Look inside a home steeped in cowboy history.
Framed on a rugged wood-planked wall of Carla Harrison’s sprawling Oklahoma ranch you’ll find a number 31 bib from the 1967 National Finals Rodeo. It’s one of eight framed bibs she has, each worn between 1959 and 1969 at the NFR by rodeo legend Freckles Brown — her husband’s grandfather.
In 1967, wearing that number 31 on his back, Brown, then 46 and already a world champion bull rider, made history when he topped the “unrideable” bull Tornado in front of a packed Oklahoma City arena on the NFR’s opening night.
For Harrison, displaying Brown’s bibs along with hundreds more (at least) rodeo mementos isn’t just about history; it’s about family. When she and her husband, John Harrison — himself a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association member and award-winning rodeo clown and barrelman — started planning their dream house on his family’s generations-old property, it needed to embody their welcoming, family-style way of life.
“We built this big house because we have a lot of rodeo friends that are passing through,” Carla Harrison says. “So it is eight bedrooms ... and I think I have filled it to max occupancy four or five times in the two years that we’ve had it. It’s always people passing through, whether it’s one or two rooms that are occupied with friends or family. And that’s the reason why we built it. We love having people over and entertaining and just enjoying the fellowship and camaraderie of others.”
It took two years to construct the home itself — a “labor of love,” Harrison says — which features antiques and reclaimed furnishings from all over the country. But what’s showcased inside has been a work in progress for nearly a decade. “We started collecting from the get-go,” she explains. “We just started holding on to pieces that we loved. And I’m not joking, I have saved every issue of Cowboys & Indians I ever got.”
In addition to valuable pieces of rodeo history — like saddles belonging to Brown — Harrison has gone to great lengths to preserve personal belongings that have been passed down through the generations. Her husband’s great-great-grandfather’s rifle hangs above the front door. The crib Brown made for his only daughter, Donna, which has been used by all of Harrison’s children, now occupies one of the guest rooms. The mantles? Those were hewn from the first Christmas tree John’s grandparents planted on the property (and repurposed only after an ice storm forced them to be cut down). Harrison even discovered how to reprint an illustration made by her father, a cowboy cartoonist, on the vegetable sink in her kitchen.
“I’m surrounded by memories,” Harrison says, and that is fine by her — it helps the whole family remain connected to the loved ones who have influenced them so dearly. And yet just as important are the memories and stories they are making now, with the friends and family that are always passing through.
“My favorite part of my house is when it’s full of friends and family,” Harrison says. “My house never feels better, more alive. I don’t feel more blessed than when I’m surrounded by people that I love to be around.”
Photography: Images courtesy Carla Harrison
From our January 2021 issue.