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), […]
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Since his first introduction to rodeo in 1956, Jerry Derby has made a career surrounding the sport of rodeo. First he started out as a competitor and a judge in the arena and later became a supplier to rodeo athletes and fans alike through his large list western wear stores stretching through seven states. His love of the sport has never faded and at the ripe age of 70, continues to attend rodeo events as a big supporter. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a pro show or a Little Britches rodeo, I’m just anxious to be around the sport. I just love rodeo,” said Jerry.
Born to Harold and Alma Derby on Nov. 16, 1942, Jerry grew up on a farm between Bandera and San Antonio, TX. Although Harold was not a competing cowboy, Jerry states that he was a cattleman and backed his sons’ play, while Alma did not approve of Jerry’s choice in extracurricular activities. “She never attended a single rodeo. She always said that I would get hurt,” said Jerry. At the same time, Alma worked as a bank teller. “Every time I went in to cash a winning check, my mother always made sure that the whole bank knew what I was in there for,” said Jerry of his mother’s bragging rights. Jerry was the youngest of three boys. While oldest brother Jack competed in the RCA as a bareback rider, middle child Tommy was not interested in rodeo.
By 1956, Jerry got his first taste of rodeo during a trip with brother Jack to the “Daddy of ‘Em All” in Cheyenne, Wyo. Upon his return home, Jerry began riding calves and steers at local events. His progression grew into high school competition where he was able to compete at one of the first high school finals rodeo held in Hallettsville, TX., in 1961. “In those days, there weren’t too many, if any, rodeo schools to attend. We would learn our skills and trades from each other,” said Jerry of his growing skills of the time. He quickly earned the mentorship of Fred White, who traveled with Jack. “He was an extraordinary college and rodeo athlete,” Jerry remembered.
After graduating from high school, Jerry bought his RCA permit in 1962, focusing on bulls and barebacks. “I was a good average bull rider and could make enough to live off of my rodeo checks,” he said. He stuck with the association for approximately two or so years before turning his attentions to the International Professional Rodeo Association and the Southwestern Rodeo Association. “It was a time when judging was tough in the pros. I was a rookie competing against guys like Jim Shoulders and at times it was a name that earned the points,” he said of his reasons for quitting the RCA. “But the SRA was one of the toughest amateur associations. There were quite a few members that went on to qualify to the NFR.”
It wasn’t long until Jerry fell into a group of friends, all with the first name – Jerry. This is where he adopted the name Derby or “Derb”, which he is still referred to as today. Jerry McDannald, who rode saddle broncs and steer wrestled, was Derby’s traveling partner through the 60s and 70s. “Jerry was a solid hand and went to a lot more rodeos then I did. He was still a member of the RCA even after I quit and competed in places like Madison Square Garden,” said Derby. The pair would meet up with Jerry Simms, who competed in the bull riding and the three of them would run around the rodeos together. “We were all just some average cowboys, but the memories that we made are better than any championship,” said Derby.
With cell phones not in existence in the early 60s, it was common that rodeos were heard about through the word of mouth. Derby and other rodeo cowboys began hanging around Stelzig Saddlery and the American Hat Company in downtown Houston, TX. Here, is where Derby got his interest in the western wear business. “Bubba Silva and Mr. Cohen [owners of the American Hat Company] would allow me to shape hats for my rodeo buddies while we were hanging around the stores,” said Derby. Through his travels and living in Texas his entire life, Jerry knew that the large cattle industry laid near the coast, but cowboys had to travel far distances to any western store. With his go-getting spirit, Jerry opened his first store in Dickinson, TX., where he specialized in making cowboy hats.
Although a small business owner and operator, Jerry continued to rodeo hard until 1973. His bull riding and bareback riding careers were brought to a sudden end after breaking his back in Pasadena, TX. His luck looked to spiral downward as his little store in Dickinson began struggling with its small list of inventory and Derby began thinking about closing the doors. In a stroke of luck, Derby was offered the opportunity to buy the inventory out of a western store in Victoria, TX., with a net worth of $43,000. “I was about to close the doors myself and didn’t have that kind of money, so offered $3300 and won the bid,” Jerry said. His new large supply of inventory allowed business to skyrocket and he had to build a new big store in Alvin, TX. By 1974, Tandy Corporation had decided to get into the western wear business and purchased the store from Derby at the age of 29.
At the age of 35, Jerry took a ski trip with Jerry McDannald to Colorado, where they met some people, who he spent some time with in Grand Junction, Colo. With very few and small western stores located in the western Colorado town, Jerry moved from Texas in 1977 and built a new store in 1978. “I hit another stroke of luck, because the movie Urban Cowboy came out in 1979 and the people went crazy in the western fashion. I couldn’t even get inventory out of the boxes and on to the shelf before they bought it,” he said of the two-year craze. In the meantime, Derby continued in buying and selling smaller stores and their inventory to generate a steady cash flow. His addiction to the arena struck again and Jerry began steer wrestling and judging rodeos in the PRCA and the Colorado Pro Rodeo Association. His competition years then stretched until he was 52-years old and he was forced to stop once again after continuing injuries to his knees.
Jerry still resides in Grand Junction and currently owns and operates his 57th store called Rocky Mountain Hats and Boots and still specializes in building custom hats and renovating old ones. He maintains that it is his last store due to his age factor, but says that he’ll be a cowboy until he dies. His ongoing support of rodeo has never let down and he has been known to donate buckles and horse trailers to the Colorado Stampede. “Rodeo was good to me through my winnings as a competitor and the selling of my products throughout the years. It’s just one way that I can pay it back,” he said.
Looking into his past, and even with the injuries and hard luck that Jerry sustained, he claims that he would do it all again. “I’ve met a lot of people through rodeo and there is just no better people then rodeo people. I’ve had the privilege of meeting great people and I think I’ve like each and everyone of them through the years,” he concluded.