The Will James Roundup

Written by Tom Moates

The third annual Will James Roundup will be held Friday-Sunday, July 12-14, 2013, at the Big Horn County Fairgrounds in Hardin, Montana.

The event is a working ranch horse and ranch style rodeo helping to raise funds to repair and maintain the Will James cabins which were moved to the Big Horn County Historical Museum in early 2008.

Photo of Will James, courtesy Big Horn County Historical Society - Will James Art Company Collection
Photo of Will James, courtesy Big Horn County Historical Society – Will James Art Company Collection

Will James (1892-1942) was a celebrated children’s book writer, novelist, artist, and cowboy with 23 books to his name. James is best known for his kid’s book, Smokey the Cow Horse, which won a Newberry Medal in 1927 and was made into a movie in 1933. His books and artwork share western themes, and the subjects spring from the colorful life he lived. In his younger days he roamed the west punching cows, selling sketches, and picking up other work. James also managed to spend a year in the Nevada State Prison for cattle rustling around 1915, served in the Army in 1918-19, and worked as a stunt man in the movies.

MWH_3431 MWH_5668James also owned the Rocking R Ranch, a 12,000 acre spread southwest of Hardin. He lived on the ranch from around 1926 to 1942. James built the three hand-hewn log structures on the ranch that recently were moved. The biggest was his studio, a two-room building with a large window in its main room providing ample light for his artistic endeavors. The other two are small single-room cabins originally used to accommodate “dudes” that James hosted at the ranch some- times to bring in additional income.[symple_divider style=”solid” margin_top=”20px” margin_bottom=”20px”]

“One of the buildings is his art studio where he did a lot of his artwork and wrote a lot of his books,” says Seth Redding (who, along with other family members, is one of the found- ers of the Will James Roundup). “It was on his ranch not too far from here. The reason we really got interested in it was my brother [Skeeter] used to work for the ranch that owned it and that’s where he lived—he lived in that old art studio; that was his bunkhouse. Right after he left is when that place gave it to the museum.”

Today the former Rocking R Ranch is part of the Sunlight Ranches owned by Earl Holding, who donated the buildings to the Big Horn County Historical Museum. The three buildings were moved intact from their original sites on flatbed trailers and set up on the Museum’s property which houses a total of 26 historical buildings. “It [the Will James Roundup] started out three years ago,”

Seth says. “Our family being in the ranching industry and the ranching community, we decided to try to find a way to raise some money to help with the restoration. The museum acquired them [the cabins] but they only have limited funds. They have lots of projects going on and it was going to be a long, slow process rebuilding them, so we thought we wanted to find a way to raise some money to help refurbish the build- ings and then get that display up and going for the public a little better.”

MWH_8480The plan has been to restore the studio to the original condition and look it had when James was working in it. Photographs and descriptions from that time exist to help provide an authentic look to the studio for the public to enjoy. Since the studio building was used for decades as a bunkhouse it had been upgraded with some modern conveniences, like a bathroom and telephone, which had to be removed. The two small single-room cabins were slated to house museum show- cases: one to present a display of Rocking R Ranch history and the other to provide the public a more general history of the cowboy.

“We hemmed and hawed and tried to think of different ways to help,” Seth continues. “In the midst of all that we decided we wanted to hold some kind of a horse event and it just kind of grew from there. It started out just going to be a working cow horse event—and then we decided well, let’s have a roping. So we added a ranch roping. Then we added a ranch bronc riding and a ranch rodeo. That’s where it got started.

“The first year we had a working ranch horse event— there’s the regular one and then a youth-involved one—on Friday. Then on Saturday during the day we had a ranch rop- ing and the three-man ranch doctoring style roping; Saturday night we had a cowboy ranch bronc riding. And Sunday we had a ranch rodeo. The second year we added a big loop team roping on Friday night.

“Saturday is kind of a mix of the Californios buckaroo style and the Montana style of cowboy. We have no limitations on your gear—on your type of rope. We have a lot of southern style cowboys around here and a lot of buckaroo style—every- body’s welcome. We don’t care what you ride with. The roping format is kind of more the buckaroo style in a sense that it’s points on types of loops. The fancier the loop the more points you get but there’s also points for time, so it’s not real slow— you’re rewarded for being smoother, faster, and efficient. We’re trying to find a way to hold that kind of a roping that allows all areas of the cowboy world to partake and feel like they were getting a fair shake and not directed towards just one style. You really see the overlap of styles in this area. In this area you see a swell fork guy riding right next to a guy that looks like a buckaroo working on the same outfit. We’re really trying to keep that relationship in our deal.”

The Will James Roundup is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. A portion of the proceeds from the gate and the concessions go to benefit the restoration and maintenance of the Will James cabins at the Big Horn County Historical Museum.

MWH_4667This year the events again include adult and youth work- ing ranch horse competitions and big loop team roping on Friday. Cow doctoring and ranch bronc riding will be held on Saturday. Sunday is the ranch rodeo. This year a new event, an Indian relay, will be added to the ranch rodeo. Seth says it is a very popular event in the local area which is right in the Crow Reservation region. The other ranch rodeo events are calf branding, trailer loading, yearling doctoring, cow milking, and women’s steer stopping.

Also new this year is a dance and live band on Saturday night. Camping is allowed, both in tents and trailers, but there are no trailer hookups due to construction on site, but showers are available. Vendors are welcome and anyone interested in vending can receive a sponsor packet by contacting the event planners through the website contact page: www.willjames-

Contestant entries for most events open by phone on June 5th and close June 30th. This year there is $2250 added in the bronc riding and $500 added in the new Indian Relay event.

“There’s a little something for everyone,” Seth says.

This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.72


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