An old cowboy, Casey Tibbs has not always been the luckiest financially. A friend says Tibbs "is the only guy in the world who could go into Fort Knox with a grain scoop and a gunnysack and come out with his wallet missing."
Money aside, Casey went through a variety of stages in his life. One had him firing blanks from a pistol. It seems Tibbs was in California with another cowboy, Jim Shoulders. Understand, Casey long led the sport of rodeo in color, but Shoulders is the alltime and forevermore leader in achievement, with 16 world championships.
So...Shoulders is on the telephone. Tibbs slips up on him and, in the confines of the phone booth, squeezes off a blank. At which Shoulders erupts, saying something like, "Goodness gracious, Casey, I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't frighten me like that." And Shoulders jabs Casey in the stomach with a knife.
Then suddenly commiserating with Tibbs, Shoulders rushes his colleague to a hospital. But moments later, as the story is retold, Shoulders looks at his watch and says, "My God, Casey, I'm up on a bull." And he bolts from the hospital to a rodeo arena, seldom to discuss the subject again. Tibbs, now retired in Southern California with nine world titles, refuses to discuss the episode at all.
In fact, this story generally has been kept within the rodeo fraternity. That's because Shoulders is a legend—seven times best in the world in bull riding, five times the all-round king, four times bareback bronc winner—and it wouldn't do for word to circulate that The Legend was wont to perform stomach surgery on split-second notice.
Shoulders' wife Sharron remembers when she was in the ninth grade in Tulsa, Okla. and met Jim. "He was supposed to be quite a rounder. You know, wicked and evil but"—we must pause here for her giggle—"I kind of liked it."
And he was wilder than mountain scenery. Says Sharron, "For our first date, he asked me to go horseback riding. When I got there, I found out he had arranged for only one horse. And at the end of the date, he tried to kiss me. I jumped off that horse and went runnin' in and told my grandmother that all those things I'd heard about Jim Shoulders were true." Says Shoulders, "She was the dumbest girl I ever met." Thus, true love was born.
These stories are, of course, the stuff of which legends are made. Shawn Davis, who has won the saddle bronc championship three times, says, "If there's a legend in rodeo, Jim's it." But such tales tend to make Shoulders look like a barroom brawler who should be kept 500 feet from all women and children and most men. Not true. What the stories really demonstrate is Shoulders' determination that things should go the way he wants them to.
Shoulders, who has been retired from rodeoing for more than a decade (his glory years were 1955-59, when he won 12 of his 16 titles), today presides over what nearly everyone agrees is The First Family of Rodeo. When you talk of rodeo families, you start and end with the Shoulderses of Henryetta, Okla.
Jim raises rodeo stock and puts on rodeos; Sharron and the girls (there are three) help at rodeos, doing everything from saddling horses to carrying flags to being rodeo secretaries to serving as mother confessors for troubled cowboys; son Marvin Paul rides bulls; a recently acquired son-in-law is a rodeo clown. Daughter Marcie, 15, says she knows why her parents stay together. "My dad's too messy and my mom's too dingy. They really need each other."