from the "Rodeo Roots" series by Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
Johnie Schneider by Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
The Black Beauty
I'll tell you a story of a thing that makes me blue.
Please listen for a moment, for the words I speak are true.
For two years I's been riding and scheming for to get—
My hands upon a beauty that no one will ever get.
I'd caught many a wild horse and never failed until,
I started on this youngster at the foot of Rocky Hill.
He was nothing but a baby, when first I saw him there
Standing by his mother, a little old grey mare.
And when he'd grown from colthood to a big strong handsome black
There was always by his hoofprints, the little old grey mare's track.
I lay awake many a night, trying to scheme a way
For to make a big black beauty, be my saddle horse some day.
But this beauty always dodged them 'spite all that I could do.
Til one day I dug a pit
down by the waterside,
I covered it over with sticks and leaves and climbed a tree to hide.
I hadn't been there very long; the sun was shining still,
When I saw the couple coming thru the rocks up on the hill.
And as they came down closer to the waterside,
The old mare done the leading and the black stayed close beside
Another step was all it took till she'd be in the pit.
She bowed her head and snorted and then stepped back a bit.
She turned her head as if to say
there is danger here my son.
And at the twinkle of an eye, my right hand grasped my gun.
I jerked it from its holster, for now I knew the truth;
I'd never catch the beauty with the old mare running loose.
I peeked out thru the branches
drew a fine sight on my gun,
My finger clutched the trigger, and the old mare's days were done.
The great black reared straight in the air then sort of settled down
And stretched his long keen neck to smell the blood upon the ground.
He blew a loud shrill whistle, his nostrils flaming red,
And with his sleek foreleg he stroked
his mother lying dead
Then a sudden fear seemed to seize him and he whirled and with a bound
Crashed into a pine tree than sank back to the ground.
I climbed down thru the branches and ran to where he struck,
And lifting up his small keen head I found he broke his neck.
I knew that I was beaten as they both laid cold and still
I laid the beauty's head back down and started up the hill.
My heart was sure heavy with the whole thing on my mind,
For now I knew the very truth
the black had been born blind.
© 1923, Johnie Schneider
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
Johnie Schneider, 1931
by Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
The flow of the Sacramento River gently rocked the newly christened riverboat SIERRA along her maiden voyage from Sacramento to Oakland. June 1st, 1885 was a beautiful day in coastal California.
Lounging on deck, some of the boat’s passengers speculated on the imminent arrival of the dismantled statue “Liberty Enlightening the World.” As they spoke, it was riding the high seas somewhere between France and New York City; packed in 214 crates, aboard the French frigate ISERE.
Military enthusiasts talked about U.S. Cavalry encounters with Indians near Fort Concho, and speculated on latest news reports of Ulysses S. Grant’s fight with his deadly illness.
Those who favored fast horses spoke of Babe Henderson’s win of the 11th Kentucky Derby on Joe Cotton in a time of 2:37, and how Jim McLaughlin, just eight days earlier, had urged Tecumseh across the line to win the 13th Preakness in 2:49. Bets were offered and taken on the outcome of the Belmont, five short days away.
Suddenly, below deck, the lusty first cry of a healthy infant knifed through the normal racket of the steamer.
Moments later an exhausted but proud mother whispered, “Let’s name her Nevada.”
When the Captain heard of the birth, he considered it a good omen. To honor and commemorate the occasion, he re-named his vessel the SIERRA NEVADA.1
Nobody on board knew the last of the Buffalo Soldiers were soon to leave Fort Concho and General Grant would die in mid-July...nor that Tyrant, with Paul Duffy in the irons, would cross the wire in 2:43 to win the 19th running of the Belmont Stakes...nor that the ISERE would reach their East coast with that unusual gift from the French people on June 19th. They had no idea the pieces in those crates would be re-assembled to rise above New York Harbor and become a timeless symbol of this nation.
Neither did they dream the foundation of a bull riding dynasty rested with the newborn Nevada, peacefully sleeping at her mother’s breast.
