PETE KNIGHT (1903-1937)
Inducted in 1998
Pete Knight, one of early professional rodeo’s greatest cowboys, was a mainstay competitor in Ellensburg Rodeos for nearly a decade in the late 1920s and early 1930s. During that time, he earned the Ellensburg Rodeo’s highest awards and abundant credentials for induction into the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame.
Pete Knight was born in 1903 in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but he was destined to live a legendary life, and suffer a tragic death, under Western skies. Knight’s family moved first to Oklahoma before settling in Crossfield, Alberta, Canada in 1914 (Pete was not related to fellow Albertan and ERHOF Inductee Harry Knight, though the two were close friends). At age 12, Pete began to break horses on his family’s ranch; he also learned to train and handle workhorse pulling-teams of up to 16 head. Pete entered the local Crossfield Rodeo in 1918 and won second place in the bronc riding. By 1923, at 20 years of age, he had decided upon a career as a professional rodeo roughstock rider.
Rodeo historian Willard Porter has written that Knight’s fellow cowboys remembered “there was only one kind of horse that bothered him—the kind that wouldn’t buck,” Rodeo great Herman Linder agreed: “He was the best rider I ever saw because he rode steadier on harder horses.” By 1923 Pete had competed and won at the major Canadian rodeos and followed the rodeo road back into his native U. S. A. During his nineteen-year career in professional rodeo, Pete Knight would ultimately win dozens of local and regional saddle bronc and all-around titles. He won the all-around at Edmonton in ’24 and at Winnipeg in ’26. At the national level he garnered greater honors, winning the World Championship in saddle broncs in ’32, ’33, ’35, and ’36. Pete Knight was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1958.
In the early years of the Ellensburg Rodeo, Pete Knight proved to be a dominant saddle bronc rider. In 1930 he dazzled the Ellensburg crowd by riding the infamous black gelding Midnight (later an animal inductee to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame). Knight’s ride on Midnight won him the saddle bronc buckle and Ellensburg All-Around title in ’30. In ’33 he again won the saddle broncs. When Pete Knight won the Ellensburg All-Around title for a second time in ’34, locals fully expected to see the four-time World Champion roughstock rider return and stand in the winner’s circle again. But Pete Knight was headed towards a tragic demise.
On Sunday, May 23, 1937, Pete Knight rode Duster out of Chute #3 in Harry Rowell’s annual Hayward (CA) Rodeo. He rode the bronc for seven full seconds when suddenly thrown. Disastrously, Pete was hurled in front of Duster and the horse tripped and fell with his full weight upon Knight’s body. Cowboys immediately rushed into the arena. “Are you hurt?,” Pete’s close friend Harry Knight asked. “You’re goddamned right I’m hurt,” Knight responded. A cracked rib had punctured his spleen. The cowboys carried Knight to an ambulance, which rushed him to the hospital. He was dead upon arrival.
Knight’s fellow cowboys unanimously agree that he was a gentleman as well as a great bronc rider. In rodeo circles, Knight was universally liked and respected. In 1977, on the fortieth anniversary of his death, his fellow townsmen dedicated the Pete Knight Memorial Center in Crossfield, Alberta to “the finest bronc rider of all time and one of nature’s gentleman.”