courtesy of SWTJC Rodeo Alumni As Southwest Texas Junior College in Uvalde, Texas celebrates their 60th Anniversary as a National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) team, […]
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Meet the Member – A.C. Ekker
By Sharon Adams
There was a good crop of contestants at the College Finals in 1967, names most rodeo fans will recognize: Randy Magers, Phil Lyne, Joe Alexander, Butch Myers, Bob Berger. One you may not have heard much about was quite a western character and made his name outside rodeo, A.C. Ekker. He died in 2000 in a plane crash while working fall roundup on his family ranch in Wayne County, Utah.
A. C. Ekker rode a horse into the arena at the 1967 College National Finals Rodeo in St. George, Utah, and drove away in a Ford Mustang convertible. Del Higham of Dixie College in St. George, had done his work well! Recently hired by the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association as marketing director, a first for college rodeo, Higham had persuaded the Ford Motor Company to donate the car for six months as an award to the college All-Around Champion. Family legend in the Ekker family has it that when A.C.’s dad heard his son had won a “mustang”, he pointed out that the Ekker ranch already had plenty of horses!
Ekker won first in Ribbon Roping, third in Bull Riding and fourth in Steer Wrestling at the college finals, edging out another great all-around cowboy, Phil Lyne. A student at the University of Utah, A.C. earned a degree in business management but he was just what his title indicated, an all-around cowboy whether in the arena or on the family ranch in the rugged canyon country near Hanksville, Utah
Ekker was the descendant of Utah pioneers. His great-grandfather, Charles Gibbons was said to be an acquaintance of outlaw Butch Cassidy who had a hideout in the steep canyons northeast of Hanksville. The nickname of the hideout, Robbers Roost, later became the name of the Ekker ranch. His grandparents, Mormon emigrants from the Netherlands, homesteaded near Hanksville over 100 years ago. A.C. knew the back country well and in addition to ranching, operated Outlaw Trails, Inc. and later Canyonlands Expeditions leading rafting and horseback tours. Always the rancher, he served as president of the Eastern Utah Cattle Growers Association.
He was the subject of magazine articles in Range Magazine, Western Horseman, Sports Illustrated, a documentary about Dutch émigrés, another documentary with Robert Redford about the Outlaw Trail and Robber’s Roost, a front page article in the Wall Street Journal, and his picture was on the cover of National Geographic, November 1976. All this came about because of his love of the Utah back country, his knowledge about the canyons, the pictographs, the rivers, the history and the characters of that area. On the tours he led, he met and made lasting impressions on the folks he guided down the Green River or took over back roads and through the rugged canyons between Capitol Reef and Moab.
The Ekkers, A. C. and his dad, Arthur, guided Robert Redford back in 1975 when Redford was doing research for his book, The Outlaw Trail: A Journey through Time. Redford writes “A.C. Ekker is a man of unusual efficiency. He’s a take-charge man, impatient with lethargy and complication. He is simple, in the best sense of the word, and has an extraordinary ability to see a task clearly and reduce its complications to the simplest level. This I admire.”
Sources: College Rodeo from Show to Sport. 2004. Sylvia Gann Mahoney. Texas A&M Press; The Outlaw Trail: A Journey through Time. 1976 Robert Redford. Grosset & Dunlap Publisher. Special thanks to the A.C. Ekker’s sisters!