(Texas) Rodeo Heritage Museum, which opened in June,
2003, held a tribute dinner for Harry Tompkins July 17th
at the local high school.
Tompkins has lived in the Dublin area since
1950 and has been one of the most inspirational
citizens for gathering and sharing important
information about the history of rodeo as it pertains
to Dublin. Everett
Colborn, the well-known stock contractor and rodeo
producer made Dublin the ‘jumping off place’ for
the famous Rodeo Train that traveled from Dublin to
Madison Square Garden, in New York City, then on to
Boston Gardens, for the final rodeos of the year.
Dublin itself also had quite a prestigious
rodeo for many years.
Many rodeo notables have worked for and
participated with Colborn and lived in the area for a
time. Although the Museum has not been open long it
deserves a stop if you are in the area.
For information contact:
Harry Tompkins was not raised on a ranch as
most cowboys were in the days he competed (1946 until
was born and raised in Peekskill, New York.
As a little kid he always watched an old man go
by on a wagon, with a horse tied behind.
He plowed gardens for people in the area.
One day the man stopped and asked Harry, “You
want to go with me?” and Harry joined him.
Harry did what the man told him to do, and even
pitched some loose hay on to a stack.
One day he let Harry drive the wagon, and Harry
decided to take a short cut.
The wagon tipped over and the old man got
disgusted with the young boy.
That was Harry’s first introduction to
Later when he was around nine, Harry
noticed a herd of horses being trailed to a stable and
he followed them.
It wasn’t long before young Harry was working
there, cleaning stables and brushing the horses.
One project was shoveling manure on to a dump
truck, which took a few weeks. The pay was a three hour trail ride horseback.
While they were on the trail it rained.
A man that worked there bought Harry a pair of
owned a two dollar black cowboy hat, with white lacing
which he was wearing on this ride.
The rain filled his new boots and the dye came
out of the hat, and streaked down his face. He was a sight, but he loved working with the horses.
At night when the horses were out in the
pasture Harry and a friend would ride the horses,
without the owners being aware.
The boys even taught
them to jump poles, and would keep raising the poles
until the horses were able to jump the fences of their
kept escaping but the owners never could understand
how they learned to jump fences and escape, but Harry
and his friend didn’t tell.!
age 16, Harry went to work on a dude ranch in the area
called Cinnabar and later moved to the Cimarron Dude
Hastings, a champion cowboy who had made quite a name
for himself, was a wrangler there and Harry worked
with him. The
cowboys would put on exhibitions for the guests
including bronc riding and riding steers.
The horses used had been previously used in the
Wild Horse Race at the big Madison Square Garden
they would stop bucking the dude ranch would make them
in to saddle
horses for the guests.
Red Wilmer and Jerry Ambler, both experienced
competitive cowboys, once
came to the dude ranch for a party, while back
east during the Madison Square Garden rodeo. Harry saw the expensive car they were driving and was
impressed with their fancy clothes.
Harry decided if he could be a rodeo
cowboy, dress like that and drive a fancy car,
that just might be the way to live.
Wilmer took Harry to Moberly, Missouri, to
compete in his first rodeo.
Jim Shoulders was hurt at the time and was
judging the rodeo.
Harry entered the saddle bronc riding, bareback
riding and the bull riding because to win the
all-around saddle you had to be entered in three
got throwed off the saddle bronc, placed in the
bareback riding and won the bull riding, and won the
showed he was an exceptional rider from the very
Cimarron Dude Ranch he was working for decided to
enter him in the Madison Square Garden Rodeo so they
paid his entry fees in both bareback and bull riding
and got him a room at the Belvedere Hotel, right
across the street from ‘the Garden’.
The rodeo in New York City was thirty days long
and had fifty-two performances.
Harry says he got bucked off everything he
rode, but finally
rode a bull and made $316, which he immediately
hid under the mattress in his hotel room at the
wasn’t long after that when Harry began competing
full time. Two
years later, 1948, he won his first World Champion
Bull Riding title.
From there he won the Bull Riding Championship
again in 1949, 1950, 1952 and 1960.
He also won the Bareback Riding World
Championship and the All-Around title
in 1952 and again won the All-Around World
Championship in 1960.
Jim Shoulders, in an article in an October 1968
issue of Hoofs & Horns, entitled BULL
RIDERS TODAY said, “As far as I’m concerned,
there is nobody anywhere close to Harry Tompkins when
it comes to natural ability to ride.”
The Peekskill cowboy as a child spent many
hours ice skating.
He also practiced walking railings, and even
practiced walking on a cable stretched across a pond. He had tremendous balance and quick reflexes and chose a
career where that was essential.