The rodeo world found that out more than 40 years later, when Nevada’s sons Johnie and Frank Schneider began their arena reign. Johnie became the first official World’s Champion Bull Rider; and he and Frank were the first brothers ever to win World’s Championship titles in the sport of rodeo.2
Nevada gave birth to Johnie May 31st, 1904, at Stockton, California. The family was always involved in ranching, moving often during the boy’s early life.
John Schneider also had a frieighting business—ten draft horses pulling two wagons to haul tons of freight. He’d climb the Sierra Nevada range to Carson City and Virginia City in search of jobs freighting to the mines, and young Johnie was often on the wagon seat alongside him.
Johnie recalled paying $1 a barrel for water on the Mojave Desert, and said the horses would go through a barrel in short order. When they were on the desert, they’d let the teams stand with their heads in the shade of the wagons all day, making their hauls at night when the heat was more bearable.
In the Sierra’s, long snow tunnels covered the railroad, with an occasional break allowing track crossings. Many gory accidents happened at such places, because the tunnels deadened sound and the trains could not be heard until they literally burst upon the crossing.
Johnie remembered having to run to one tunnel and listen carefully, then across to the other and do the same. If he heard nothing he’d yell and signal his father, who’d holler and whip the teams and rush across the tracks as fast as they could go. Johnie said they were “scared to death of those crossings.” 3
Johnie was a natural horseman, gifted to communicate with and master even the rankest outlaws. He never tired of taking on another bronc to see what he could make of it, and his reputation as a horseman rapidly spread.
While still in grammar school he took in colts to break, at the rate of $10 for 10 days riding. His second job was delivering the Stockton Sun every evening. The route covered about 10 miles, and Johnie combined duties by riding the colts to deliver the papers.4 Undoubtedly few young boys in that era held down two paying jobs!
Rodeo historian Jerry Armstrong said, “There were big cow outfits in that country and once in awhile a cowboy would ride by the Schneider place. On those occasions young Schneider would always be down at the gate. Sometimes he would get to talk to a passing rider, and his talk would always have to do with questions concerning the rider’s horse and saddle, and about his own desire to one day be a cowboy. Maybe, along the way, some of those riders did come up with the right answers, for that inquisitive blonde kid at the gate did, in time, become a sure-enough cowboy both on ranches and in arenas.” 5
Schneider grew up with a strong work ethic, and his constant vigorous physical activity no doubt contributed to the strong, lithe body he developed.
He told an interviewer for Monterey Life, “I left home early and went to live with some other folks, helping them out with their farm chores and working in the fields. I’d get up at four in the morning, do the chores, then go out into the fields for ten hours, come back and do the chores again, eat and go to bed. It was a hard life but it wasn’t anything like what was up ahead,” he said, referring to the Great Depression.
Johnie’s lifelong friend C.W. Jensen remembered, “Johnie always liked to ride. He didn’t use any saddle . . . always rode bareback. He’d run towards the back of his horse and jump on it like a regular rodeo performer.” 6
Before long, he was one!
Rodeo was coming into its own and Johnie was attracted to the competition and excitement of the circuit. He itched to try every event, and found he enjoyed and excelled in all. His first rodeo was Livermore, California, in 1923, and before long the name of Johnie Schneider was known wherever cowboys gathered.
At first Lucky Mc Fall took the lad under his wing. Johnie worked for him on his ranch and at rodeos, where he also competed, and really began to learn the ropes. Because of this association, some early cowboys called Johnie “Lucky.”
His next mentor was Cuff Burrel. When Mc Fall sold his rodeo stock to Burrel, Johnie went along with it. Cuff prided himself in having one of the rankest strings of broncs in the business, and was tickled to have somebody like Johnie to “try out” prospective new rodeo stars. He’d just load his pickup horse and the kid and drive to where the alleged rank equine was.
Johnie said, “Cuff would ride out into a pasture carrying a ready little loop and it wouldn’t make any difference whether the horse he wanted cut to the right or to the left side of his mount—he would rope it. I never did see him miss and all were neat throatlatch catches.” 7
Athletic, enthusiastic and competitive, young Schneider was also attracted to the boxing ring and found success there. That pursuit introduced him to physical training, and his son Jim Schneider speculates, “Dad may have been the first real athlete in the sport of rodeo.
