A shipyard cowboy that could have gone pro
George Strait recorded a song about a rodeo cowboy who calls his girlfriend to tell her that he is coming home. She tells him she is leaving and has another man, and “he sure ain’t no rodeo man.” His last words to her are: “that’s all right baby, if I hurry I can still make Cheyenne.” The loss of his girl is not as important as his life on the rodeo road and the big rodeo at Cheyenne.
Dickie Richards is the opposite of that character. Richards is quite possibly the best bull rider to ever come out of the southeast Texas-southwest Louisiana region. He was one of the rare cowboys that put family first. If he would have gone on the pro-rodeo tour, he would have been a world champion.
He started as a bareback rider and, after two years, began to ride bulls. He was a gifted bull rider with the concentration and desire to ride bulls that no one else could
The Port Arthur native started riding a “bucking door” in his early teens.
“We would take an old door and hang it by two ropes, tie an old mattress to it, tie our bareback rigging or our bull rope on it, climb on top of it and have two big guys pull on the rope. That thing would go up, down and side to side. It was tough to hang onto,” Richards said. “Charlie Toups, Raymond Hulin, D.F. Reeves and Jimmy McMillan were some of the guys that I did that with.”
They are cowboys that Richards rode to the rodeos and competed against. They have been lifelong friends and can still be found in the rodeo circuit. Charlie Toups, for one, is still competing actively as a roper. The fact that he is in his seventies does not diminish his talent.
“Charlie and I were in the old RCA (Rodeo Cowboys Association). We had our cards in that until we got blacklisted for competing in local, open rodeos. They wanted us to just do the RCA pro shows. We wanted to do the local and nearby rodeos so that we could spend time at home between shows,” said Richards.
Richards was elected to the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2002. He was one of the earliest inductees after the Hall of Fame came into existence. Richards has been a member of the LRA (Louisiana Rodeo Association), Tri-State Rodeo Association, TRA (Texas Rodeo Association), OTRA (Old Timers Rodeo Association), and the SRA (Southwest Rodeo Association) in addition to the RCA.
The RCA is the forerunner to the current PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association).
Richards talents as a bull rider are legend in the LRA. In one year he rode bulls seven times that were had never been ridden while in the LRA. Needless to say, he was the bull riding champion that year.
Richards is modest about his accomplishments. He did admit that he has won over 100 buckles and 12 saddles in his rodeo years.
Like all bull riders he has suffered a number of injuries. He has broken his leg, collarbone three times, several ribs, had six concussions, and shoulder injuries from his days as a bareback rider. His worst injury came from the time he lost his grip with his legs on the bull. This caused him to move forward and down at the same time the bull’s head came up.
“My face hit him right behind the horns. This caused my nose to break and a bone move up almost to my brain. My teeth were knocked out and sticking through my lip. My eyes were so red and messed up that I could not see for a week. I also lost my sense of taste and smell for about a year. The doctor told me that he could pull that bone down that went up in my head, or I could just leave it like it was. I decided to leave it alone. I have begun to have some headaches the last few years that may be caused by that, but I have really not had any other trouble after I healed,” Richards said.
Still eager to compete after he recovered from that injury, Richards bought a baseball catcher’s mask and worked with his wife to make a harness for his head that would keep the mask in place. “Barbara sewed some cloth to the straps that would not let the mask move too much and I was OK,” Richards said.
This was in the days before masks and helmets became available in rodeo. Now there are commercially made masks that do the same job as Richard’s homemade mask.
“I was always lucky with my draws. I drew good bulls and a lot of bulls that no one had been able to ride. Sloan Williams (a stock producer) said he would like to find ‘one bull that Richards can’t ride.’ Charlie Toups got me into bull riding and when things went good it was fine, but when I got hurt, I gave Charlie what for,” Richards said.
The Richards’ have four children, daughters Lettie and Kathy; and two sons, Kirk and Kent. The boys followed in their dad’s footsteps and became bareback and bull riders. Both went on to compete in the PRCA and both were good riders.
“The boys and I were sort of legends in the LRA. When we would be together at a rodeo, the announcer would say ‘the trio is here,” Richards said.
Richards and his sons traveled together and competed against each other for several years. Kirk and Kent wanted to go on the pro-circuit, so they left dad and went on their own.
“When the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) first started, Kent won $10,000 at one event. That was before the big money like they pay out now. I wish they would have had that (PBR) in my day, “ Richards said.
“I worked at Levingston Shipyard in Orange for 12 years as a welder. I took off work so much to rodeo that I think they wanted to fire me, but they never did. One time they wrote me up in the company newsletter. They called me a ‘shipyard cowboy.’ I wanted to keep the job, but I made more money riding bareback and bulls,” Richards said.
By the time, he turned 55, the years of bareback and bull riding had taken its toll. Richards decided to retire. Not many men have hung with the sport that long and still have been able to compete successfully.
“When I started to ride bulls after riding bareback, some of the guys said I was too small to be able to do that,” Richards said. The record shows that size did not matter. It was the size of his heart that made him a champion in the arena.
Richards spends a lot of his rodeo time now as a judge.
“I see a lot of guys try to ride and can’t do it. It just looks like they really do not have the heart and desire they need. It is a shame,” Richards said.
When he is not at a rodeo, Richards and Barbara spend time working with their church, helping others, and spoiling grand kids. If friends could be counted in money, Richards would be a millionaire.