JOE KELSEY RODEO COMPANY (1949-1991), INCLUDING “RED ONE, “WIDOW MAKER” & “OUGHT”
Joe Kelsey Rodeo Company was inducted in 2004
A December 1966 issue of Rodeo Sports News touted the Joe Kelsey’s Tonasket, Washington rodeo stock company as “one of the oldest and most reliable stock contracting firms in the sport of rodeo.” The Joe Kelsey Company furnished bucking stock for the Ellensburg Rodeo for more than four decades, from 1947 to 1991.
Born in Butte Montana on April 16, 1910, Joe Kelsey (1910-1985) moved with his family to Washington State’s Okanogan Valley as a young boy. Kelsey made his start in rodeo as a saddle bronc rider and founding Cowboy Turtle (predecessor to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association [PRCA]) in the late 1920s and 1930s. Among other honors, he won the Ellensburg saddle bronc riding buckle in 1945; he won the Omak Stampede saddle bronc competition in ’43 and ’44, and was inducted into the Omak Stampede Hall of Fame.
Kelsey entered the stock contracting business as an employee of Moomaw and Bernard (ERHOF Inductees in 2002), and worked alongside Moomaw for over a decade. He bought his first bucking string in 1949. “From the time on,” writes one rodeo historian, “Joe Kelsey provided top-notch bucking and roping stock for rodeos in Washington, Montana, Idaho, and western Canada,” including Pendleton, Calgary, and Ellensburg. Kelsey’s son, Joe Jr. (“Sonny”), worked in the family business from 1945 to 1991.
The Kelsey Company’s tenure at the Ellensburg Rodeo ranks them alongside ERHOF Inductees Christensen Brothers, Harry Vold, and Moomaw-Bernard Stock Contractors. The Joe Kelsey Company worked the Ellensburg Rodeo from 1947 to 1958 and then, sometimes in new partnership arrangements, supplied stock from 1983-84 and, after Joe’s death, from 1985-91.
The Kelsey Stock Company produced many famous bucking horses and bulls. The mere sound of these animals’ names would, according to one rodeo historian, “numb the heart–or the britches–of any cowboy”! Among over two dozen award-winning Kelsey bucking broncs were Widow Maker, Snake, Hell to Set, Slingshot, Set to Velvet, Velvet River, Big Sky’s Velvet, Pee Wee, White Hope, Whiz Bang, John Doe, Try Me, Brown Jug, Little Rubber Doll, Devil’s Dream, Shake ‘em Down, Hot Seat, Smuggler, Pete Taggares, Sky High, Sky Rocket, and Yukon. Kelsey’s most famous bulls were Red One, 0 (“Ought”), Geronimo, Big John, Bull #17, Bull # 53, and Velvet Hour.
Kelsey’s 0 (“Ought”) a 1997 ERHOF Animal Inductee, was named after the numerical score cowboys almost always earned after he threw them! Kelsey’s bulls and broncs earned the Columbia Circuit Horse of the Year, Calgary Stampede Outstanding Horse, and National Finals Rodeo Saddle Bronc and Bull of the Year Awards.
Two legendary Kelsey animals inducted alongside “Ought” and the Kelsey Company are the bronc “Widow Maker” and bull “Red One,” both 1970s-era buckers. Widow Maker worked two decades in the arena and was chosen to be a National Finals Rodeo bronc.
Kelsey originally purchased Red One from an Oregon rodeo school and, although he was “a little scrawny,” several cowboys thought the bull had great potential. He won the 1976 National Final Rodeo’s Top Bucking Bull award, where World Champion Donny Gay became the first cowboy to ever ride him, earning a record-tying 95-point score (this record held until 1996). In a two-year period of 1977 and ‘78, Red One was ridden only twice in 158 appearances. It is a record reflective of Kelsey’s great rodeo stock contracting company.