Johnie Schneider on Sonora, 1929
“He’d get up in the morning and jump rope, then work out on the punching bag, then go run some laps,” Jim recalls. “I can remember when he could chin himself three times with just one finger.” 8
Schneider’s friend C. W. Jensen corroborates that, saying “He had terrific arms and shoulders. At one point, he could chin himself 27 times with one hand, then grab hold with the other hand and chin himself another 27 times.” 9
Absolute fearlessness was another trait of Johnie’s that no doubt contributed to his rodeoing success. Jim remembers his godfather, rodeo producer Andy Jauregi, relating this funny story:
“Johnie was riding this green bronc and all of a sudden he just pinned his ears back and took the bit and really stampeded. I wondered what would happen,” Jauregi said.
“There was a big stack of loose hay in the middle of the pasture where they were, and it was the only thing out there. Johnie got this old horse bent around and headed him straight for it. When they hit it the only thing left sticking out was the horse’s rump and tail. I think it almost killed Johnie, as well as the horse.”
Jim asked Andy if the horse ever ran away again and he replied, “Not that I know of.” 10
Johnie hit the rodeo trail pretty hard. In August of 1927, he was a long way from his California home, wearing back number #97 as he competed at the Tex Austin rodeo at Soldiers Field, Grant Park in Chicago. Before long, the record books of the young Rodeo Association of America (RAA) were filled with his winnings in several events.
Schneider was slim and looked like a cowboy, yet he stood out in a crowd. Rodeo historian Jerry Armstrong remembered “...he always dressed well, but never fancy. The old snug-fitting, woolen turtleneck sweater had by then practically disappeared, but John put the turtleneck back in style. On him, they looked good, even in 100-plus degree weather. He then always wore his hats in a bent, flat-on-top style...with around a three-inch crown. Again, on him it looked good.” 11
Bareback riding was in its infancy at the time Johnie cracked out, and was not recognized by RAA record keepers as an official event. Jerry Armstrong said, “No RAA points were awarded in bareback bronc riding the first three years. Then, in 1932, bareback bronc riding was classified by the association as a major rodeo event. But bareback bronc riding, and bull riding, too—which had been rated by the RAA as a major event from the start—were not so recognized in all quarters in those years.” 12
That was unfortunate for Schneider. He once told his son Jim if bareback riding had been a recognized event he’d have won the All Around World title the first four years the RAA kept tally. As it was, he was only officially declared All Around World’s Champion for a single year, 1931.Johnie’s other World Championship titles include the Bull Riding crown for 1929 and 1930, along with a tie for the title with fellow Californian Smokey Snyder in 1932. Bull riding in that era was in a state of flux and Johnie demonstrated true talent in being able to roll with the punches and adapt, as rules and livestock changed.
Jerry Armstrong said, “In those years bulls and steers were generally ridden with a two-handhold riggin’. When the boogery Brahmas replaced local stock, and when the braided loose rope, with cowbell attached, replaced riggin’s, John made the switch with no sweat. A lot of other contemporary bull riders, though, just quit; or got catch ropes and began throwing practice loops at the cattle...John could ride the rankest Brahmas with style and class, and he could swing off and then slip away with the nimble grace of a matador.” 13
Johnie Schneider also claimed the Steer Decorating World’s Championship for the years 1931, 1932 and 1936.14
One year Johnie didn’t haul his steer decorating horse to the California Rodeo at Salinas. He had to get mounted, so he approached his brother Frank about borrowing his horse.
Frank owned the horse in partners with another cowboy. They conferred and decided not to mount Johnie, reasoning they’d only be “competing against themselves” if they did, since all were entered in the steer decorating.
Johnie then went to his good friend Andy Jauregi, who lent him his top horse. Riding Checkers, Johnie won the steer decorating event all four days of the rodeo.15
In 1932 Livermore, California rodeo officials installed highway billboards to inform the world Livermore was the home of Johnie Schneider, “World’s Champion Cowboy!”
