Back When They Bucked with Liz Kesler
Written by: Gail Woerner< Back to Articles
story by Gail Woerner
Liz was born to Chesley Russell and Irene Faulkner Russell on June 10, 1926 in Clay County, Texas just south of Henrietta. She had one sister, Margie, two years older. They lived in a two story home on a farm/ranch located on Old Joy Shannon Road which had belonged to her paternal great-grandparents. Her daddy was born in that house, too.
Their young lives were idyllic for young country girls. Liz and Margie had dolls galore, buggies for dolls, paper dolls, and a trike to ride. They had a swing and playhouses under the trees. They also got together with other children in the community at Sunday School as well as socials that were held in the area.
When Liz was old enough to go to school she went to the Bluegrove School for the first nine grades. There were 15, or so, in her class and several grades were in one room with one teacher. They had programs for parents with students performing. The principal, Mr. Gilbert and his son both played the fiddle. Mr. Gilbert taught Liz to play the bass fiddle. It took some doing, not because Liz had trouble learning, but because Liz wasn’t tall enough to stand and play the bass fiddle. First they removed the peg from the bottom of the fiddle to make it shorter, but Liz was still to short. Solution: They stood her on a box and she played just fine!
Liz was always an honor student and was valedictorian at her grade school graduation. She only attended school for eleven years and the last two years she was at Henrietta High School where she took typing, bookkeeping and regular courses.
Her dad was always interested in rodeos, both in Henrietta and in Fort Worth. The family always went with him to rodeos and Liz found it a special treat. She was always interested in the events and the rodeo people. When Liz was 17, at the rodeo in Henrietta, one of the timers did not show up. The announcer saw Liz as she was finding her seat in the grandstand and asked her if she would time. She did not hesitate. Obviously she did a good job because it wasn’t very long before she was asked to time other area rodeos.
She was hired by Mr. Gilbert, her former principal, who had become the Superintendent of Schools in Clay County. Her position was Assistant County Superintendent of Schools for Clay County. Her office was located in the court house in Henrietta. She held that position for eight years. Later Liz attended Draughan’s Business College in Wichita Falls to get more business training. She was an excellent administrative person and was eager to gain more knowledge and skills.
Liz met June Bull from Pampa, Texas, and when June finished high school her parents hoped she would want to go to college. Instead it was June’s desire to barrel race. Being their only child her parents were patient with her and agreed. Liz traveled with June Bull to various rodeos around Texas and beyond. At first, Mrs. Bull traveled with them. They always had such a good time and found people in rodeo easy to get to know. It wasn’t long before the rodeo people they met seemed just like family. By the early 1950s they were going to rodeos further from home. Cheyenne Frontier Days, Madison Square Garden Rodeo in New York City, the Boston Garden Rodeo and many others. By this time Liz had resigned her job as Assistant County Superintendent and could travel the country.
In time, Liz went to work for Standard Oil Company, and was offered a transfer with a substantial increase in salary and title. The transfer took Liz to Liberal, Kansas, which seemed like ‘the end of the world’ to her. Fortunately she could still see friends when she worked at a rodeo. She and June learned to secretary rodeos together and soon their reputations as ‘outstanding’ rodeo secretaries spread through the rodeo world.
She often worked in the rodeo office for Everett Colborn, who was the ramrod of the World’s Championship Rodeo. He had some of the biggest and the best rodeos in the country. His daughter, Rosemary, who married World Champion All-Around Cowboy, Harry Tompkins, was generally her dad’s secretary and often Liz would assist or do whatever was necessary.
In 1954 June Bull and Buster Ivory, a bronc rider, were married during the Cheyenne Frontier Days at a Methodist church in Cheyenne. Liz was maid of honor and Jo Decker was matron of honor. Casey Tibbs, World Champion saddle bronc rider and Bill Ward, also a bronc rider were Buster’s attendants. Bill Linderman, All-Around World Champion and President of the Rodeo Cowboy Association, gave June away. Mr. Bull was not ready to give his only daughter up and refused to attend the wedding. It was truly a rodeo wedding.
Liz met Reg Kesler, in Oklahoma City during the 1966 National Finals Rodeo. Liz was a good friend with Jim and Sharon Shoulders, Clem and Donna McSpadden as well as June and Buster Ivory. All these people were good friends with Reg. He was a former three-time All-Around Champion cowboy in Canada who worked every event. He was from Alberta, Canada and went to college there, but was more interested in playing hockey or riding bucking horses. It was evident his life was going to be rodeo. He also collected bucking horses and in 1951 he produced his first rodeo. He had become a well known stock contractor and produced rodeos in Canada and the United States until 1995. Later they became an item.
They married in Bozeman, Montana in 1971 during the NIRA (National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association) Finals. Those attending their wedding in the Methodist Church were Liz’s mother, and niece, Phyllis Jones, and good friends Bud and Anna Lee Purdy. Liz remembers that Byron Walker and Martha Tompkins were among the college students competing at the rodeo. She assisted announcer Don Harrington by identifying the various college contestants and what colleges they represented.
Two days after their wedding Liz was secretary and timer at the Red Lodge, Montana, rodeo. The newlyweds lived in Missoula, Montana and Rosemary, Alberta, Canada, but traveled most of their time on the ‘rodeo road’. They produced rodeos in Denver, Houston, San Antonio, all over the province of Alberta, all over Montana, Idaho and too many other places to mention. Often Reg would be hauling stock to one rodeo and Liz would be heading another direction and putting on a rodeo somewhere else. Reg trusted Liz and knew she had the skills and ability to run a rodeo the right way. Liz often was responsible for getting the cowboys monies to the bank and traveled by herself many miles with never a problem. They were a good team.
