Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Story: Allen Porter - Dayton Cowboy Comes Full Circle

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Allen Porter: Dayton Cowboy Comes Full Circle

Porter brothers (Duane, Allen, and Tom)
perform their specialty act.
from the book: Life Will Get You in the End:
Short stories by David Satterlee

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Life Will Get You in the End:
Short Stories by David Satterlee
My home town has a Labor Day rodeo that dates back almost 80 years. The story goes that a young boy started doing rope tricks for nickles down by the picnic grounds. Today, he is "the last of the real cowboys," and an iconic local hero. I had the rare privilege of interviewing the man and writing a feature article for the local newspaper. Here it is.  

Allen Porter: Dayton Cowboy Comes Full Circle

I had the privilege of an extended conversation and interview with Allen Porter, one of the last “real cowboys.” He also has a reputation as a trick-horse trainer and performer. He is an honored native son of our small, rural, Iowa town. This is not fiction, just a partial record of a “you couldn’t make this stuff up” life. I’m including it here just to share a special story.

Article by David Satterlee     

Published in the Dayton Review on October 26, 2011    

Based on a personal interview.  

Allen Porter, born in 1918, still bears the broad shoulders and strong hands of a sturdy working man. He also still wears cowboy boots and keeps the horns of a longhorn steer mounted above his front door. Inside, pictures of the people and horses that he has known and loved fill his home.

Most locals know him on sight. Allen is honored annually at the Dayton Rodeo. He is the legendary boyhood rope trick performer who, with friends Duane Vegors and Vern Danielson, gave the Labor Day rodeo its start. He helped start the Wranglers Club in 1947 and has made his life as a horseman.

Allen didn’t stay in the area his whole life. He spent years as a cowboy in New Mexico, a ranch hand in Texas, and he managed his own ranch operation in Arkansas. Coming back to Dayton, he made a home with his wife, Esther and has continued to be active in the community.

Allen remembers: “The rodeo has kind of been my life. The rodeo started from nothing. I did a lot of trick roping in my early days. I did trick roping with my high school horse. I didn’t follow the rodeos, but I did trick roping in South Dakota and Iowa, New Mexico, West Texas, and Arkansas during my early days. I’d get
$25.00 a show and, you know, in those days that wasn’t too bad.”

“This picture shows me in ‘41 with my friend Vern Danielson on the right. He rode a palomino stud called Captain. We were riding a 100 mile trail ride in Des Moines. I broke these two horses for a farmer here in town who had a lot of horses. Vern called a bunch of us together in ’41 and we formed the Wranglers Club. It’s still going on and it’s a very popular saddle club. We had a little show going on at the farm. I was living in Lehigh and farming at the time. From there on Vern was in the service.

“This picture shows our specialty act of the day. This is myself on the bottom left, my brother Tom on the right, and my brother Duane standing on our shoulders. We’ve all got ropes going at the same time.

“Well, we had a meeting one day and I told the people about Sidney Iowa, which had a big rodeo. They had a horse that was bucking everybody off. And so, one Sunday afternoon they took him out in the field and they all gathered ‘round to see who could ride the sucker. And that’s how Sidney started and so our little show started from this.

“We had the show out on the farm for two years and then we went to the golf course and borrowed a picket fence from the county. We sawed some timber up and made some portable bucking chutes. My dad furnished about 15 steers and Bill Vegors furnished about 15 and we had a steer riding. And then the next year I think we had one bucking horse.
“And then I went to New Mexico and spent 14 years cowboying before I came back. But anyway, the town took a hold of it and everybody in the community worked and promoted this rodeo; it’s a community project and everybody has helped to keep it going.

“This is my little Chip horse; Chipo I call him. This is the “Trails End” pose. He would stand that way, with all four feet together and his head down, until I asked him to come up. It took forever to get him to do this when I was on his back. He would do it when I was on the ground but he couldn’t get it through his head to scooch up that way when I was on his back. But I finally taught him a cue so that it would work. There’s nothing you can’t do with a horse. You take time, you can teach a horse anything.

“I was sitting down at the state fair one day and a guy was advertising Boyt Harness. He had a little bitty Shetland pony. The little bittyish damn pony I’d ever seen — with a harness on him. And he’s sitting there and you’d ask that horse “What’s five times five?” and he’d paw 25. I stayed sitting there for a half-hour watching him to see how he cued that pony. I wanted to know because I was working on trick horses. He said, “Son, you’ll never catch me.” He said, “You’re so damn interested, if you promise not to tell the crowd here while I’m here, I’ll tell you. You watch and when I do this way he’ll start pawing and when I want him to stop I just make a little sniff.” But anyway, if you get a horse’s attention you can teach him anything.

“We had six of the Budweiser Clydesdales here at the Rodeo one time. They come around, back into the bucking chutes. They couldn’t leave them out front; they’d stop traffic. To swing six horses that way, they had to be well broke, you know.

“Back in 1982, we were in court in Fort Dodge, and my lawyer says – of course, he knew I was about half crazy anyway – “Al, if you’ve got something to do for about a half hour, we’ve got some paperwork to do and you come on back.” I didn’t come back for a half hour. He said, “We’ve been waiting on you. Where’ve you been?” I said, “I’ve been down on Main Street looking at the draft horses.” They said “Yeah; ” they knew I was crazy then. I said, “Yeah;” you fellows doubt my word, but look out that window.” There were six of those Budweiser animals down there.

“Oh, they were beautiful big animals, you know, with feet that big around. I was a farrier for about 30 years; I put shoes and shod horses for the public, so those enormous animals interested me.”

Allen tells a good story. And, as he talks, his voice and eyes sparkle with enthusiasm. He acknowledges that sometimes life can throw you some real trouble and pain, but the good memories, like good friends and good horses, stand by you to see you through.

He hands me two more pictures. One catches him in mid-air with a rope circling his body top, front, dirt, and back. He can tell that I’m squinting to make out the details of his face. “Was this when you were in your 70s?” I ask. “Yeah, I didn’t start getting old until about ten years ago.”

The other picture shows him tossing a loop incredibly high in the air. Allen, in his chair, is positively beaming with pride. “I set the camera on a timer and took the picture myself. Somehow it caught the rope just at the very top. It worked out just right. It’s the damdest thing.”

Allen had a lot of pictures of horses on his walls and in his photo albums. Several weeks after this feature article was published in the local newspaper, we met again. During our conversation, he mentioned that he had started a book called “Horses I Have Known,” and asked me if I might be interested in helping him to finish it. I came back and told him that I was.

Shortly after that, I had a stroke, which put me off my feed for the better part of a year. Then, Allen fell off the wagon (really, I mean that literally) at the Labor Day Rodeo Parade. He got a concussion, I think, and spent some time in the local nursing home, recovering.

It doesn’t look like Allen and I are likely to revive the project. I’m really sorry about that. Allen loves horses with a passion that needs to be shared.