When asked about his ability he just says, “I
was given a ‘gift’ ”.
Some of the traveling partners Harry had while
‘going down the road’ were Jim Shoulders, and Jack
wrecked two of my cars,” said the eight-time World
top roughstock champs were also some of the first
cowboys to fly from rodeo to rodeo. In the beginning they would hop a commercial plane, carrying
their spurs and ropes,
arrive at their destination, grab a cab, get to
the rodeo, ride their stock, get back in a cab, arrive
back at the airport and get on another airline to the
“The New York to Omaha to Chicago hop worked
would have a cab waiting and one time I walked in to
the rodeo at Chicago and there were only two bulls
left to ride in the bull riding
-- mine and one other”, Harry recalled.
That is cutting it mighty close.
Later these same folks leased a few planes and
scurried from rodeo to rodeo.
Harry said Buschbom bought a plane and he rode
with him one time.
“That was enough,” laughed the eight-time
When asked to name some of the best broncs and
bulls of his era, Tompkins didn’t miss a beat.
“Come Apart that
belonged to Leo Cremer, of Montana, was definitely the
best bronc there ever was.
He was showy, lasted a long time, and no body
rode him”. As
for bulls, he explained that in his era most bulls
were not named, but were usually remembered by their
number, “Number 73 owned by Homer Todd and Yellow
Jacket a Christensen bull were great bulls”.
When asked about the best cowboys during his
era he named Casey Tibbs as the best saddle bronc
rider and Gene Rambo as the best All-Around hand.
Harry Tompkins and Rosemary Colborn, daughter
of Everett Colborn, were married in 1950.
They, of course, met at a rodeo.
They moved to Dublin, Texas, and had three
children, Martha, Mark and Neal.
The only one in the rodeo business presently is
Martha, who competes, raises and trains barrel riding
horses. Rosemary died of cancer after twenty years of
marriage to Harry.
In 1961, a freak accident on a bull at a Las
Vegas rodeo caused Tompkins to sustain an injury to
his elbow. After
dismounting, the bull hit him with his horn and
knocked his elbow out of joint.
His arm was never the same and his riding
career ended. But
that didn’t stop him from participating in rodeo.
He judged rodeos, in fact it was during this
time Tompkins and others judging during this era
recommended that the RCA began to require that cowboy
hats be worn during competition, not baseball caps;
boots were required, no sneakers allowed; and wearing
the competitors number was a requirement.
The original owners of the Mesquite Rodeo near
Dallas included Tompkins, along with Neal Gay, Jim
Shoulders, D. J. Gaudin and Ira Akers. Tompkins sold his interest after two years.
He also designed bucking chutes that allowed
rodeos to install them in much less time than
The same style of chute is still being used
also designed a children’s saddle that had a
‘handle’ instead of a horn.
Although the design did not become popular
Tompkins knows of a current barrel racer that is using
one of his adult saddles with the handle.
Tompkins designed the unique home he lives in
with present wife, Melba.
It is basically underground and therefore, the
temperature remains constant year round.
“We run the air-conditioning about three
months out of the year,” he said, which is
incredible in the Texas heat.
The electric bill never exceeds $120 a month,
and this also includes the electricity used in his
barns and throughout the ranch.
Tompkins, who is one of the best story-tellers
of by-gone rodeo days, has been an excellent
ambassador for the sport of rodeo.
In his early days of rodeo he became one of the
earliest models and cowboy representatives for
Wrangler; he served on the Board of the Rodeo
Historical Society for many years; and was
instrumental in helping organize the Cowboy Reunion
held during the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas
each year. Not
only has he been inducted in to six different Halls of
Fame throughout the country, but also been honored by
receiving the diamond encrusted ring and declared as
‘Bull Rider for Our Time’ by the Professional Bull
Riders in 1997. He
is serving presently as Associate Vice President of
the new Dublin Rodeo Historical Museum.
Jim Shoulders, Tompkins’ long-time friend and
holder of sixteen World Championships, attended the
Tribute Dinner held for Harry Tompkins and said to the
crowd, “When I was judging that rodeo in Moberly,
Missouri, back in 1946, if I’d only
‘goose-egged’ that damn Yankee, maybe he’d gone
back to New York and forgot about rodeoing.”
Tompkins’ response to his good friend, and
former traveling buddy was, “Hey, I’m the one who
kept you from winning twenty-two
World Titles by winning eight of ‘em!”
It is quite evident these two have a
camaraderie that has never waned and that this ribbing
and banter has been going on for fifty-some years.
I’d say that friendship is going to last.
It is also evident that Harry Tompkins will be
an Ambassador to rodeo for life, and rodeo is much