He may have also become the first rodeo cowboy with a fan club when the “Johnie Schneider Fan Club” was organized at Livermore. They collected newspaper and magazine articles for a scrapbook, but as rodeo writer Jerry Armstrong noted, “John...never did particularly care whether anyone wrote about him or not. But, of course, they did. He was good copy, a sort of All-American boy in rodeo type, and always friendly and approachable.”
Armstrong recalled a time when a San Francisco newspaper reporter was looking for Johnie shortly before one performance of the Livermore rodeo. The writer asked Jerry to tell Johnie he’d “contact him at the rodeo headquarters office that night.”
When he delivered the message Johnie answered, “That man wrote me about doing a story, but if he wants one now, he will have to get it here [in the arena] this afternoon because I won’t be at the office tonight.”
Armstrong said, “That was John’s way in those years; he rarely ever was around till shortly before a rodeo performance...I can’t remember ever seeing him in town or even at a rodeo office after a performance.” 16
Unlike some of the hell-raising hands of his era, Johnie was a family man, deeply devoted to his first wife Julia. One rodeo reporter doing a feature on Johnie wrote that “he up and married the prettiest girl in Livermore.”
Although they’re masters at concealing it, many cowboys are true romantics. That side of Johnie came out when he wrote the following for Julia on her birthday, May 3, 1937:
Twenty eight years ago today
A baby was given birth,
Never more beauty, grace and charm,
Has ever been sent to this earth.
Her face is as sweet as an angel.
Her smile is that of a saint.
Her dark curly hair frames the picture.
Such beauty, no artist could paint.
Her thought is as pure as a snowdrift.
Her will is that of a nun.
Her heart is as soft as a moonbeam,
And as warm as a beam from the sun.
I know that I'll always love her
As we go hand in hand through this life;
For she is my darling Julia,
My sweet and adorable wife.17
Julia Schneider in the late 1930s
Julia was the unfortunate victim of a deadly cancer that took her from Johnie and their three small children in 1945.
Johnie once commented to a reporter, “Rodeo is hard on the women. Not only all that suitcase packing and unpacking, but the danger of it all. You know, I would have quit long before I did but you couldn’t do anything. Remember, grapes were four bucks a ton.” 18
The tender side of Johnie was touted in a rodeo program article about him, as follows: “...more than a professional athlete, Johnie Schneider has always been a great gentleman. Especially fond of children, he always kept an eye on the small fry who hung around the chutes and corrals during the California Rodeo of the 30’s. In 1932, Livermore actually formed a ‘Johnie Schneider Kids Club’. All the kids in town were invited to ride with Gentleman Johnie in the rodeo parade. Spectators saw a big wagon and a load of kids, but Johnie Schneider was invisible—completely mobbed by his adoring fans from the beginning of the parade to the end.” 19
Jerry Armstrong rodeoed with Johnie, and always praised his ability. He said, “He was a good saddle and bareback bronc rider, a good roper, as fast a steer decorator as there was in rodeo, and a great bull rider. But that is not all of it; at that time horse racing events were an essential part of rodeo and John was a whiz in the old relay, pony express, and Roman riding racing events. Then, too, after ‘Suicide Ted’ Elder and Louis Tindall began wowing audiences with their spectacular Roman riding jumps over automobiles, John got a similar act going at California rodeos.” 20
Schneider enjoyed Roman riding and racing, and would sometimes ride Roman with a four-horse team rather than the usual two horses.21
Armstrong recalls, “At the 1925 San Jose rodeo, stock contractor Bill Borein—familiarly known to cowboys as ‘Old Man’ Borein—was seeking a rider for his Roman team. Young Schneider was on hand and ready and willing, and Borein, with no rider for his entered team, was a bit desperate. The kid got the nod and he had the Borein team in the money on all three days of that 4th of July weekend rodeo. After that initiation he regularly got to ride running horses in various track racing events against Joe Malloy, Speck Craig, Max Gaunt, A.G. Schreiber, and other handy saddlesmiths of that era.” 22
Being small in stature, Johnie was also frequently pressed into service as an “extra” in cowgirl races, having to dress up as a girl to fill a racing card. Johnie told his son Jim of one year at Stockton when several of the smaller cowboys filled in for cowgirl riders to round out numerous races. Their competitive drive was frustrated because they were never allowed to win.
