Jim Peters, Rodeo Cowboy
There are still some rodeo cowboys around that held cards in the Rodeo Cowboy Association and in the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association. Jim Peters is one of those. Peters and his wife, Connie, live a quiet life in Kirbyville, Texas. If one is fortunate enough to visit with Peters, he will give you a history lesson in “Rodeo 101” by just relating his experiences.
Peters was born in Jenks, Okla., March 25, 1934. “Cowboy” was a way of life in those days. After his dad died, Peters took whatever jobs he could to help his family. One job was delivering the local paper on horseback. His horse “Lady” was the love of his life. Years later a small mule would be his almost constant companion on the rodeo circuit. Peters and the mule “Side Kick” would become a legend in Southeast Texas rodeo.
Records in the PRCA office show that Peters’ first rodeo was at the age of 15, in 1949. Peters’ last bull ride was in 2009 at the age of 75. The 60 years between those two rides is a rich record of life on the rodeo trail.
Peters was a competitor in the years when there were no circuits in professional rodeo. If he wanted to ride in Texas, he rode in Texas. If he wanted to compete in Kansas or Oklahoma, he rode there. His events were bull riding, saddle bronc, bareback, and steer wrestling. He became friends with cowboys like Freckles Brown, Clark McEntire, and Jim Shoulders. They shared everything from baloney sandwiches to information about the stock they would ride at rodeos.
Peters rode on a permit for eight years and as a card holder for another eight years. After those years he shifted his focus from competing to performing. He decided to become a clown. This was in the time period when the clown entertained the crowd with comedy acts and also did the bullfighting. First he bought a barrel and next he found Side Kick.
In 1965 Buck Steiner brought a small mule colt to a rodeo in Fort Worth. “That mule was so small I took him home in the back seat of my car,” said Peters. Peters had found an animal that was as unique to him as Trigger was to Roy Rogers. Side Kick developed a vocabulary that was remarkable, it was almost as though he could read Peters mind. “That mule would even follow Jim up into the bleachers when he would go up to pass out candy,” said Connie Peters.
“I would be on the road and decide to stop for the night and would look for a town that had some kind of ballpark. I would close all the gates at the park and then let Side Kick out of his trailer. I would open both doors on my truck and stretch out on the seat and go to sleep. Next morning I would put feed in his trough and rattle the chains on the trailer and Side Kick would come running. I’d shut him in the trailer and we would go down the road,” said Peters.
Side Kick suffered a stroke and had to be put down. He and Peters had been together for 28 years. “It was a loss that was hard to get over. I still miss that little mule.” said Peters.
As happens with so many rodeo cowboys, there was a time when Peters had to get a “real job.” He settled in Beaumont, Texas and worked as a welder in a local shipyard. His time on the road changed to going to shows he could work on the weekend and be home by Monday to go back to the shipyard.
Peters worked rodeos in Southeast Texas in arenas that are long gone. Several arena locations are now housing subdivisions. There is not a rodeo contractor in Southeast Texas and most of Louisiana that Peters has not worked for.
“Jim Peters was one of the most agile and quick bullfighters that I ever saw,” said Coleman Peveto. ‘I do not know how many rodeos that Jim and I worked together at. Jim was always ready to go and always did his best to entertain the crowd and protect the bull riders.”
Peveto is a longtime rodeo announcer and now works as the Rodeo Director at the Texas Longhorn Entertainment Complex in Vinton, La.
At a recent bull riding with 48 contestants and a large audience, Peveto and Longhorn owner Ray Cotton honored Peters before the show. Peveto read a short biography that listed Peters many rodeos as a competitor and entertainer and Cotton presented Peters with a custom buckle, personalized with his name. The buckle is the same Broken Arrow buckle that is given to each series champion at the Longhorn.
Emotion was evident on Peters’ face; he is a modest man. It was an honor that was long overdue.
Peters brought a large bag of candy and passed it out to the kids in the crowd as he used to do in his entertaining days. He even got a hug from a cowgirl or two.
In October, 2009 the Jasper County Cowboy Church in Jasper, Texas produced a small rodeo as a fund raiser. The star attraction at the rodeo was Peters. Peters decided that he would ride a bull. There was a little concern about a 75 year old man riding a bull. There were a few precautions taken, but nothing major, just an extra bullfighter or two.
The gate opened and Peters came out on a small black bull that had a few coals in his furnace. It looked like Peters was going to make the buzzer, but he lost his grip with slightly over seven seconds on the watch. A lot of 25 year old cowboys wish they could do so well.
“I was pretty sore for a few days, but I enjoyed it” said Peters.
After the show at the Longhorn Peters was heard to say, “I really wanted to be out there.” Once rodeo is in your blood, it never goes away.
Peters never won any major championships or won at any large rodeos. He was a consistent rider and won enough money to go from show to show and come back with a little in his pocket.
He competed with seven time world champion Jim Shoulders and later worked as a clown/ bullfighter for Shoulders when Shoulders became a rodeo producer. He kept a relationship with Shoulders until Shoulders death several years ago. “I was hurt that I couldn’t go to Jim’s funeral, but I was not able to, I was down at the time” said Peters.
Peters stayed with rodeo until he was 53 years of age and decided it was time to put the barrel in the barn. He has a special place in the heart of anyone who knew him. Those that only knew him a performer with Side Kick saw what a special person he was in the arena as he led the little mule around and did so many tricks.
Peters’ legacy is one of a dedicated rodeo cowboy. He is a modest, generous man who would jump the fence to untangle a bull rider any time he was needed. It may take him a little longer to jump the fence and he may have lost a step or two over the years, but the desire is still there to help a rider in trouble.
“Of all the people I have done in rodeo, I am proudest to have worked with Jim and to have become his friend” said Peveto. “If you could measure friends in dollars, Jim would be a millionaire.”
“I am proud to have been able to do what I did with rodeo, the Lord gave me the talent to do it. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would not change a thing”, said Peters.