Return to Inductee Page

SMOKEY KAYSER (1929-2000)

Inducted in 1998

Smokey Kayser & Harry Charters“Why do we call him ‘Smokey’? Each time he left the roping box, he moved so fast that he smoked. I mean, he SMOKED. He was that fast.”
-Dick Powers

Smokey Kayser was born in 1929 and raised on a working cattle ranch near The Dalles, Oregon. Although Smokey’s family was a ranch family, they were not rodeo cowboys. However, Smokey had wanted to rope competitively since he was a small child. At age 17, he hit the road and began his rodeo career.

Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s Smokey Kayser competed full-time as an RCA cowboy in roping, bulldogging, and wild cow milking competitions. He was a contemporary of George Prescott (ERHOF ’98) and even team-roped with him on occasion. He also lived and worked (and shared roping horses) with Wayne McMeans. One of Smokey’s favorite horses was Spook, a mount he purchased from Ellensburg’s Larry Wyatt (ERHOF ’97).From the earliest days of his career, Smokey was a leading contender; a combination of athletic prowess, speed, technique, and good horses often put him in the money. He traveled the rodeo road throughout the 50s, working 25-30 shows a year. His favorite rodeos were in Sherman County and Joseph, Oregon, and of course the Ellensburg Rodeo.

His record is impressive: During the fifteen years when Smokey Kayser was at the height of his game, he won or placed in his events in Roseburg, Sisters, St. Paul, Portland, Joseph, and Prineville, Oregon; Spokane, Omak, Tonasket, Colville, and Puyallup, Washington; and Cloverdale, BC, in Canada and several other rodeos.

Of course Smokey Kayser’s notoriety in Ellenburg rests on a score of strong performances, event and go-round victories, and the coveted Ellensburg All-Around title in 1959. Smokey is only the second Kittitas County cowboy (the other is Frank Wood, ERHOF ’97) to have won the All-Around, but he hailed from Goldendale, not Ellensburg, when he did so. How he came to live in Ellensburg is a good story, told by John Ludtka in The Tradition Lives On. After winning the Ellensburg All-Around, Smokey never cashed the check, but instead carried it in his pocket until 1960. Then he and his wife Clem used the money to make a down payment on their Ellensburg ranch. “That story is true,” Smokey reported in a recent interview at the same ranch. “But of course I carried a check of that size in my wallet, not my shirt pocket!”

Smokey is quick to credit the role of Clem, who he married in 1950, in his ranch and rodeo career. When he was competing in 25-30 rodeos a year, Clem often stayed home to feed cattle, irrigate, and take care of the kids; she has herself spent years in the saddle. Clem remembers the endless string of rodeo cowboys Smokey brought home for a meal—in fact they still arrive regularly! Sometimes the whole Kayser family hit the road together, with Smokey and Clem and Sam, Lynette, Lori all in the seat of their Ford pickup.

A good purse in those days averaged around $500, but Smokey had to pinch pennies to make ends meet. He often had to cross the Columbia River, and in those days it cost $1.00 toll for a horse and trailer. “I finally figured out that if I crossed early in the morning and gave them a $100 bill, they wouldn’t have change and I could cross free,” he recalls. That trick worked several times before the toll collectors figured Smokey out. “The last time I tried it, those guys handed me ninety-nine $1-dollar bills and I needed a paper bag to carry my change home!”

Smokey began to cut back on his competitions in the 1960s but kept his hand in for several decades. Nowadays [1998] he still ropes at home; but mostly he enjoys following the horsemanship and achievements of his son, grandson, granddaughter, nieces, and nephews at their own rodeos. Smokey may have at one time been the first rodeo cowboy in his family, but today this roper from The Dalles has left a legacy to rodeo, and especially timed-event competitions, throughout the Pacific Northwest.

In good cowboy fashion, Kayser shuns the limelight and feels somewhat awkward with the praise and notoriety that has accompanied his induction into the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame. He is quick to give credit to his wife and his fellow cowboys. And he speaks highly of those who organize and conduct the Ellensburg Rodeo. “The Rodeo Board has worked long and hard to make the Ellensburg Rodeo the top rodeo that it is today,” he stresses.

Smokey Kayser’s cumulative record in calf and steer roping, team roping, wild cow milking, and bulldogging combine with his 1959 Ellensburg All-Around title to make him, without a doubt, one of the top hands in the history of Pacific Northwest rodeo. Although he is today [1998] an aged cowboy with his own grandchildren competing, he nevertheless retains the steely-eyed qualities of the superb athlete who, in the 1940s and 1950s, ‘smoked’ out of the roping box and into Ellensburg Rodeo history.

Smokey Kayser died in 2000.