Our heroes have always been cowboys

Our heroes have always been cowboys
“I grew up a dreamin’ of bein’ a cowboy … and lovin’ the cowboy ways …”

Willie Nelson sings the songs that Ickey, Punkee and Beau Schroeder live. Beau, now 25, just won the Championship Bull Riding Event at the 2012 Houston Rodeo and Livestock Show. He’s also the 2010 Texas Circuit Champion Bull Rider, the 2007 College NFR Champion Bull Rider, placed at countless other rodeos, and has an earned degree from McNeese State University. His mom, Debbie, wants you to know that. It’s not an easy trail to the big wins, but many around these parts say if anyone was ever destined to be a high-ridin’ cowboy, it was that Schroeder boy from Nome. His sister, Nikki, is one of his biggest fans.

Publicity says Beau is from China, Texas, but in reality, he lives in Nome, located about 30 miles west of Beaumont, and he and his family are proud of that fact. “We live in Nome,” said Beau, “but our mailing address is China, so on all the rodeo stuff, it gets picked up as China. When I am home, I come home to my dad and mom’s place in Nome, or I go to my little place about two miles away.”

If Beau is not at either of those two places, you’ll likely find him at his granddad Ickey Schroeder’s Triple S Ranch just a few miles down the road where he, like so many countless other kids, learned to ride, rope, fight bulls, take care of the animals and move them around the more than 50 acres of the ranch. He also participated in many of the rodeos his granddad produced all the years he operated the Triple S Youth Rodeos and other events on the ranch. Ickey’s was simply the place to go to be around animals, learn the trade, shoot the breeze, and maybe hang out with a hero or two. Even now, when Ickey is nearing his 80th year, word of mouth still draws a good-sized crowd to see man verses animal.

“Pursuin’ the life of my high-ridin’ heroes, I burned up my childhood days …”

Ickey has been described by one of his best friends, Robert Ogden, a 38-year veteran of Jefferson County law enforcement, as being the last of the real, old-time, genuine Texas cowboys. Ogden works the corrals, gates and chutes, keeping a watchful eye on his old friend, who’s as tough as the heavy iron rails that hold the big, bad bulls in a corral and as tender as the beautiful flowers he grows with such care in his yard garden. Edithe, the matriarch of the family, oversees all of the activity with a smile on her face and a deep pride in “her boys,” as she calls them. The Schroeders have two sons, Black and Punkee. Ickey, Punkee and Beau all share the same name, Victor Karl Schoeder, but picked up nicknames along the way that stuck. Only a stranger would call one of them Karl or Victor.

Black is an experienced welder and active leader in his union. Punkee was an electrician in the area until a terrible ranch accident eight years ago took one of his arms. You’d never notice it as he works around his place and his dad’s ranch, or helping the boys learn better how to win. “I figured when the accident happened that it could either take my life away from me, or I could buckle down and just learn some new ways of doing things. I had a lot of living left to do, and I wanted to do it every day,” said Punkee.

Ogden said that rodeoing is not something one learns. “It is simply born in you and you learn more about it from the time you are big enough to walk and talk,” he said. Beau tells that his dad put him on a calf when he was 5 years old, and he was told to ride. “I didn’t really know any other way of life,” he said. “And now, I don’t want to do anything else. I am living a life that many would love to have,” he said humbly after a big ride in Corpus Christi. Beau has several good friends, all of who are now cowboys that literally grew up with him at his granddad’s ranch. They are a team and close enough to feel each bump or throw the other one receives. They are genuinely proud of each other’s accomplishments.

“I learned all the rules of the modern-day drifter, Don’t hold on to nothin’ too long …”

Riding the rodeo circuit is not as glamorous as it might first appear. Beau and his friends say the worst part of it is being away from home so much. “I miss home. I miss my momma’s cooking,” said Beau. Sometimes, the coming home has to do with how much money the riders have won in recent weeks. Beau is among the fortunate ones. He has always had family support, both for financial needs and as encouragement to keep on the trail. “Beau always has paid me back for whatever I’ve invested,” said Punkee. “First thing he did when he won in Houston was to pay Debbie and me back what he owed.”

In Houston, Beau took home a check for $56,000 plus some pocket change. He also took home the revered belt buckle made of gold and silver, and was about as proud of the buckle as the money. On the night of a Corpus rodeo, both father and son were wearing buckles that said “Bull Riding Champion.”

"Cowboys are special with their own brand of misery, from being alone too long …”

A group of four of the bull riders traveled together from a neighboring state to reach the Corpus Christi Rodeo. They rode in one car to save fuel costs. When one wins, they share the money and spring for dinner for the group. They pitch in to buy gas for the car and figure out together where to go next and how they’re going to pay the entry fees. They only get paid if they win or place. Some go weeks stretching that last win to get to the next opportunity.

