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Profile: Clark & Brown Families
Related by Rodeo: How the Cowboy Sport Passes Down Family Values & Traditions
In the last century and a half, what started as rough and tough bachelors wrangling cattle on the open plains has transformed into the largely family sport of rodeo as we know it today. Any cowboy or cowgirl who subscribes to or picks up The Rodeo News was likely inspired by someone in an older generation to become involved in or compete in the sport themselves. Two families who planted their roots just south of North Platte, Nebraska, the home of the first Wild West show hosted by Buffalo Bill Cody, have raised their children to carry on the traditions, values and morals that have been instilled by competing in rodeo.
J.R. Clark, a 1970s National Little Britches Rodeo World Champion all-around cowboy and National High School Rodeo Association Student President, was influenced to begin his rodeo career because of the impressions his grandfather and father made on him with their own involvement in the sport.
“All I cared about was bull riding, saddle bronc riding, and bareback riding,” said J.R. “My dad’s heart was truly in the roping events, but all I cared about was the rough stock.”
J.R.’s wife of 34 years, Julie, was raised on a 4th generation ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. She and J.R. met at a high school rodeo when she was 16. Julie is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has been an elementary school teacher for over 30 years, while J.R. competed on the rodeo team and graduated from the University of Wyoming.
“We both said we wanted our kids to experience Nebraska High School Rodeo like we did, so we moved back to Nebraska for that,” Julie said.
Just up the road from the Clarks lives Ray and Kim Brown. Ray, the 1985 National High School Rodeo Finals All-Around Cowboy and Champion Tie-Down Roper, met Kim when he was competing at a pro-rodeo in her native state of California.
“My mom ran barrels and my step-dad roped, and my grandparents roped. It was just a way we went and had fun together,” said Kim.
Ray’s parents, Clark and Dorothy Brown, were both very involved and accomplished rodeo competitors who passed on their love for roping and riding to Ray and his brother Billy.
“I just grew up around it, rodeo has been the only reason how we pay the bills basically,” Ray said. “If you aren’t teaching it, you’re selling it with your horses or through roping schools.”
There was no question about it when it came to these couples continuing their rodeo involvement with their own children. The next generation of Clarks: Wyatt, Jaden, and Madison, competed alongside the Brown daughters: Brandy (Jamerman) and Bailey throughout youth, high school and college rodeos, just like dad’s J.R. and Ray and their siblings had decades before.
“Everybody did it before us and we pretty much grew up in the arena,” said Bailey Brown. “When we’re around it everyday, we got to where we just wanted to do it so we wouldn’t have to work the chute anymore.”
“As much. We didn’t have to work the chute as much,” remarked her sister Brandy with a laugh.
Brandy and Bailey are Nebraska High School Rodeo champion breakaway ropers, Brandy was also a state champion barrel racer, and both have qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo, competing for Laramie County Community College and Oklahoma Panhandle State respectively as well.
Back down Highway 83 at the Clark house, there are many prizes of saddles and belt buckles won in the rough stock events by brothers Jaden and Wyatt, following in their dad’s footsteps.
“I think I was a couple of days old when dad had me spurring his knee with my legs like I was a bareback rider,” said oldest brother Wyatt. “I think it was instilled in me at birth that I was going to be a rodeo cowboy.”
Wyatt went on to be the National High School Rodeo Association Student Present like his dad J.R., and Jaden would become the NHSRA Student Vice-President a few years later. Wyatt mirrored what his dad had said about his own father promoting roping events over rough stock as an attempt to keep them out of harms way.
“Dad helped develop our horse-riding and roping abilities. Growing up though, dad, Uncle Jake, Uncle Doug, and grandpa competed in bucking horse and bull riding events,” said Wyatt. “I wanted to be like my heroes, and I felt like I had the grit and ability to be a good bareback rider.”
Wyatt was a Nebraska High School Rodeo Champion bareback rider, the National Little Britches Rodeo All-Around Cowboy, and qualified for the CNFR in the bareback riding multiple times while competing at Eastern Wyoming College under his coach and uncle Jake Clark, at the University of Wyoming, and while completing his master’s degree at Chadron State College. Younger brother Jaden was a state champion saddle bronc rider, and CNFR qualifier while attending the University of Wyoming too.
Though outnumbered, Madison Clark made up for the lack of girls in her family by competing in rodeo queen competitions starting at the age of 7, serving as the first National Little Britches Rodeo Little Wrangler Princess in 2004. Madison was also the 2013-2015 Nebraska High School Rodeo Queen and won first runner-up at the National High School Rodeo Queen Contest in 2014.
“I felt like I had such high expectations watching my brothers,” said Madison. “That’s really what kept me on a straight path of wanting to be the best person I could be.”
Like her father and brothers, Madison competed on the rodeo team at the University of Wyoming and graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 2018. The rodeo scholarships that the Clarks were able to garner over the years to help pay for college came at the sacrifice of their parent’s time and money, something they acknowledge and are thankful for.
“I know that our parents got to compete in rodeo vicariously through us,” said Jaden Clark. “My parents ended up not having to pay a dollar for college for the three of us. While they invested in our rodeo careers, they didn’t have to put that money aside over a decade or two.”
“And instead they were able to spend that time with us,” commented Madison. “We were able to spend more time together than any other family I knew, unless that family rodeo’d.” said Jaden.
While Ray Brown had a successful professional rodeo career, and was a many-time Nebraska State Rodeo Association champion calf-roper, he hung up his rope while following his daughters to their high school rodeos as well.
“My dad told me that. He said you go to all of the rodeos and watch them, because when they’re over, they’re over,” said Ray. “We were lucky that the girls were really competitive and worked at it.”
As the younger generation of the Browns and Clarks are starting their own careers and families, they are still finding ways to stay involved in the sport. J.R. and Wyatt Clark, and Ray Brown have been working as rodeo judges for the PRCA, the Nebraska High School Rodeo Association, and the Nebraska State Rodeo Association for the past few years.
“I was a competitor for so many years and I missed it,” said Ray. “I saw that officiating was a great avenue for me to get back in.”
“I got to be involved with it from competing, to picking up, and even getting to announce,” said Wyatt Clark. “About every position in the rodeo arena, we’ve been involved in one way or another. Continuing on we could go to any rodeo and help step in where needed.”
Bailey Brown has found success competing professionally in the breakaway roping, having won the World’s Richest Breakaway in Billings, Montana, last summer amongst many other impressive winnings.
“I got to buy my permit last year and filled it and it was a great experience,” said Bailey. “A long-term goal would be go to the NFR and show my skill, also just going to the circuit finals and making my goals step by step and rodeo by rodeo.”
As Madison Clark prepares to get married this summer, she and the rest of the family are looking forward to hopefully sharing the sport with the next generation of Nebraska cowgirls and cowboys someday.
“I think it’s going to kind of be a no question kind of deal like it was with the three of us,” said Madison. “Letting them have that chance to create a bond with their horse, their siblings and parents. Of course we can’t force them to, but I think just presenting it to most kids I’ve seen in my lifetime, they don’t turn it down when given a chance to compete.”
*Note* The Clark and Brown families were interviewed about their rodeo experiences and the impact the sport has had on their families for Madison Clark’s master thesis project at the University of Wyoming. The documentary video can be found on Madison’s YouTube page and is titled “Related by Rodeo: How the Cowboy Sport Passes Down Family Values & Traditions.”