More traumatizing than a bucking bull?

Elvin Sample named Beadles Old Cowhand


September 18, 2016

TROPHY BUCKLE – Over the years Elvin Sample collected many trophy buckles like this one that he keeps with him at Beadles' Nursing Home.

Waking up in an ambulance can be traumatizing for a teenager – especially when that ambulance is the local mortuary's hearse.

It was for Elvin Sample.

At 13 years of age, Sample's older friends helped him onto the back of a bucking bull at a rodeo in Kiowa, Kansas.

"They helped me on my bull, but they never told me anything about getting off," Sample says, smiling at the memory.

His friends never expected him to ride the full eight seconds until the whistle blew. After all, the bull hadn't been ridden before, much less successfully.

"My feet went up in the air and I came down on the railroad tie they had for a post in the fence," Sample said.

With a broken tailbone and other injuries, Sample was placed in the ambulance, which headed for the hospital at Hardtner.

Despite the short distance between Kiowa and Hardtner, the trip took a disturbing turn when the fuel pump went out on the ambulance leaving them stranded on the side of the road.

To add to his trauma, the ambulance also happened to be a hearse.

"I woke up in that ambulance and thought I was dead," he said.

That jarring experience failed to deter Sample from further bull riding. It launched his career that included participation in the amateur circuit before joining the Rodeo Cowboys Association, the precursor to the current PRCA, at age 18.

Broken Bones Part of the Process

Broken bones continued.

Without the instant modern medical facilities available to riders now, doctors' standard advice was "drink more milk for stronger bones."

It's been rumored that during his career, Sample broke nearly every bone in his body at one time or another. When questioned about that fact, Sample smiled and said, "Yeah, I guess so."

The meanest bull Sample rode ironically was named "Gentleman Jim," definitely a misnomer.

"If he could, he'd get you down in front of him and he'd hit you in the back and dribble you like a basketball," Sample said. "He killed one person."

Sample said not many cowboys actually get killed with the animal's horns.

"Most of them get killed when they get trapped under the hind legs of a spinning bull and they can't get out from under them fast enough," he said.

Some of Samples most frightening experiences and injuries occurred when his hand got hung up in the rope.

He explained that successful bull riding depends on one's balance by using their free hand.

"A lot of times when you'd get bucked off on the wrong side and hang up on your rope, you'd just unconsciously not straighten out your hand and couldn't get loose," he said.

That meant getting jerked around at the bull's will until one of the bullfighters could come help distract the bull long enough for the rider to get loose.

As a young man, Sample went to California during the winters where his dad helped build Disneyland. During those times, Sample started riding broncos in jackpot rodeos.

"I really liked the bulls best because (riding a) bareback horse you've got to kind of be a spurring artist," he said. "Now they get where they're practically laying down. When the horse goes in the air, you throw your feet up. When he hits the ground, you try to spur him in the shoulders before he hits the ground."

As long as the horse bucks straight, there's not a problem.

"If he goes to bucking, it's kind of hard to stay on him when your feet are up in the air and you're laying way back," he said.

When he turned 40, Sample joined the Seniors Pro Cowboys Association. He continued riding with that organization until the 1990s.

"When I was 60 years old, I was the only one in the association riding bulls, so I could've won the national bull riding championship," Sample said.

Career Ending Accident

A real cowboy out of the ring, Sample managed a 4,000-acre ranch and 300 acres of farmland in Missouri. One day while he was driving a tractor pulling a 14-foot brush hog, the tractor began leaking fluid while going up and down the rocky Ozark mountains.

Just as he reached the top of the hill, the tractor engine sputtered to a stop then started rolling backward down the hill.

"I thought I could jump off it and roll away from it, but I got my foot caught," he said.

The tractor turned upside down, pinning him beneath the broken steering wheel. Fortunately, he had some tools lying on the floorboard that he used to dig his way from beneath the overturned tractor. Then he crawled a mile to his pickup to summon help on the two-way radio.

As a result of the years of rodeo injuries and the overturned tractor, Sample developed arthritis, ending his career. Now instead of riding bucking bulls or broncs, he uses a wheelchair to assist him while living with his wife at Beadles Nursing Home.

During the recent rodeo season, Sample was named Beadles Old Cowhand of the year – a fitting tribute for a real cowboy.

Most of his trophy buckles now occupy special places of honor in the homes of his four children. The closest any of his offspring came to joining the rodeo circuit was his oldest daughter. She was a member of a synchronized riding team that entertained at rodeos across the nation.

Advice to Young Riders

What advice would Sample give to a young aspiring rodeo rider?

"Find some older cowboy that is experienced that can help them get started," he said. "Watch the bull's shoulders and not his head. You can't keep up with his head, but you can kind of tell a little bit about which way he's going by watching his shoulders."

If he could physically crawl on a bull now, would he?

After only a moment's hesitation he said, "Yeah, I'd probably be still doing it in the senior cowboys association."

OLD COWHAND – Elvin Sample holds this year's title of Beadles' Old Cowhand.


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