And then there are the injuries. Every rider seems to have broken bones. Beau’s right leg has been broken three times, and he rode in Houston with a painful, damaged back. Insurance is a luxury with premiums paid out of their pockets.

Casey Craigen, one of Beau’s good friends, has a beautiful young wife who is expecting their first child any day now. “I’ve asked her to please not to go to the hospital on Friday between seven and midnight because I cannot be there. I have to be at the rodeo,” he said. Craigen is super important to the bull riders. He is a bull fighter, and not one with a red cape and bright costume. His job is to quickly jump in the arena and steer the bull away from a fallen rider. He must make certain the bull doesn’t gore, step on or pin the rider against the metal railings. The bull riders literally owe their lives to these brave men who go in the arena for every ride. Rodeo clowns entertain, but bull fighters do serious business.

Clayton Savage from Wyoming is another close friend of Beau’s who’s getting married to a lovely girl this summer. He, too, had to plan his special occasion around the rodeo circuit. Savage has spent a lot of time in Nome and is very comfortable helping Ickey move those big bulls around the pens, turning them out to pasture, or riding them to keep up his own stamina and practice and to see how the bull is going to react. When Beau is about to ride, it is usually Clayton right beside the chute to help Beau on board the beast. Ropes have to be checked, gloves put on, and that last pat of encouragement seems to mean a lot. Beau does the same for Clayton. When Punkee is with Beau, he is that means of support and pride.
These animals are simply huge, and they are bred to be as ornery and mean as can be. Weighing in at more than 2,000 pounds, they seem to know that their job is to get and keep that cowboy off their backs and to get the job done as quickly as possibly. Standing by the chutes so closely that you can smell the bull’s breath and see the apparent anger in his eyes gives onlookers a new appreciation for the bravery of these tough men. One big, mean bull out of Ickey’s stock literally kicked both frontward and backward, turned and twisted, railed against the metal bars of the chute, bellowed with a loud sound, and when none of that worked, he crashed against the side pushing his own hoof outside between two bars. The cowboys jumped into action, grabbing a rope and tying the hoof, pulling it forward to keep the animal from breaking his own leg in anger. They were successful and soon turned that bad boy out to pasture. If a bull is so bad that the cowboy cannot be seated on him at all in three tries, he gets a re-ride and a different bull.

With names like Rotten Apple, Big Stuff, The Rock, Lumberjack, Depths of Despair, Gangster, Walk the Plank, White Lie, Hurricane, Tremors, Wipeout, Devil’s Playground, Gunpowder and Lead, Blowout, Black Ice, The Warden, Eight Ball, Imabadcat, and King Herod, you know these bulls are bred to be bad. The stock providers for the various rodeos do a great job of keeping healthy animals for the cowboys to attempt to ride, and Beau won Houston on Cybercat.

Statistics for all of the bulls on the main circuits are now available on the Internet and the process is so precise that the list shows if the bull has generally bucked from the front or the back, twists, goes out of the chute to the right or to the left, or any other of his attributes. The riders do not know the bull they will ride until the draw is held. And the bull needs to be bad to register points on their behalf. At the end of every rodeo season, a winning bull is named based on his behavior for the year. Though the riders do not get to pick and choose, it’s helpful to know a little about their antics.

“Bulls are somewhat like people,” Beau said. “You really can never know what kind of mood they are in that day and how they will act when that chute is opened. You think you may know something about them, but in the end, it is all a surprise, a very big surprise, and you hope it is good.”

“Old worn-out saddles, and old worn-out memories, Sadly in search of, but one step in back of themselves and their slow-movin’ dreams …”

Triple S Ranch has two canine heroes. When Ickey or Punkee gives a command, one or the other or both of the dogs immediately springs into action, nipping and chasing the big bull so many times larger than their frames into metal container chutes where gates were quickly put into place to keep the people safe and get the bull back into the pasture.

“My heroes have always been cowboys  And they still are, it seems …”

Winning $56,000 in an eight-second ride is pretty spectacular, but it might have taken years to get to that win. The combination of heritage, experience, hope, prayer, countless injuries, travel, and a determination made of steel, strength and stamina paid off in a big way. Beau says often that it is all about what fills the space between one side of his head to the other, and once he gears up to ride, he is unflappable.
Beau may be the big winner in 2012, but he comes from a proven line of winners. Punkee rode bulls and was a bull fighter for more than 20 years. Then there’s Ickey, the grandfather, who is called the last of a dying breed of Texas men. He is literally a legend in his own time in the eyes of many. He has endeared himself, making sure that the young folks know and love the rodeo stories, are able to practice their craft, and have the expensive animals to ride. Ickey has given his life to see that Southeast Texans have a few good men who love and live the rugged life of an honest to God real Texas cowboy.

“I’m a tough old cowboy,” Ickey said clearly. “But I’m queer for my flowers.” And with that, we left the bulls and went to see his yard garden, blooming with color.

Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.