KATHERINE WYSS BACH AND FOXY COKE
Inducted in 2007
A funny thing happened at a 1970s Yakima County Fair and Rodeo barrel-racing competition. In her go-round, renowned Ellensburg barrel racer Katherine Anderson Bach took a spill on her stalwart horse Foxy Coke. Bach literally “bit the dust” as she was thrown completely off Foxy Coke. Stunned and laying on the ground, Bach was surprised to hear the crowd roaring its approval. Why would they clap at such an accident? When she looked up and turned around, she saw the reason for all the cheering: “Foxy Coke was still doing his job,” she jokes. “He was speeding around the barrels without me while the crowd cheered him on; he didn’t stop until he’d finished the entire course!”
Katherine Bach resided in Ellensburg from 1957 to 1987. A Gold Card Member of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association and Professional Women’s Barrel Racing (a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association subsidiary), Bach helped to pioneer the barrel racing event in the Pacific Northwest and Western PRCA venues, winning dozens of championship buckles along the way.
Katherine’s story began much earlier, in the ranching and rodeo country of northeastern Oregon. In the early years of the Great Depression, Conrad Wyss (1903-1984), a Swiss immigrant, married Jetta Bennett (1914-1991), whose family’s roots lay in the American South. The couple began a dairy farm in Reith, Oregon, near Pendleton. Katherine was born in 1936; she had a brother and sister. “Dad delivered Grade A raw milk door-to-door in Pendleton in a panel truck,” Katherine remembers. Conrad also raised oats and alfalfa, and the Wyss family kept riding horses and a team of work horses. Katherine began to ride bareback as a very small child, “as soon as I could shinnie up the horse’s leg!”
As a child, Katherine attended elementary school in Reith. She later took the bus to Pendleton Junior High and Pendleton High School, where she was a cheerleader. She also swam competitively and joined the “Mustangers” riding club. She fondly remembers Mustangers “playday” competitions, complete with precision drills, track racing, pole bending, “musical chairs,” and “egg races.” Barrel racing, the event in which Bach would one day leave her mark, was still a Southwestern (mainly Texas) competition that had not yet migrated north.
Around the age of 13, Katherine began her formal involvement with the Pendleton Roundup, playing the role of the “captive girl” kidnapped by Indians in the Happy Canyon Night Pageant. She soon rode in the Happy Canyon “quadrille” (a square dance with eight mounted cowboys and cowgirls) and competed in the Roundup’s daily relay races.
In 1954, she was selected Roundup Princess and in 1955 served in the coveted role of Queen of the Pendleton Roundup. Both years she simultaneously competed in relay racing while performing her royal court duties. “Nowadays, the Pendleton princesses and queen don’t compete in rodeo events while serving on the court,” she notes.
Katherine married Ellensburg calf roper and businessman Jerry Anderson in 1957 and moved to the Kittitas Valley, her home for the next three decades. It was around this time that the barrel racing event, which had come north from Texas, found its way into Northwest rodeo venues. Bach took up the contest mounted on an extraordinary grey quarter horse named Foxy Coke (1956-1984).
Foxy Coke was a race horse she acquired from Virgil Studebaker of Enumclaw; J.B. McMeans was one of Foxy Coke’s trainers. “He was one in a million,” Katherine notes, though she also has much praise for Whiskers and Too-Too, horses she rode from 1981-2001. “Katherine trained many very nice barrel horses,” states cowgirl and former Ellensburg Rodeo Queen Gena McNeil. “I think the highest compliment would be to say that her horses loved her.”
The decade of the mid-60s through the mid-70s was Katherine’s and Foxy’s heyday, as they won scores of Pacific Northwest Barrel-racing titles. Katherine joined the Washington Barrel Racing Association in 1960 and the Girls Rodeo Association (now WPRA) in 1974. She and Foxy Coke won championships in Ellensburg, Omak, Othello (six times), Yakima (“Yakima was one of Foxy Coke’s favorite rodeos,” she recalls), Joseph, Prineville, Bremerton, Mt. Vernon, Kennewick, Eugene, Yakima, and other rodeos. She was the Washington Barrel Racing Association champion in 1965 and WBRA Finals Champion in ‘66, ’70, ’71, and ’73. In 1974, her first year on the Columbia River Circuit of the PRCA, Katherine was Rookie Barrel Racer of the Year.
“Katherine was, and still is, a real inspiration to many of us,” states Gena McNeil. “She is a horsewoman of the highest caliber and willing to teach those who are committed to learning. She is ever the lady, always composed. I am proud to say she is my friend and is very deserving of this induction.”
Katherine Bach helped pioneer in Northwest barrel racing; she was longtime Secretary of the Washington Barrel Racing Association, and regional representative of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. She played a pivotal role in the movement to establish barrel racing as a featured PRCA event. Yet she is quick to give most of the credit to other women she worked alongside. “I was a competitor, not a politician,” she remembers.
Ellensburg Rodeo historian and ERHOF inductee John Ludtka remembers Katherine as a “stately horsewoman who dominated Northwest barrel racing as it became more and more accepted by rodeo producers. Her remarkable success made locals proud, and thus made it easier for the Ellensburg Rodeo Board to move barrel racing from a night show slot to a featured event in the daily Ellensburg Rodeo performance.” Ludtka adds, “Of course, Katherine won the premier 1962 competition.”
In addition to her many rodeo activities, Katherine, with Jerry, raised a son, Curtis Anderson, and worked for the Ellensburg School District from 1971-1979. Katherine later married Courtney Bach (father of PRCA champion heeler Allen Bach) in 1979 and continued to compete in PRCA barrel racing venues. In 1987, Courtney Bach succumbed to cancer; Curtis had died unexpectedly in 1985.
Katherine Bach left the Kittitas Valley for Hermiston, Oregon, in 1987. She continued to race competitively until 2001 when, sixty-five years-old, she retired. “I quit barrel racing three times before I really quit,” she jokes.
Today, Katherine Bach keeps a Pendleton mailing address but leads a roving lifestyle in her truck and camper, following the sun, visiting and working with family and old rodeo friends across the North American West. “I’m sort of a gypsy,” she jokes. She pulls a horse trailer and rides daily. “I always have my horse Boomer. I live a really simple life.”
When she learned of her induction into ERHOF, Katherine responded with typical modesty: “I’m astounded,” she said. In fact, Katherine Wyss Anderson Bach possesses an astounding record of barrel racing success that ranks her as one of the Kittitas Valley’s greatest cowgirls.