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Back When They Bucked with Bob Hagel
Written by: Ruth Nicolaus< Back to Articles
As a kid, all Bob Hagel wanted to do was be horseback.
The saddle bronc rider, now a resident of Mobridge, S.D., was born on Feb. 25, 1935 and grew up in Ft. Pierre, riding horses at his maternal uncle’s ranch every minute he wasn’t in school.
When he was six years old, his dad, Carl Hagel, took a construction job in Rapid City, S.D., and the family moved.
Bob hated it. There were no horses to ride in Rapid City, so, every summer, he went back to his uncle’s to ride. “The day school got out, I went to Ft. Pierre,” he remembered. His mother, Marion Hagel, knew the bus driver personally, “so she’d put me on the bus, and I’d stay (in Ft. Pierre) till the day before school started, and then I’d come back home.”
Two days after his fourteenth birthday, his mother died, and Bob’s life changed. His incentive to stay in school waned, and in 1952, Bob packed his suitcase and hitchhiked to Ft. Pierre and his uncle’s.
His uncle and aunt bought a ranch near Lake Andes, S.D., and they made him an offer: if Bob would go with them and finish high school, they’d get him started in the cattle business. But Bob had a girlfriend, so he stayed in Ft. Pierre.
In 1953, at a dance at the Timber Lake rodeo, he met a pretty black-haired woman and danced with her. Audrey Ducheneaux and he dated for three years, and on March 30, 1956, they married.
They lived in Timber Lake for several years, Audrey working in the soil conservation office and he working for ranchers and then for the Rural Electric Association as a lineman. He worked in Wyoming on oil rigs, and then a lineman job came up in Flasher, N.D., so they moved. In North Dakota, Audrey worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and then for the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (now the Natural Resources Conservation Service) office.
It was before he married when Bob was introduced to saddle bronc riding. He was running around with his future brother-in-law, Delbert Lamb, a bronc rider.
Bob got on practice horses, and at a bucking horse sale in McLaughlin, S.D., he won first place and a buckle. His career was started.
He ran into Mervel Hall, an accomplished bronc rider, who offered to take Bob with him rodeoing. “Mervel said, ‘I’ll pack you for twenty-five percent,’ and I said, ‘I’ll do that.’” A week later, Mervel was in Fargo but Bob had no way to get there. So he caught a ride with Emerson Chase, another bronc rider. They competed at the Badlands Saddle Club Rodeo, where Bob won first, and Emerson told him, “you stay with me and we’ll go to Florida this winter, to rodeo.”
But Bob had made a promise to Mervel, so he and Hall took off, along with Dale Harper, a bareback rider from Carson, N.D. They rodeoed across Arizona and southern California, coming home in the spring.
Bob was never more than a weekend cowboy, he said. He considered joining the RCA, the Rodeo Cowboys Association, predecessor to today’s PRCA, but he didn’t. “I was married, I had a job, and I knew damn well I could make more money working.”
He competed in the South Dakota Rodeo Association, the North Dakota Rodeo Association, the Northwest Ranch Cowboys Association, and the International Rodeo Association. He finished as the SDRA’s reserve champion in 1961, to Bud Day, and in 1962, to Willie Cowan.
At the time, the IRA (predecessor to today’s International Pro Rodeo Association), co-approved SDRA rodeos, and Bob qualified for their finals, held in Chicago, in 1962. He finished the year as reserve champion, one point behind Buzz Seely. It was the old-style of scoring at the time; Bob scored 172 points in the second round aboard a little black stripe-faced horse named Rastus, to win the round; Seely had 173 points in the third round to win the rodeo. Seely went on to win the bronc riding at the National Finals Rodeo in 1969.
At the age of 85, Bob remembers the horses he got on and the rodeos he went to like they were yesterday. His favorite bucking horse was Dakota Chief, a horse owned by O’Leary Brothers and Annis, stock contractors. He won second on him, to Dean Reeves, at the IRA finals in Chicago, in a round. He recalls the horse, a Roman nosed bay named Friday, who he rode while doctoring for screwworms on his uncle’s ranch when he was in his teens, and his first horse, an old bay named Buster, which “I rode all day.”
He got on his last horse in 1967, when he was 32 years old. He and Audrey had just moved to North Dakota, and he was on call every other weekend for the electric company. “You can’t rodeo that way,” he said, “so I just quit. But my powder was getting damp anyway.”
All these years later, he still misses the friends and the competition of rodeo. “The thing I missed the most when it came to an end, was not seeing them guys every weekend, and the B.S., and what goes along with rodeo. It was hard to get used to.”
He and Audrey raised two sons: Clayton and Todd. Todd lives in Bismarck with his wife Lynn and their two sons and a daughter. Clayton lives in Ft. Yates with his wife Maria and their two sons. (Two of their sons have passed away.) Todd was never interested in rodeo, Bob said, but Clayton was, and Clayton did well, winning a state high school title, two NDRA titles, and a Great Plains Rodeo Association title, all in the saddle bronc riding. Clayton and Todd were among 59 first cousins on the Ducheneaux side, and one time, at the Timber Lake Rodeo, there were eleven first cousins riding saddle broncs, with Clayton included.
Audrey was the best thing that happened to him, Bob said. They were married sixty-two years before she passed away from cancer in 2018. “She was a good woman and a hard worker,” he said. “She never complained, even when she had cancer.”
In January of 2000, Bob took his last drink. He wasn’t an everyday drinker, but if he got started, the next morning he’d crave more and keep drinking. He got up one morning, and Audrey had made a line of every bottle he’d drank, on the wall. “I looked at that, and said, ‘I’ll never take another drink as long as I live.’ Audrey’s reply was, ‘I’ve heard that before.’” Bob told her, “No, I’m done.” And he was. Sixteen years later, one of her sisters told him Audrey had said it was the happiest sixteen years of her life. “Thank God I quit,” Bob said. “By the time she died, I had eighteen years alcohol free.” Marriage “was the best thing I did.”
Now he golfs, shooting under fifty, and would play every day if someone is willing to play with him, Clayton said. He enjoys reminiscing about old times and rodeo. He was never a superstar but he loves the sport.
“I enjoyed it. I rode some, and I rode with some good guys. I never made a lot of money at it, but I enjoyed it.”