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Freckles Brown

One of the most famous bull and rider match-up stories in the history of rodeo

Freckles Brown on Tornado at the 1967 National Finals Rodeo, Oklahoma City.
Photography: Ferrell Butler

Freckles Brown on Tornado at the 1967 National Finals Rodeo, Oklahoma City. Photography: Ferrell Butler

It’s one of the most famous bull and rider match-up stories in the history of rodeo. When Freckles Brown drew Tornado at the National Finals Rodeo in 1967 in Oklahoma City, he wasn’t even in contention and the bull hadn’t been bested in 220 outs. But the rider was as determined as the bull was unridable.

Where bulls were concerned, Warren Granger “Freckles” Brown was what his young protégé and friend Lane Frost called a “tryer.” The Wyoming-born cowboy had always been too hard-headed to quit — even after being injured five years earlier when a bull named Black Smoke caught him after a successful ride and flipped him. Brown had landed on his head, breaking his neck and injuring himself so severely that he was temporarily paralyzed and required surgery, a month in traction, and two months in a cast from his waist to his brow. Nonetheless, he had enough earnings from earlier in the year to win the 1962 bull riding world championship title from the sidelines.

By the time of his face-off with Tornado, Brown was a month shy of his 47th birthday. The bull was as legendary as its owner, rodeo great Jim Shoulders. “Tornado was the ultimate challenge on the bull-riding circuit. Some cowboys would just scratch when they drew the 11-year-old Brahma-Hereford,” Sports Illustrated once reported. “It wasn’t that Tornado was particularly ill-tempered. Brown would tell you the bull didn’t try to go after cowboys once they were thrown. It was simply that many believed Tornado couldn’t be ridden at all.”

“Tornado scared a lot of people off of him,” Brown explained. “I was real tickled when I drew him. I was wantin’ him. I’d watched that bull for years. Every time anybody jumped out of there, any time anybody drew Tornado, I was up there watching, looking over the chute. When a bull bucks that good, everything has to go right, you gotta get tapped off right.”

That night, in front of 9,000 people, everything went right for the oldest active cowboy on the rodeo circuit. The eight-second ride is described on www.lanefrost.com: “Tornado went high and far on his first jump out. … He spun three or four times. He changed his pattern on Freckles, jumping straight ahead and then back to the right, but nothing he did could throw the determined man. Freckles never heard the whistle. The crowd went wild and the bullfighters moved in, and that’s how [Freckles] knew he had him rode!”

Jim Shoulders was there to give Brown the first congratulatory pat on the back. If the bulls hadn’t already knocked off all of Brown’s freckles, as he once joked, the thundering ovation in the arena might have.

 

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