Inducted in 2002
“Has rodeo changed much since the 1920s and 30s?” a reporter once asked the great Canadian saddle bronc rider Harry Knight. Knight answered in the frank and down-to-earth manner that characterized his generation of rodeo cowboys: “It sure has,” he said. “Today the emphasis is on the athlete and his scientific sport. Back then, it was just cowboys dolling up their regular chores in the arena.”
Harry Knight, a 2002 Inductee to the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame, certainly did his share of the “regular chores” in cowboy country before achieving glory in the rodeo arena.
Born in Quebec City in 1907, Knight soon moved west with his family to Alberta. Young Harry loved animals, especially dogs and horses, and he worked as a livery stable groom and packhorse wrangler at his father’s resort on Banff’s Lake Louise. At age 14, he became a working cowboy, wrangling and breaking horses on Alberta’s ranchlands. Interestingly, Harry also mushed dog-racing teams in Canadian and international competitions, building the tremendous leg muscles he would soon use as a saddle bronc rider. Harry Knight entered his first rodeo in Sundre, Alberta in 1925, thus beginning a half-century career in professional rodeo.
An original “Cowboy Turtle” (the first rodeo cowboy professional organization) and gold-card member of the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association), Knight soon became one of the top saddle bronc riders in North America. Although he never won a world title (he won the Canadian saddle bronc titles in ’26 and ’32), Knight won day money, his event buckle, or the all-around at nearly every major North American rodeo. These rodeos included Ellensburg, the Calgary Stampede, and the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo, where Knight once won nine of the eleven go-rounds. Harry Knight became one of very few hands (his close friend and fellow Albertan Pete Knight—ERHOF ’98—was another) to ride the infamous bronc “Five Minutes to Midnight.” Moreover, he rode a full 10 seconds (today’s qualifying time is 8 seconds) on “Fiddle Face,” one of the rankest broncs of his day.
During the first decade of the Ellensburg Rodeo, Harry Knight was a crowd favorite. Knight won the Ellensburg Rodeo saddle bronc buckles in ’29, ’31, and ’32; in 1931, he won the coveted Ellensburg All-Around title. Harry Knight was a regular on the Pacific Northwest circuit, competing in the “Big Four” rodeos (Ellensburg, Pendleton, Lewiston, and Walla Walla) and also winning the Pendleton Roundup all-around title.
From 1937-1971, Knight pursued a career as a professional rodeo stock contractor, most prominently as Gene Autry’s partner in the Flying A Rodeo Company and, later, as owner of his own Harry Knight and Company stock and rodeo company. Working out of Yuma, Arizona, he furnished stock for premier rodeo venues—Fort Worth, Madison Square Garden, and Boston Garden—and he was stock contractor for the first Houston Astrodome Rodeo.
All who knew Knight described as a soft-spoken cowboy who earned a reputation for honesty and complete professionalism. In the classic Man, Beast, Dust: The Story of Rodeo (1946), Clifford P. Westermeier remembered Knight as a man who enjoyed diverse friendships ranging from New York’s upper crust to “the poorest ranch hands in Arizona and Texas.”
“As most top-drawer bronc men do, “ wrote rodeo historian Willard Porter, “Knight acquired a canny understanding of the chemistry that goes into the makeup of a dead-end bad horse.” With this expertise, he bought and contracted the rankest of bucking broncs; Harry Knight’s Misty Mix, Joker Jake, and Big John all won PRCA Saddle Bronc of the Year titles. Knight retired from stock contracting in 1971 and moved to a ranch near Fowler, Colorado,
Harry Knight not only served the rodeo profession as a competitor and stock contractor—like several of his great contemporaries, he became a leader in the Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA, the predecessor to PRCA). He was the first stock contractor representative on the RCA’s Board of Directors (1966-76) and also served on the PRCA Administrative Advisory Board. In 1985, Harry Knight was inducted into both the Canadian Cowboy Hall of Fame (Edmonton, Alberta) and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma); he was a Founding Inductee to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame (Colorado Springs, Colorado).
Harry Knight, saddle bronc champion, stock contractor, and founding father of modern professional rodeo, died of a heart attack on April 5, 1989, at his Colorado ranch. He was 82 years-old.