Charley Lyons had one of the most unique acts in rodeo, one that has rarely been duplicated. The Montana man built his reputation as a […]
Ben Jordan dominated the bareback riding in the International Rodeo Association for a decade. But his place in rodeo has lasted a lot longer than just ten years. The Smithville, Oklahoma cowboy was born November 30, 1931, to Ben and Blond Jordan, “under the same tree I’m living under now,” he says. His parents farmed and ranched: “they had to do a little of both to make a living.”
As a youngster, his favorite thing was to ride anything, including calves and mules. “We practiced all the time,” he remembers. “Everybody had stock up and down the road” in southeast Oklahoma. “We’d just go by somebody’s cow lot and get on a calf or two there. I’d been on no telling how many calves and mules before I ever got to a rodeo arena.”
Every Saturday, when he was a kid, Ben could be found at the weekly horse trading. “I’d be there at daylight, and I’d make me two or three dollars getting on horses somebody’d trade for. I’d done it since I was seven or eight years old. I had plenty of money then.”
He completed school through eighth grade, a common thing for boys in those times. But he never got a certificate for graduation. “I went to three rodeos (the week of graduation), and I got back, and of course, graduation was over. (The superintendent) never would give me my certificate. He thought I should have been there to graduate.” Being gone to rodeo also cost him a girlfriend. “I had a little girlfriend holding my seat on the bus. I’d sit by her every evening, and when I was gone, I even lost my seat,” he laughed.
Hitchhiking to rodeos was common. “It was hard times around here,” he said. “We hitchhiked for two or three years.” With the state penitentiary in McAlester, hitchhiking could be difficult. “When we got up there by that prison, when we’d stick out our thumbs, they’d pick up speed, thinking we was convicts,” he laughed.
For five or six years, Ben did nothing but ride bulls. After his school days were over, he lived at home and did ranch work for family. He continued rodeoing “all I could go to.” Then he began riding barebacks and saddle broncs, He enjoyed riding broncs, but in those days, there wasn’t much saddle bronc riding in Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas, so he stuck to barebacks.
Most of the rodeos he went to were jackpots or Rodeo Cowboys Association events, forerunner to the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association. He belonged to the RCA, but after paying several fines of the typical $50, a director fined him $800. “They put me on the black list, and I stayed on there,” Ben remembered. Tom Nesmith (a steer wrestler and tie-down roper), told me he was going to pay my fine at Denver (thinking it was $50), but he called me and told me it went to $800. I said, ‘Just forget it.’ I never went back.”
By then, he had a wife and children to feed. He married a girl who grew up across the creek from him and with whom he rode the school bus. He and Roxie had their first child and only daughter, Betty Jo. Then came Benny, Kenny, John and Billy Bob. All the while, Ben raised cattle, hogs and horses, and rodeoed for extra income. Roxie took care of things at home. “She kept everything going. I believe I was home when one child was born, the first one. She was tough.”
In 1959, he joined the newly formed International Rodeo Association (now the International Pro Rodeo Association). He was the eleventh person to get a card, and his card number is 1110. Ben turned his attention to IRA rodeos, and even though he was in his thirties, past what might have been considered his prime, his was a constant name in the standings. He won the IRA Bareback Riding World Championship in 1961-65, and again in 1968, the bull riding world title in 1961 and 1962, and the All-Around from 1961 through 1963. And along with the competition, he volunteered his time with the IPRA, as a bareback riding director and as vice-president.
Ben’s rodeo career was relatively injury free, as well. Aside from being out for eight months due to a broken leg, he was never off the trail for long. “I never was crippled very much or very long at a time. Right after I got married, I was in a cast for eight months, but after that, just a week or two at a time.”
His usual rodeo trail was in Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas, and the IPRA rodeos farther east. He often competed at Loretta Lynn’s rodeo series, which included eight fall and eight spring rodeos. One year, he won all eight of the fall rodeos, but his record didn’t last long, as Butch Stewart did the same thing the next year.
And Ben learned as much as he could. “I absorbed all I could of it,” he said. “Where I could think about it, and pass it on to somebody it might help.” Cowboys came to him for advice, and he was happy to share. “You didn’t mind them fellers who’d ask you for advice if they’d use it all. If they didn’t use it all, you don’t never tell them again.”
His secret to riding barebacks was simple. “I could pull on my feet, and I was pretty stout in my arms. I’d worked all my life. I had good balance, and I studied horses and bulls. If I had seen (the horse or bull), I might beat somebody a point or two on the same horse. But I didn’t get sloppy on them.”
In 2007, Ben and Roxie’s youngest son, Billy Bob, was killed in a car crash, and six years later, their eldest, Betty Jo, died of cancer. In 2008, after 58 years of marriage, Roxie died, also of cancer. “She helped me through a lot of pains and struggles,” Ben remembered.
Now, he keeps busy carrying mail. He’s been doing it for thirteen years, and it keeps him young. “I have a fifty mile route that takes me about two and a half hours. I have some widder women up and down (the route), and I keep their boxes popped up,” he laughed.
He also raises black mouth cow dogs and hog dogs. He’s been breeding them for forty years, and the Jordan connection to good dogs is recognized nationwide. He has about twenty right now, and has no trouble selling them when he has puppies.
And he says he didn’t have a boring life as he looks over the last eighty years. “I ranched, I did the things I liked outdoors and horseback. I had the top cowdogs in the world. I done just what I wanted to do. I didn’t have to dig ditches,” he laughs.