“So, the last day they had a race among themselves, and Dad beat them all,” Jim says.
Johnie’s mother Nevada Schneider was seated in the grandstand when that happened, and when he rode into the winner’s circle she commented, “That girl sure can ride, but she sure is ugly.”
Johnie Schneider in the Girl's Relay Race, Jimmy Schneider photo
Caption on original photo: "Getting ready for the big race." Jockies are from left to right,
Rose Malloly, Laverne Burrell, Johnie Schneider and Rose Stadler Selpher"
The Schneiders were a fun-loving bunch, and all got a big laugh out of that. Johnie loved to tell funny stories, and always enjoyed a prank. So did Julia. Jim recalls a neighbor who frequently helped Johnie, who loved to tease and pick on Julia.
“She was cooking breakfast one morning and he was there, giving her a bad time. She’d fry up a stack of pancakes and put butter and syrup on them and pass the plate to one guy at the table, and the next stack was for the next guy and so on. When she passed the plate to this guy there was a cow-pattie on it, with butter and syrup on top. That kind of put an end to his picking on her,” he says.
Johnie racked up wins at most of the big rodeos across the U.S., as well as competing in an international match in Australia in 1935 and rodeoing in Hawaii in 1939. He became All Around Champion in Australia in 1935 and was named an “Honorary Australian.” He competed there three times, and returned in later years just to visit.
The Australian people thought very highly of Johnie Schneider. A newspaper writer once visited the Schneider’s when they had Australian houseguests. The young bull rider, whose father had just purchased a “thousand-square-mile spread” north of Sydney, had been sent to America with his wife, to learn more about our ways of working cattle with horses.
Johnie told the reporter, “In that part of Australia, if they didn’t see Johnie Schneider [when visiting over here] they couldn’t say they had been to America.”
Johnie was also crowned All Around Champion of the Hawaiian Islands in 1939.
However, Jerry Armstrong remembers “...most of his year-in and year-out rodeoing was done in his native California. It was more convenient for him that way, especially after he became a family man; and, in general, the purse money was as good there as it was anywhere else.” 23
Armstrong elaborated on Schneider’s Australian rodeo experiences in a 1971 column, saying, “Three times John and a select group of top hands shipped out of San Francisco to rodeo in Australia. Among the cowboys who made one or more trips to Australia with Schneider were: Pete Knight, Eddie Woods, Clay Carr, Floyd Stillings, Dutch and John Bartram, George Marciel, Fox O’Callahan, Perry Ivory, Herman and Warner Linder, Oral Zumwalt, and brother Frank Schneider.” 24 According to Bob Chapman of the Gamble Ranch in Montello, Nevada, Smokey Snyder was also among that number.
Johnie’s friend C.W. Jensen remembered, “He liked the excitement and travel. And, like the rest of us, he liked money. He made darn good money.” 25
In a salute to Johnie in the 1950s, M.M. Hightower wrote, “At a rodeo he did everything but drive the water wagon, and if they had made this a contest event he undoubtedly would have been up there, reins in hand and with the familiar gleam in his eye.” 26
Jim believes his father’s mental attitude was a strong factor in his success.
“He was always thinking how he could improve his performance,” he says. “He would get up and go through his physical training routine every morning. He wore those old dress shoes that laced up around the ankles for calf roping, because they gave him more support than a cowboy boot for running. He shod his rodeo horses with racing plates. Some of the cowboys told me he was the first one to rope on Thoroughbred horses so he could get there quicker.
“And he knew every trick in the bronc riding. After he quit riding he judged a lot, and they never got by him with any of that. He knew all the horses and how the guys would be trying to counter them, so he was looking for it.” 27
Talking about Johnie, C. W. Jensen declared, “He was a very clean-cut fellow. Most rodeo cowboys liked to drink a lot and party. Johnie didn’t. He stayed a lot to himself, but he was liked by everybody.” 28
That quality was an asset over the near quarter-century he spent as a California State Brand Inspector in Monterey County. Working all kinds and classes of cattle—frequently wild, dingy cattle—is a big part of the job; but the tougher end is working with all kinds and classes of people. An Inspector has to be quiet and smooth, yet completely confident, hard as a rock and immovable as a mountain when necessary.
