Back When They Bucked with Jane Douthitt
Written by: Ruth Nicolaus< Back to Articles
The wife of one of the biggest rodeo stars of his time led an interesting life of her own.
Even though Jane Douthitt often lived in the shadow of her husband, Buff Douthitt, she managed to be involved in a variety of activities.
Her life started on June 21, 1936, the daughter of R.C. and Ola Francis Kirkland, near Knox City, Texas. Her father was a rancher, and she and her brother were always on horseback. Living fifty miles from the nearest grocery store, horses and riding were their entertainment.
She graduated from Guthrie High School in 1952 and went to college at Texas Tech in Lubbock, majoring in business. She did not compete in collegiate rodeo; she had other plans. “I had my mind made up,” Jane said. “I didn’t have time to do anything but get my education. I had my life to get on with, in my mind.”
After college, she moved to Wichita Falls, where her dad’s kinfolk lived. She competed in barrel racing at amateur rodeos, riding borrowed horses. At the time, local ranchers would sponsor barrel racers, furnishing the horse and paying the cowgirl’s entry fees, and that’s how Jane rodeoed.
She competed in several pageants, finishing as runner-up for Miss Wichita Falls Queen and winning the Miss Rodeo Archer City title in the mid-1950s.
Her brother was in college in Wichita Falls when she met the man who would become her husband.
Jane had admired the looks of Buff Douthitt, a tie-down roper, steer wrestler, and roper in the wild cow milking (at that time the wild cow milking was often included in pro rodeos) when a picture of him with a group of other cowboys at Madison Square Gardens in 1946 hung in the ranch office where her dad was general manager. At the age of ten, she had pointed to his face and declared to her mother, “here’s the man I’m going to marry.”
She convinced her brother to take her to Vernon for a pro rodeo, and at the dance after the rodeo, Buff asked her to dance. She didn’t recognize him; he wasn’t dressed western but had on dress clothes and dress pants. “Gee, I thought he was cute, but I was determined that I was going to find me a pro cowboy,” she said. “So I turned him down. What a mistake that was.”
The next day, on a date with another cowboy, she was introduced to Buff and she realized who he was. “I knew I had made a big mistake,” she said.
She dated a couple of cowboys, seeing Buff occasionally, but he never paid any attention to her. In January of 1956, she was about to get his attention. She was at the Ft. Worth Rodeo, sitting with the contestants’ wives and girlfriends, looking down the stairs where the contestants were. “I was conniving,” she laughed. “I saw him start up the stairs, and I just happened to be going down the stairs.” This time, he stopped; they shook hands and talked a bit, and he asked her to the dance that night.
By the time the dance was over, they knew they would marry. “I say it was God,” Jane said. “It was His design, from start to finish. It was wonderful. We were still just as in love to the day he passed away.”
They married in September of 1957 and rented a house, no bigger than a studio, in Wichita Falls. He rodeoed and Jane traveled with him, as her job with the oil company allowed. Their first child, April, was born in 1959.
In 1958, Jane quit work to travel with Buff. At that time, they lived in Throckmorton, where her parents had moved. Three years later, Buff helped train race horses at Hialeah Race Track in Miami, Florida, and Jane and April spent the time with him. Buff and Jane bought a used Air Stream Trailer to live in while in Florida.
In 1962, the family moved to Ardmore, Okla., where they had some horses and cattle on fifteen acres. Buff continued to rodeo and that year, their son Jason was born.
It was in the 1960s that Jane took another role with rodeo. She had timed rodeos for Beutler Bros. but decided if she was on the road with Buff, she could be earning some money, too. She learned to secretary rodeos and worked for Hoss Inman, Mel Potter of Rodeos, Inc., and others. This was before computers, when a secretary had to do all the work by hand, including typing day sheets. Often, Buff would drive while she balanced a typewriter on her knees and put together judges’ sheets. “I have always said that if you can (secretary rodeos) and not make a mistake, you can do anything in the world. Boy, what a responsibility,” Jane said. “I loved it.”
While Buff rodeoed and his family and children traveled with him, they traveled in a car with a horse trailer, staying at hotels. But that year, the price of a room at the Holiday Inn went up $10 a night, “and that was bad news for every cowboy,” Jane remembered. That fall, Buff started planning and designed “horse house trailer”. He, along with a carpenter, in the Douthitt garage, started building a trailer that included a compartment to house horses. When spring came, the Douthitts left for the rodeo trail in their own custom designed horse house trailer, and everybody who saw it wanted one, Jane said. For several years, Buff tried to build one or two in the slow season to sell in the spring.
In 1969, Buff quit rodeo competition and the family moved to the Ft. Worth area, where they bought a small manufacturing plant to make the horse house trailers. Two years later, they couldn’t keep up with the demand, expanding their manufacturing area and making not only horse house trailers but travel trailers, motor homes and hippie vans.
Then the oil embargo hit in 1974 and fuel was in short supply. The general public cut back on driving and “cowboys quit pulling trailers,” Jane said. The heyday of their business was over.
But they adapted to the times, and instead of building trailers, switched to contracts with the U.S. government. They built latrines for the troops in South Korea, relocatable housing, “skid towns” – portable housing for pipeline workers, and residential housing that ended up in Houston. Their products went to a variety of foreign countries, including Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran, countries in Africa, and to Hawaii. Their business, called MBM International Inc., was headquartered in Ft. Worth. At its height, it employed over 3,500 people in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
In 1981, they decided to retire and sold the business to a foreign company. Jane stayed on with the company for another year, helping them get on their feet. The couple decided to move to Hawaii, but it wasn’t as much fun to be residents there as it was to be tourists.
So they flipped a coin to determine where their retirement home would be. Buff had grown up in New Mexico, Jane in Texas, and the flip decided the state. New Mexico won out, and the couple moved to Santa Fe. They became involved in the state’s movie industry, providing livestock for movies. Buff served as a movie consultant and played some cameo roles.
Jane took a position with the Edgar Foster Daniels private foundation in Santa Fe, a foundation that funds operas around the world. It was a job she loved. Buff team roped locally, and Jane usually went with him. She loved team roping and she loved watching him compete. Together, they competed in the ribbon roping at senior pro rodeos. Jane ran for other ropers, too. “I could really run at that stage of my life,” she said.
In 2006, tragedy struck. At the age of 43, their son Jason died in a gun accident. It hurt Buff and Jane terribly. “That about killed us both,” Jane said. She retired from the foundation.
In 2014, a horse was tangled in an arena panel when Buff went to release him. No one was around when the accident happened, but it appeared that the horse drug Buff before kicking him, breaking vertebrae C1 through C5, his shoulder and four fingers. Doctors put four metal rods and 22 screws in his neck, and he was hospitalized for several months. He died in September of 2016. Jane had lost her business partner and husband. It took over a year for her to move through her grief.
Now she stays busy, with an office complex she purchased in downtown Santa Fe. She loves to read, travel, and spend time with April’s sons, who are 23 and 18 years old.
She looks back on her beginning, a modest start on a ranch in Texas, and is sometimes amazed at what she and Buff did. “I still wonder how two kids raised on ranches could accomplish what we did.”
It was a good life, she said, and rodeo was a big part of it. “I loved rodeo. I loved watching Buff” compete.
Buff was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2001 and Jane was honored at the Ladies of Pro Rodeo Banquet in Las Vegas last December.