BERENICE BLAIR DOSSEY BOLEN (1913-1974)
Inducted in 1999
Berenice Blair Dossey Bolen is a 1999 Inductee to the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame in the Participant Category. Born and raised in Ellensburg, she became a professional trick rider in 1935, achieving great acclaim during a twenty-year rodeo career. Berenice always loved performing in the Ellensburg Rodeo arena, which featured her daring feats for ten years from 1935 to 1945.
Berenice Evelyn Blair was born April 26, 1913 to Louis and Winifred “Freda” (Smith) Blair in Ellensburg. Louis (Louie) Blair had migrated to the Kittitas Valley in 1900 from Quebec, Canada. He was the only son of Louis and Sophia Blair, and had five sisters. He settled on a farm east of Ellensburg which had been homesteaded by his Uncle.
Freda’s brother Earl Smith had horses and as a little girl, Berenice loved to ride with him on her special horse, Prince. At age 16 Berenice married Jim Hailey. They had a son, Jim, Jr., who became a bulldogger and bareback rider who contested in Ellensburg.
In 1932, Berenice left Ellensburg and her marriage to follow her desire to become a professional trick rider. In her travels she met Hank Durnell, a trick rider and roper and Hollywood stunt man who doubled for movie star Tom Mix. Berenice worked with the last surviving troupe of Oklahoma’s fabled 101 Ranch Wild West Show (near Hank’s friend’s Will Rogers’ birthplace). Touring overseas, she performed for the Queen (now Queen Mother) of England.
Berenice returned to Ellensburg as a trick rider in the 1935 and 1936 rodeos. She went on to become one of America’s most beautiful and talented rodeo cowgirls, famed for her hippodrome stand, “Cossack Drag,” going under the belly and neck of her horse, and other tricks. Berenice worked rodeos from coast to coast in America and Canada, including Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden, San Francisco’s Cow Palace, and scores of major and smaller rodeos.
In 1937 Berenice returned to Ellensburg and married Bates Taylor who also learned to trick ride. They bought and trained talented horses, a favorite sorrel they called Tony (with a white strip on his face) and, later, a bald-faced, dark, blood bay horse with white stockings called Sundee.
Berenice was talented in leather craft, and she designed and sewed her own trick riding outfits; color was very important to her. She could sew anything, even a wedding dress, without a pattern.
She continued to appear in the Ellensburg Rodeo from 1937-1939. At rodeos across the continent, Berenice was a star attraction, due to her personal beauty, flair for showmanship, brilliant precision work, her captivating personality, not to mention her loyalty to her friends.
In 1939, Berenice married Carl Dossey, an Arizonan who became World Champion Bareback Rider in 1940 and, later, a successful rodeo judge known for his honesty and fairness. They managed a tavern for Harry Knight (then a champion bronc rider) in Chandler, Arizona, and later bought their own tavern and the Cross Lazy Y Ranch near Black Canyon, Arizona. They had two children, Eddie and Cinde.
Berenice worked the Ellensburg Rodeo in 1941, 1945-1948, and 1950. She seriously injured her back in a Twin Falls, Idaho performance. Then, in 1955, a Chandler rodeo parade accident took Carl’s life. He was riding with 5-year old Eddie when a team of horses ran off; Carl rode in front of them to save his son and was killed (both of Eddie’s legs were broken). Daughter Cinde was only 18 months old at the time. Berenice decided to sell both the ranch and the tavern.
Berenice later married Frank Bolen of Chandler. She also decided that rodeo life was no place to raise a family and she retired from trick riding in 1956, after more than two decades of rodeoing. Berenice’s last public appearance was in a 1956 Denver, Colorado, rodeo reunion with many of her famous trick riding friends. She and Frank worked ranches and other businesses in Texas, Kansas, and California, finally settling in Burley, Idaho in 1969.
Berenice devoted her later years to her family. She never lost her love of sitting at home and singing the French songs her dad and Aunt Lena taught her. She had a lovely singing voice. In January 1974, Berenice Blair Dossey Bolen was diagnosed with breast cancer and by September of the same year she was gone–but not forgotten.