Jim remembers a time he saw his dad exhibit those qualities. He says, “I worked at the Salinas Livestock Auction when I was in school, and Dad was inspecting there. One day a guy from down south came in with a bunch of odds and ends. They ran them through the chutes to tag them and there was this one Hereford cow that was really longhaired and shaggy.
“Dad got her in the chute and started unrolling the cord off the electric clippers. This guy just had a fit.
“He sputtered, ‘Don’t clip that cow, she’ll look awful when she comes in the ring,’ and on and on. He was sure tryin’ to keep Dad from startin’ those clippers.
“Dad went right on doin’ his job, and said, ‘You stand right over there and keep your mouth shut.’
“The cow wasn’t earmarked and Dad figured what the deal was when he first saw her. He clipped the brand and saw she belonged to this guy’s neighbor, an old lady that didn’t earmark.
“Dad put the cow in a pen and called the old lady to come and get her. Then he gave that guy quite a dressing down right in front of everybody, for trying to take advantage of a neighbor, an old lady at that.” 29
Another time, during the foreclosure of a feedlot, Johnie’s astute actions helped a rancher out. While inspecting the foreclosed cattle being loaded out of the feedlot, he noted those in one pen packed fresh feedlot brands. He recorded the original brand on his inspection certificate, along with the feedlot brand.
Johnie knew cattle were branded with the lot’s mark as soon as they came in, but considering the financial situation he figured the original owner might not have gotten paid and would still be the legal owner.
That brand certificate turned out to be the only hold the unfortunate rancher had on his cattle. Many lawsuits challenged its legality, carrying both brands as it did. The case went all the way to the California Supreme Court. Johnie gave a deposition, and eventually things were set to rights, because he had discernment of an unethical situation in the beginning, and he knew the California brand laws and exactly what legal steps he could take.
When Johnie retired as a brand inspector, he received a letter from Ronald Reagan, at that time Governor of California. The original of that letter is in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame at Oklahoma City, where Johnie was inducted in 1965.
He is also an honoree at the Prorodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado, inducted in 1992.
Schneider loved ranching, and bought a place near Salinas in the early 1960s. “It was permanent pasture,” Jim recalls. “Sometimes he’d buy a bunch of heifers and calve them out. Other times he ran cows and calves. He was retired and it was just what he did.”
Jerry Armstrong recalls a winter when Johnie “had the use of the local rodeo grounds for a colt breaking and horse training operation.” His ability as a horseman never waned.
Jim remembers him saving some good horses from being slaughtered for dog food. “He’d drop by and check out Harry Rowell’s holding pens whenever he could,” Jim says.
“Rainstar was a race horse that had a nervous breakdown,” he explains. “Dad salvaged him from there and just turned him out a year. Then he started him like he would a colt that hadn’t been touched, and made a good rope horse out of him. Dad said he always worked the rope just right. If the calf weighed 350# he’d back enough to just almost slide him while Dad tied him, and if he weighed 150# it would be the same.
“Then there was Toby. He was a rodeo horse that showed up there at the Rowell killer pens, and had just been ruined. Dad did the same with him, and used him for years.
“Toby was raised on the Tejon Ranch, and they used two horse brands, one for the horses they’d sell, and a different one for horses that would never leave the ranch. Toby carried the ranch brand, and the cowboys used to rag Dad that the Tejon was gon’na come get Toby someday because he wore that brand. But they never
Jerry Armstrong said Johnie was “...always well mounted, and his favorite roping and decorating horse was a speedy chestnut mount called Toby.” 31
Jim Schneider never talked about being Johnie Schneider’s son, but older men who’d meet him and learn he was from that part of California would often ask. Then they always spoke well of Johnie; and the best and most frequent compliment was, “He was always well mounted.”
