Inducted in 2005
“Winning is what rodeo’s all about,” World Champion roper and bulldogger Jimmie Cooper told ProRodeo Sports News in the early 1980s, at the height of his career. Cooper’s father “Jimmie T.,” a 1950s rodeo roper standout, noted Jimmie was “probably better prepared than lots of others. He goes harder, makes more rodeos, and is very serious about his arena work.” This focus and dedication earned Cooper induction into both the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
Jimmie Cooper was born in the far southeast corner of New Mexico in 1956 to a family of world-class timed event (roping and steer wrestling) cowboys. Raised on his parents’ cattle ranch, he graduated from New Mexico State University with a B.S. in Agricultural Economics. Although Jimmie joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) in 1977, he did not compete full-time until 1980, when he was chosen as the PRCA’s Rookie of the Year. Cooper’s events were calf roping, team roping, and bulldogging (steer wrestling).
Jimmie joined the so-called “New Breed” of post-1965 rodeo cowboys pioneered by Larry Mahan, Tom Ferguson, Donny Gay, his cousin Roy Cooper, and others. The “New Breed” were known for business acumen and professional savvy alongside stellar cowboy skills and traits. Cooper referred to his college education in economics when he said, “I hope I never have to use it to get a job, but I use it every day in my rodeoing. You have to make smart economic decisions, and you have to look at both the short run and the long run.”
Standing six feet tall 195 lbs., Jimmie Cooper employed brains, brawn, and calculated risk-taking in rising to the top of the sport. The late-great rodeo historian Willard Porter described Cooper’s ability to utilize “coordination and balance” to enhance his “size and strength” in calf roping and bulldogging competitions. “Cooper really knew how ‘to use’ big, rank calves and steers,” wrote Porter. “One very seldom sees him bobbling a flanking maneuver on a calf or missing a twist-down as he stops and brings a steer’s body around. One sometimes sees him take a chance, but it is the special chance he must take, the chance the gambler in him tells him to take.”
Jimmie Cooper finished in the top five of the World All-Around standings for seven straight years from 1980-86. He won the World All-Around Champion Cowboy title in 1981, and the story of that championship race is legendary. Entering the National Finals Rodeo fourth in the All-Around standings, Jimmie advanced past Paul Tierney and Tom Ferguson by tying his own cousin Roy Cooper for first place in the calf roping. In the “tie-breaker,” he beat Roy by two-tenths of a second and won the calf-roping title. This earned him first in the All-Around, a mere $48 ahead of “Cousin Roy”!
The New Mexico cowboy earned a lot of money in the 1980s Ellensburg Rodeo arena. Cooper won the Ellensburg bulldogging championship twice (an ’80 tie and ’85) and both the calf and team roping events (’85 and ’84). In 1980, Cooper won the Ellensburg Rodeo All-Around title, temporarily ending Tom Ferguson’s (ERHOF ’97) four-year string of victories. Cooper was Ellensburg Rodeo All-Around Champion in ’80, ’84, and ’85.
Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame Board Member and PRCA timed-event competitor Jack Wallace remembers “Jimmie had a lot of grit and determination. He wasn’t always flashy, but he always got the job done and always ended up at the pay window.”
Today, Jimmie Cooper still resides in his hometown of Monument, New Mexico, with his wife Sheryl. In 2004, their twin sons, Jake and Jimmie, earned team roping Rookies of the Year honors.