Charlie Toups: a strong Roper at nearly eighty
Ten years ago a story appeared in the Record about Charlie Toups. Toups was 68 years old and had been rodeoing for over 50 years. Last week he had birthday number 78 and he is still making every rodeo and team roping he can, and still winning from time to time.
Recently Toups and two of his close friends, Dickie Richards and Roy Cappadonna, sat around the living room of Toup’s home in Orangefield and tossed tales around about how they got started, times on the road traveling to and from rodeos, trying to rodeo and keep steady jobs and raise families, and friends they were on the road with in those times.
The trio did not come from rodeo backgrounds, or even lived in the country; they were raised in the center of Port Arthur. No one in their families had rodeoed, they just wanted to do it, so they did it.
Toups was the first to make the move.
“Charlie started before we did. He had been off to a high school rodeo and won a trailer. Some of us saw that trailer with all the fancy paint on it and we wanted to try to do what Charlie was doing,” said Cappadonna. “Charlie got a few of us together and rigged up a door. He hung a door from two ropes. The edge was facing up and he tied an old mattress around the door. Then one guy would get on the door and two other guys would pull on the ropes and make the thing move like a bucking horse. It was really hard to stay on.”
Toups had an informal rodeo school. In addition to Cappadonna and Richards, there were Raymond Hulin, Gene Bourgeois, Johnny (Courville) Preston and anyone else that wanted to try the door.
Bourgeois and Preston made a few rodeos, but decided they would rather go into music. Both did well Preston had a huge hit with the song “Runnin’ Bear” and “Jiving” Gene is still drawing crowds with his performances of hit songs like “Breaking up is hard to do.”
The guys that stayed with rodeo stayed close to Toups. He was the leader of the pack in many ways, from teaching the ropes of bareback riding to building the riggings for himself and his friends.
“We would go to the old G.I. Surplus store and buy these aviator gloves. They were good leather and thin. They would give you a good grip on the handle,” said Toups.
“Well, Charlie would wrap tape on the handle of the rigging with the sticky side out to help you hold on and by the time the ride was over and you had tried so hard to hold on, the palm of the glove would be rubbed off. Nearly every ride cost me a pair of gloves,” said Richards.
“I didn’t want to see them stiff leg the horse, I wanted them to bring their legs out and come in wide legged and spur that way. You made more points and you would really hold on better. It forced you to develop a hard grip,” said Toups. “The hard grip was hard on them gloves, though.”
“Charlie had an old ’47 Chevy and there would be about seven of us trying to fit in that old car to go to rodeos. We were packed in there like sardines. Lots of the times Dickie did most of the driving cause he was the only one that could stay awake,” said Cappadonna. “We started chewing tobacco so we could stay awake. I got to where the tobacco was making me sick. I started chewing licorice. I could still spit and stay awake.”
Toups worked for the Texas Highway Department, now TXDOT, in Port Arthur and would book rodeos on the weekends.
“I had a pretty good thing with the highway department. It was a job I could take off from pretty easy to go rodeo. It was still tough though. One time I booked Thursday night at Naples, Friday at Weatherford, and Saturday at Paris. I worked Thursday and drove to Naples. I was winning money there so I drew out at Weatherford, drove back to Port Arthur to work Friday and Friday when I got off work I drove back to Naples. I had to work that Saturday, so I drove back to Port Arthur and worked Saturday and then drove to Paris for the Saturday show there,” said Toups. “I did good with that job for a long time until they put me on inspection and I had to work the hours the road contractors worked. It got harder then. I made things work pretty good though; I paid for the birth of my first two kids with rodeo money.”
Toups rode bulls for three years and then decided to just ride bareback. After nearly 30 years of riding, he decided to become a team roper. He convinced Cappadonna to make the move also, but Richards stayed with rough stock and rode bulls until he was 52 years old.
Richards can often be found judging at a rodeo and Cappadonna is very much an avid fan. His health has slowed him down a step or two. Toups is still very much a competitor. Last weekend he entered a roping at Silsbee and he will probably enter Jasper’s show on April 21.
“Every once in a while they take pity on me and let me win,” said Toups.
That is not exactly the truth as anyone who has seen him rope knows. He is a level competitor with ropers decades younger than he is.
In his career he has won over 150 buckles, six trailers, about 40 saddles, vacation trips and anything else a rodeo gave away. Toups is one of the best cowboys ever to come out of the region. He like his friends, never got the national reputations of other rodeo cowboys because they kept “real jobs” and helped raise their families. Their dedication to their responsibilities only added to their greatness.