As long as he lived Johnie Schneider possessed an uncanny ability to read and understand horses, even from a distance. Jim recalls several such incidents.
“One time we were watching the slack at Salinas and it was almost over. They were team roping, and this guy came out on this big stout spoiled horse. He got right there in front of us and started to rope and the horse ducked off. Everyone in the stands was wondering why anybody would ride a horse like that.
“Dad elbowed me and said, ‘If you ever get a chance, buy that horse.’ And he told me what to do to break him of ducking off. Just little things like that. He picked them up, and he knew.”
Another time a lot of people were amazed at Johnie’s equine intuition. Jim says, “In the last couple years before he died we were there at the slack in Salinas and just before it was over we saw them putting a horse in the chute. Dad asked what was going on and they said somebody brought the horse in to try as a bronc.
“Dad said ‘He won’t buck. I never saw a horse with an eye like that that would buck.’
“They said, ‘These people said he threw a regular wild horse fit and bucked like a sonofagun yesterday’, but Dad still said, ‘Well maybe they did say that . . . but he won’t buck today.’
“And when they opened the gate he shot out of there running full tilt, but he never bucked a jump. People around Salinas were talking about that for days . . . wondering how somebody could know a horse wouldn’t buck just by looking at his eye….” 32Johnie Schneider could judge men and their ability much the same way. He’s the one who ‘"discovered" rodeo great Gene Rambo and mentored him into prominence as a top hand.
Jim says, “I was just little when Gene Rambo came to live with us. Dad spotted him and his potential talent and told him to come on and hang with him and they’d split the profits. Gene sure made a lot of money off of Dad the first couple years, but the next few years Dad sure made a lot of money off of Gene.
“In 1941 they went to Klamath Falls for a three-day-rodeo. They both entered all five events, and between the two of them they placed 28 times in the three days. 33
After the start Schneider gave him, Rambo became R.A.A. All Around World’s Champion Cowboy four times.
Jim also recalls, “My mother Julia and Gene’s wife Barbara went to all the rodeos with the guys. They wore dresses and sat in the grandstand, but they were rodeo savvy and took in every detail. They were able to discuss the day’s performances and tell them what all they did right and wrong. Barbara Rambo was a housewife all the way, but Mom was a ranch girl and a pretty good hand. She could go out and get a job done if she needed to.” 34
Jerry Armstrong related a humorous side of the Schneider/Rambo liaison. He said “…Johnie one day said to Gene: ‘Come out to the ranch and stay with me, and next year we’ll rodeo together.’ That was okay with Gene.
“Johnie’s wife . . . was not made aware of the arrangement. So one day she answered a knock on the front door and found a young cowboy, with all his earthly possessions, standing there.
“ ‘Can I help you?’ she asked.
“‘Yes,’ replied Rambo, ‘where should I put my things?’
“‘You want to leave your things here?’ asked Mrs. Schneider.
“‘Of course,’ said Rambo, ‘I’ve come to live with you folks.” 35
Winning was a habit with the Schneider boys. At one rodeo in Sacramento Johnie and Frank took home 1st and 2nd place in every event, except for the calf roping.
As Jim explains, “Uncle Frank didn’t rope, so Dad either won 1st or 2nd in the calf roping, and they took the top two spots in every other event. Their mother Nevada needed some surgery at the time, so the two of them gave her all the money they won in Sacramento. It was enough to cover her medical bills for the operation.” 36
It takes special qualities to head up a dynasty, and Nevada and John Schneider evidently equipped their sons with the right stuff.
The only bull to ever buck Johnie Schneider off more than once was the violent #4 of Cuff Burrel’s, which he never managed to conquer in three outs; and which he spoke of as the “hardest-to-ride bull” he was ever on.
His peers said seeing Johnie bucked off was a rare occasion, and the stock contractor who owned the victorious bull took it as cause to celebrate. 37
Johnie visited his longtime friend and fellow rodeo cowboy Jerry Armstrong in 1971. Armstrong was impressed, saying, “At 67 the former rodeo champion could easily pass for a youngish 47. He has hair, and none of it gray, and he has never lost a tooth in a dentist’s office or in an arena mishap—in spite of the fact that he once was kicked in the cheek by a bronc and on another occasion hooked in the chin by a bull. The scars are still there, but one has to look close to see them.”