Reg was very instrumental with two other men in starting the ProRodeo Cowboy Association Circuit Finals in 1987. It was held in Pocatello, Idaho, and Reg not only helped organize it, he backed it financially, as well as offered his knowledge and his stock for the event. This allowed all 12 circuits in the United States to send their best cowboys in each event to compete against each other. A circuit was made up of one state, or more, depending on the rodeo activity in the states. PRCA cowboys could register for one of the twelve circuits. Liz was the secretary at the very first circuit rodeo held, which was in Montana. She, also secretaried the first National Circuit Finals in Pocatello. This additional level of competition helped the cowboys, who held jobs or were needed on their own ranches and couldn’t rodeo full time, earn more money.
Reg had outstanding broncs for both Saddle Bronc and Bareback events. He had good stallions that bred good bucking stock. Liz once said, “Reg only had to see a horse buck one time to know if it was going to be a good bucking horse.” His horses were chosen as top horses many years in the RCA, PRCA and the National Finals Rodeo. He also had some bucking bulls that were tops, too. He continued in the rodeo business until 1995, when his grandson, Duane Kesler, bought the business. Reg was inducted in to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, the Canadian Rodeo Hall of Fame, Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and the Rodeo Historical Society Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. He was well respected and appreciated in the rodeo world.
Liz also began teaching others to secretary rodeos and held schools in Canada and also helped train secretaries in the U. S. At that time in rodeo the secretary was much more involved with those entering rodeos as it was all done by telephone directly calling the secretary. There was so much more ‘hands on’ administrative work done by the secretaries. They were working without all the technical machines and computerized programs that are in use today.
Liz, Donna McSpadden, Sharon Shoulders, June Ivory, Irene Harris and Nell Shaw started a Ladies Fashion Show during the National Finals Rodeo held in Oklahoma City in 1967. In the beginning they used contestant’s wives and mothers to model the clothing in the show. The local stores and boutiques were so gracious and allowed the gals to come in to the store and pick whatever they wanted to model. This style show has continued annually during the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. It is still being organized by the wives of today’s contestants. The proceeds from the show, including sales of auction items and cost of the show are now given to the Justin Crisis Fund which helps cowboys that are injured or have a serious financial problem pay bills other than their medical bills.
When Liz’s mother became ill she and Reg came back to live with Mrs. Russell so Liz could help care for her. In 2001 Reg went back to his Canadian ranch on business and was tragically killed in an automobile accident. He was 82. It was a big shock to Liz and the entire rodeo world, Reg was still very active in rodeo.
Reg and Liz were involved with Buster and June Ivory in holding the Cowboy Reunion, during the National Finals each year. Today Liz is the ramrod of the event, held in Las Vegas, and still gathers the ‘movers and shakers’ in rodeo, from all across the United States and Canada, each year. The proceeds from this 501c3 organization, are given to the Justin Crisis Fund, the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy and the Rodeo Historical Society.
Presently Liz lives in the family home which has a 130 year history for the Russell family. When her mother died, at the age of 98, Liz became much more active in the community and the county. She is a founding member of the Clay County Historical Society, and was a chairperson for the renovation of the museum. She is also involved in the Pioneer Reunion and rodeo and was chosen Pioneer Reunion Queen in 2000. She is a member of the Bluegrove Baptist Church. Her great-grandparents gave an acre of land for the Bluegrove Cemetery of which she is a member of the cemetery board. She also is a Clay County Memorial Hospital Foundation board member. In 2010 Liz received the Silver Award from the Retired Senior Volunteers of North Texas (which includes 17 counties). In 2013 she was honored as the Outstanding Senior Citizen of Clay County.
In the rodeo world she was honored by the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association in 1984 for her contribution to them which involved making each PRCA rodeo in Montana also a WPRA rodeo for the barrel racing event. At that time WPRA had to get each rodeo committee to agree to their requirements and Liz got the entire state committed. She also received the Montana Governor’s Award for the preservation of our western heritage in 1986. In 1988 Reg and Liz were honored as Outstanding Citizens of Missoula Montana. The Kesler outstanding bucking horse, Three Bars was inducted in to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2004 and Liz accepted. In 2008 Liz and Reg were inducted in to the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame. Liz received the Tad Lucas Memorial Award at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, in 2010, which is given to women who give above and beyond what is expected of them in rodeo as did the namesake, Tad Lucas. That same year Liz and Reg were inducted in to the Montana Wall & Hall of Fame in Billings. In 2013 Liz was given an American Cowboy Culture Award as Pioneer Woman at the Cowboy Symposium held in Lubbock, TX.
She helped organize and is a member of H.A.N.D.S. which stands for Help A Needy Diva Survive. It is a fifty member group of rodeo women, dedicated to helping any rodeo family member who has been injured or has medical problems and may need help either financially, or emotionally.
Liz has enjoyed her life immensely. She has worked hard at everything she has done, and accomplished much. She has never hesitated to assist when anyone needs help. Liz is actually an important part of three families. Her own family, including her sister Margie, Margie’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as Reg’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren and the rest of her relatives; her second family is the rodeo family which includes everyone who has had the good fortune to meet her or worked with her at rodeos and rodeo functions. Especially the young cowboys, who were just starting out in rodeo and love her so much for all the help she gave them when they were still ‘wet behind the ears’; and last but not least her Clay County family which grows with each and every event Liz participates in.
Liz is truly proud of her heritage and deep Texas roots. She has the manners and demeanor of a lady. She gains the respect of everyone she meets because of her gracious ways. She is no where near finished making memories and living her life to the fullest. Don’t expect to see her sitting in a rocking chair and watching the world go by. She still has much she wants to do, so many events to attend and so many friends to see.