Steve Gramith considers himself a “foot soldier” in the sport of rodeo. The humble man was involved as both a contestant and a pickup man, […]
Back When they Bucked with Wick Peth
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Wick Peth was born in 1930 at Mt. Vernon, Washington. “My parents were farmers and ranchers. We run cattle and raised quite a few peas and potatoes.” In his early years, his dad and uncles put on a rodeo at the ranch that turned into a stock contracting business in the 1950s. “My father wanted to keep us out of town, so he had roping steers and calves for us. He asked one year what we wanted for Christmas; I was 17 or 18; I asked for some bulls. He had 20 come to town for us in a box car in the middle of January … we had as many as 60 living around here during the stock contracting years. The neighbors would come – my brothers (Jerry, Ted, and Buzz) were always roping, I steer wrestled a little but didn’t rope. Everybody would get on a bull and somebody had to get the bulls off, so I was good at that.
“After we got bulls, at night I would crawl out in the pasture and lay down on the ground and watch them. I’d watch them fight in the daytime and watch where their feet were and where they are when they turn around. I did things with a bull that other bullfighters wondered how I figured it out.” One of the moves he used to make with a bull is to run up and grab him by the tail. “I don’t grab that until I get past his rear end. I swing around on his tail and on towards his head. He comes around in a circle. After he goes two or three times around, he figures he can’t hook me, I pull my butt away from his head, when he turns back the other way, he’s got all my momentum going and I can turn a summer sault in front of him and he can’t touch me. I’d show people how to do that in bull fighting schools after I studied the bulls and found ones that would work. It wouldn’t work on all of them, they think different. It’s hard to explain. It was a certain minded bull.”
Wick studied the bulls. When he was growing up, he watched them and how they behaved and moved and took his job of taking care of the cowboys very seriously. He could predict what was going to happen and how the bulls were moving. He had a system. “When I was protecting the bull riders, I always went to the side of the right handed or left handed. I had a plan of what I was going to do if this or that happened or he got thrown off a certain side.” Wick never considered himself to be funny. “I always felt like the good bull fighters came off of cattle ranches that had some cow sense,” said Wick, who got his name from a neighbor. “I used to go with my father around the country to buy cattle,” he explained. “We would stop at the hardware store, and this guy’s name was Vick and they called me Little Vick. This guy had a stroke and he couldn’t say V and it became W, and that’s how it started.” His given name is Melvin, but he has never gone by that name. Wick put on bull fighting schools with Jerry Beagley over a period of ten years. “I had several students that picked up on them. The one main thing I told them is when you get knocked down, get up.” The schools were held all over the county.
“Everybody is a genius at something and figuring out what that is is a blessing,” said his daughter Liza. “He was a genius at fighting bulls.” He changed the way rodeo clowns were in the rodeo. The art of the rodeo clown became the science of bull fighting. He took his job seriously. Not only did Wick study bulls, he rode them. Along with playing football, Wick competed in the bull riding, continuing that after high school. “I never went full time, because I had to work on the ranch.” He met his wife, Dorothy, at a rodeo. “She was always helping me,” said Wick, who considered her as his biggest support. “She never said “be careful” she was always trying to encourage me to go on.”
Wick traveled thousands of miles to rodeo and fight bulls. As word got out about his abilities as a bull fighter, he gained the attention of the Beutler Brothers. “Lynn came over to me in Nampa, Idaho, and asked me to work all the rest of his shows and that kept me going.” Wick would stay gone for two or three weeks at a time, and then come home and spend hours on the tractor catching up. He and Dorothy had three children, Liza, and Lana, and Dan. He continued to ride until the late 1950s. “The reason I quit riding bulls is they kept me so sore, I felt like I owed it to the bull riders to stay healthy.” He quit fighting bulls in 1985 – after 35 years. “By that time, I was 55 years old and I couldn’t move as fast or heal up as quick. Age takes care of things.” He stressed the value of education and as a result all three of his children are college graduates.
He still lives on the ranch and helps where he can. His son, Dan, and his grandson, Owen, run the day to day operation of the ranch, running 600 head of cows. Wick is there every morning to help and then he heads to the coffee shop. “Dad was so well received,” recalls Dan of his travels with his dad. “The bull riders looked up to him and appreciated what he was doing. They were really glad to have him around.”
The man in the red striped shirts, who helped change the way bull riders were protected, looks back on his life as a bull fighter and farmer. “I like fighting bulls and it was something that everybody couldn’t do. It got me off the farm and I could relax and go fight bulls.” Traveling down the road, he was always studying the soil, watching what other farmers did with the land. He has seen many changes in both bull fighting and farming. “We just started to irrigate the pasture ground 10 years ago, and we have a couple big reel sprinklers – we never used to have that here. What you don’t see, you don’t do.” His plans for the future are simple. “I just want to farm myself away – plow myself into the dirt.”
Wick was inducted in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979, Cheyenne Frontier Days, Ellensburg Rodeo, and St. Paul Rodeo Halls of Fame. His family has nominated him for induction into the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City.