Back When They Bucked with Smokey Davis
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
At 85 years old, Joe F. “Smokey” Davis is a Texas cowboy legend. Born August 25, 1933, in Crosby, Texas (35 miles northeast of Houston), Joe came into the world in the Great Depression. “Dad was a cattleman and a rice farmer; I was born right in the middle of the depression. They had a bunch of money on the rice, and when they called all the loans in, they lost everything. It took them three years to get back going again.”
His dad, Joe Davis, along with 15 of his rodeo buddies, became tic inspectors for the USDA as part of a program to eradicate the tic problem that plagued a large portion of east Texas and Missouri – Cattle Fever Tick Eradication Program. “They worked four of five counties east of Houston,” he recalls. “I was six or seven and I’d go with him in the morning, moving cattle for inspection, then he’d take me to school.” His mom, Alice, was a bus driver, driving for three hours twice a day and working at the school cafeteria between shifts. “That was my young years right there.” His name, Smokey, came at a young age. His grandfather saw him covered in soot, coming from inside a heater pipe inside their home that had collapsed. He said ‘Looks like we have two Smokey’s – and it stuck.’ “I won’t answer to anything else.”
His dad was a calf roper, so Smokey started breakaway roping at 9 years old. “When I was 11, they had a rodeo here at Barker Texas, TH Marks had a Memorial Day rodeo and my dad put me in the men’s breakaway. I won it with a 2.2.” That win pushed Smokey out of all school sports. “I was considered a professional. If you won money, you couldn’t enter any sports. They just changed that ruling 10 years ago.”
Even though Smokey had no brothers or sisters, he was surrounded by kids. “We lived only a mile and a half from school, it was a dirt road, but all of us kids had horses and I grew up on a half Shetland pony. Three of the boys I run around with, their daddies worked for tic eradication program and we all went with our daddies. I did that until I was 13 or 14, and then they eradicated the tics.”
In 1945, Smokey’s dad went to work for WW Fondren estate, raising Red Brahma cattle, – they won several awards in Houston and Dallas and San Antonio for their cattle. “I was showing them when I was a young man; we’d go to the sales and I was watching the rodeos, but never competed in those days. I was there from 1945 until I graduated in 1951.” When he graduated from high school, Smokey went to the University of Houston, competing on the rodeo team, serving as president, and competing in five events (calf roping, steer roping, steer wrestling, bareback riding, and bull riding). He married Betty Hambrick after the first year, and they began their family of five children. He worked side-by-side with his father as a pick-up man at the Texas Prison Rodeo for 12 years. He also took a job as a machinist beginning January 7, 1955, and working until 1972. He was looking for a job to supplement his income from rodeo. “My friend got me the job,” he recalls. “I had a wife and three kids, but not much income; I could do anything on a ranch and that got me the job.”
He was still able to rodeo on the weekends, and he started picking up in the summer of 1953. “From then on I rodeoed everywhere.” He worked for Sloan Williams, an IPRA producer, for 10 years, and he bought him out in 1972 and joined the IPRA – producing 50 rodeos a year through Texas and Oklahoma, Louisiana, and leased stock for several other rodeos. He was SRA and TRA as well and was named producer of the year for three or four years for both of them. Rafter D Rodeo company was formed in 1978, bringing the entire family under one roof. Rafter D staged rodeos for dignitaries including Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and the Emperor of China. The many awards and honors he has earned cover a wall in the Fulshear, Texas, home he shared with his wife Betty, whom he lost in 2016 after 64 years of marriage.
Betty, was the IPRA secretary for 15 years. “She and I were recognized as the longest rodeo members that was at the old timers in 2016.” Their five children followed their parents’ example in the rodeo world; three boys and two girls all rodeoed through school and college. “Steven, twins, Donald and Ronald (Donnie and Ronnie) – they picked up my rodeos for me, Steve announced later after A&M; Karen turned into the secretary, she did that for the Finals for several years; Kathryn was the oldest girl and she kept time, along with Betty. Now I’ve got 15 grandkids, and 19 great grandkids.” Five of the nineteen grea grand children rodeo. Betty was with him every step of the way. Smokey served on the IPRA board as the stock contractor for the southern region for 22 years. He gave it up in 2001. One honor stands out to him- his 2011 induction into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, whose primary mission is to preserve rodeo history and honor rodeo achievement. His father was inducted in 2001.
“The best part of my life has been family and friends,” he said. “The people are what have made this whole ride worth doing.”