Audrey Griffin grew up in the silver-screened atmosphere of Santa Monica, California, but she was destined for the dusty and daring show business of the […]
Back When They Bucked with Frank Beard
Written by: Ruth Nicolaus< Back to Articles
On the wall in the meeting room at the Sisters, Ore., Pro Rodeo hangs a bull’s head, a testament to a man and his family’s way of life. That bull, Cuddles, was one of many bucking bulls and horses owned by Frank Beard, of Beard Rodeo Co.
Frank got his start in the bucking bull and horse business as a youngster. The son of Bill and Ruby Beard, the 89-year-old cowboy was born to a horse trader who also had race horses. Frank’s mother passed away when he was a baby, and by the time he was in his teens, he was riding bucking horses.
As a teenager, he began riding horses for Ruth Parton, Toppenish, Wash., a trick rider and girl bronc rider. When he was in his twenties, he was working for area ranchers and stock contractors, including Bob Nicholson and John Van Belle, and during the off-season, packed on bucking horses on hunting trips around Mt. Rainier. Frank also rode barebacks and saddle broncs and galloped race horses at local tracks in the Northwest.
It was while working for Van Belle that a rodeo queen caught his eye. It was Charlot Van Belle, the Toppenish, Wash. rodeo queen and John’s daughter, and they married in 1947. For their honeymoon, they went to the Moses Lake, Wash. rodeo, where Frank won second in the saddle bronc riding, and the next year, won the rodeo.
Frank and Charlot were both nineteen when they married, and the two made a home together. He continued working for his father-in-law, and together they welcomed “four studs and a filly,” as Frank likes to say: Casey, Tim, Kelly, who passed away four years ago, Pat, and Shannon, the daughter.
Frank added pickup man to his resume, picking up for Van Belle and Flying Five. He shod horses, and volunteered with his kids’ 4-H club and horse shows. The older boys showed horses more than they rodeoed, but when Pat came along, he wanted to ride broncs, so Frank made sure there were practice horses for the kids.
He and his father-in-law were providing stock for several amateur associations, including the Northwest Rodeo Association. In 1973, Beard Rodeo Co. was formed, and by the time the 1980’s rolled around, pro rodeo cowboys who got on his animals at amateur shows were urging him to get his Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association card.
Australian cowboy Dave Appleton told Frank to come to the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City, where Frank and his son Pat made the decision to go pro. The rule was that any new stock contractor had to bring five new rodeos to the PRCA, so Beard Rodeo Co. brought some of their amateur shows, , including Molalla and The Dalles, Ore., and Monroe, Wash. “Some of the better amateur rodeos we were doing at that time made the switch with us,” Frank said.
The year 1987 was when they became PRCA members, and their shows were nearly all family-run. Pat picked up, along with Shannon’s husband Don Stewart. Frank’s nephew Randy Allan would also pick up. Charlot’s sister Ellen Pederson and Shannon timed. Charlot cooked, and the family traveled in a fifth-wheel, with the grandkids tagging along. Edie Longfellow was rodeo secretary: Charlot said she wouldn’t do that job. “That was not in the discussion,” remembers Daniel Beard, Tim’s son and Frank’s grandson. “Anything else would be OK with grandma, but not that.”
The Beard Rodeo Co. had great bulls but even better horses. The most memorable was a saddle bronc named Profit Taker, a thoroughbred who had made $32,000 on the race track. Not only did he buck, but after each ride, Frank could get on him bareback and ride him around. At the rodeos, he was penned with the saddle horses, and he’d get washed and brushed just like them for the rodeo. Profit Taker bucked at the National Finals Rodeo when he was thirty years old.
Beard Rodeo also had a bareback horse-turned saddle bronc named Roan Ranger who went to the National Finals Rodeo eight times, before Frank switched him to the saddle bronc riding, where he was ridden only three times in three years.
Another outstanding horse was Heckle, a ten-time NFR bareback horse who was a thoroughbred/quarter horse cross. A bay, the horse was beautiful, confirmation-wise, “a gorgeous-made horse,” Frank said. “People would talk about what a good riding horse he would be, if they could break him, but he’d have been pretty cowboy-y. He was as hard muscled as he could be.”
Frank had begun a breeding program with his horses and some registered mares from Barb McLean, but in 1991, his first crop of colts came, along with the main herd sire 101 Home Grown.
Frank and Charlot lived in Sunnyside, Washington, and when the state highway came through their property, were forced to move, so they went to Outlook. When Interstate 82 came through their property in Outlook, they had to move to Ellensburg. They live north of town, on an irrigated farm with good grass. Their log home is full of artifacts, western and Native American: spurs, bits, saddles, Indian handiwork, and more. Frank is “a trader,” said Edie Longfellow. During down time at rodeos, Edie, Charlot and Ellen would visit antique and thrift stores, and Charlot would always say, as she considered buying something, “how will this look at my estate sale?” Edie laughed.
The Beards were the starting point for several contract acts. Rodeo clowns Flint Rasmussen and JJ Harrison got their starts with them, as did a young unknown name, Boyd Polhamus. “The promoter hired a kid right out of school named Boyd, to announce (a Beard rodeo), and he would have a hard time pronouncing those Indian names for towns. Everybody in the crowd would tease him,” Frank said. “You could tell pretty soon that he was pretty talented.”
Frank and Charlot sold Beard Rodeo Co. to Mike Corey in 2007. Health reasons precipitated the sale, and “it was the best decision for everybody,” said Daniel. The Beards had bucking stock at the Wrangler NFR every year of the company’s existence.
Frank and Charlot’s home is still open to traveling rodeo people, contestants and contractors, and they often stop by to visit.
And the Beard family is still involved in the sport. Casey is general manager of the Pendleton, Ore. Roundup and served on the PRCA Board of Directors. Pat, a former Wrangler NFR pickup man, is the tourism director for the city of Pendleton. Don, Shannon’s husband, was a pickup man, Shannon worked as a timer, and the couple raised bucking horses. Daniel, Tim’s son, is a partner in Summit Pro Rodeo.
And the bull on the wall in Sisters, Ore.? It’s Cuddles, a Beard bull, who cornered the Sisters rodeo president Jim Morris in a back pen and broke his wrist. Frank and his family provided stock in Sisters from 1990 till 2007.
Frank doesn’t regret a minute of his life. “I got to do a lot of things that nobody had a chance to do,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed life, I’ll say that.”