Armstrong also commented, “It was noticeable that during his visit Johnie never once mentioned a single bull or a single bull ride. Yet, he must have chalked up rides on a thousand rowdy bulls, and when you mention his name you are mentioning the name of one of the all-time great bull riders.
“Johnie said, ‘I read something somewhere that went like this, “A man is indeed fortunate if in his lifetime he has had one good horse, one good dog, one good friend, and one good wife.” In my time, I have had lots of good horses, lots of good dogs, lots of good friends, and two good wives—so I am indeed fortunate.”
After he basically retired from the rodeo arena in 1941, reporters frequently asked Johnie why—when he was obviously still capable of winning.
Jim says “He’d tell them, ‘I wanted to retire when they wondered why I did, instead of waiting until they’d wonder why I didn’t.’” 38
Johnie Schneider, husband of Bernice Schneider and father of John, Jim, and twins Tom and Tim Schneider, rode across the Great Divide in 1982, leaving behind a proud rodeo legacy.
He will forever be known as the first World Champion Bull Rider.
1 Interview with Jim Schneider, June 27, 2004
2 RODEO HISTORY AND LEGENDS by Bob Jordan, Pps. 201-202
3 Interview with Jim Schneider, July 6, 2004
4 Interview with Jim Schneider, July 6, 2004
5 “Picked Up In The Rodeo Arena by Jerry Armstrong," The Western Horseman, July 1971, p.88
6 Johnie Schneider obituary, April 22, 1982
7 “Picked Up In The Rodeo Arena by Jerry Armstrong," The Western Horseman, November, 1971, p.92
8 Interview with Jim Schneider, June 27, 2004
9 Johnie Schneider obituary, April 22, 1982
11 “Picked Up In The Rodeo Arena by Jerry Armstrong," The Western Horseman, July 1971, p.87
12 “Picked Up In The Rodeo Arena by Jerry Armstrong," The Western Horseman, April 1974, Pps. 94 & 95
13 “Picked Up In The Rodeo Arena by Jerry Armstrong,: The Western Horseman, July 1971, p.88
14 Jim Schneider and Jerry Armstrong
15 Interview with Jim Schneider, July 6, 2004
16 “Picked Up In The Rodeo Arena by Jerry Armstrong," The Western Horseman July 1971, p.87
17 Jim and Cathy Schneider collection
18 Bernice Schneider collection
19 Bernice Schneider collection
20 “Picked Up In The Rodeo Arena by Jerry Armstrong," The Western Horseman July 1971, p.87
21 Johnie Schneider obituary, April 22, 1982
22 “Picked Up In The Rodeo Arena by Jerry Armstrong," The Western Horseman July 1971, p.88
23 Ibid., p.87
24 “Picked Up In The Rodeo Arena by Jerry Armstrong," The Western Horseman, July 1971, p. 167
25 Johnie Schneider obituary, April 22, 1982
26 “Former Champion Cowboy” by M.M. Hightower, from Bernice Schneider collection
27 Interview with Jim Schneider, July 6, 2004
28 Johnie Schneider obituary, April 22, 1982
29 Interview with Jim Schneider, June 27, 2004
30 Interview with Jim Schneider, July 6, 2004
31 “Picked Up In The Rodeo Arena by Jerry Armstrong," The Western Horseman July 1971, p.88
32 Interview with Jim Schneider, June 27, 2004
34 Interview with Jim Schneider, July 6, 2004
35 “Picked Up In The Rodeo Arena by Jerry Armstrong," The Western Horseman, November, 1971, p. 94
37 “Picked Up In The Rodeo Arena by Jerry Armstrong," The Western Horseman July 1971, Pps. 157 & 168
38 Interview with Jim Schneider, July 9, 2004
© 2011, Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns, All rights reserved
image by Trace Frost, www.tracefrost.com
Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
Find more about Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns in our feature here
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