood, and Las Vegas…People started calling me wondering if I had heard from Brian. I had just seen him a few days earlier, and we had shared listening to my first son’s heartbeat…With that funny smile of his he told Debbie and I that If the baby was a boy we should name him Brian, and if it was a girl..Brianna….We asked him to be the babies Godfather. He was soo proud of this and guaranteed us that NOTHING bad would ever happen to this baby! He would be proud of his Godson Brian. I also shed a lot of tears that night and still do…even as I write this. Not only for Brian, but all of the other guys, our friends and comrads. Just last nite, I dug open that chest with the pictures of all of these guys and others…Timing is everything Drew…God Bless!
Thanks for the feedback, Barn!
A very defining moment in your life, for sure. Was God opening your eyes to let you know that all we have is today? One thing for certain is that God blessed you with special moments with great friends who were only here for a short time. Thank you for posting this story.
Thanks for the feedback, Carolyn!!
Andy we’ve all been there . I still think of friends I’ve lost . One you might even remember . I think he was the 1990 rookie of the year , Robbie Christie . Anyways for about 18 ️yrs Id been planning a get together cuz I was tired of seeing friends at funerals . This , i staeted a Use To Coukd Ride Reunion last year . I had friends come out of the wood work . It went so well last year we are having reunion II . ️Yrs it because we all were like family and unless you’ve done it . It’s hard to understand , but we keep them alive in our hearts and memories !
Andy we’ve all been there . I still think of friends I’ve lost . One you might even remember . I think he was the 1980 rookie of the year , Robbie Christie . Anyways for about 18 ️yrs Id been planning a get together cuz I was tired of seeing friends at funerals . This , i staeted a Use To Coukd Ride Reunion last year . I had friends come out of the wood work . It went so well last year we are having reunion II . ️Yrs it because we all were like family and unless you’ve done it . It’s hard to understand , but we keep them alive in our hearts and memories !
Right on Ricky! There’s really nothing like rodeo family! Thanks for the feedback!
I was in Ingelwood that night, Just got off my bull, don’t remember the bull or if I rod him, was standing by the wall with my rope in my hand, Mick was on a great bull of Cottons, #52 McClintock, jumped out turned back to the left as programmed, whipped Mick down underneath, landed on his chest, with both hind feet, Mick got up and ran to the chutes hunched over , he fell in the chute where he died, Saddest night in Rodeo, Brian, Gary and Mick were all very good friends, that night will never be forgotten, I had McClintock 2 weeks later at Santa Maria, shoulda been able to ride him all day long but couldn’t get my mind off Mick, Bruce Ford wrote a very touching song about that night, I hadn’t met Jesus at that time, every thing seemed so final. Part of the puzzle pieses that brought to meet Jesus. Thanks Andy for helping me remember my friends.
Hey, Rob; Thanks for the feedback! I was talking to Barney Brehmer and that day is kinda like Kennedy’s assassination, and the space shuttle explosion. We all remember where we were when those things happened. Same for me as you, BC, Before Christ. Life changing for all of us. And, I also had McClintock at Santa Maria, and exactly as you said, should have rode him all day, …..but didn’t!! Amazing!
we need to get together sometime
at a time when I find bad grammar and poor spelling to be a thorn in my side on FB, it is wonderful to read and listen to your writing. You have never failed to impress this old “Aggie”.
Thanks, Don!! Appreciate that a bunch!