Nothing captures that iconic Texas image more than a rodeo. And for the residents of Fannin County, that quintessential rodeo is on the Kueckelhan family’s working cattle ranch outside Bonham.
Barely a seat on the arena bleachers was left bare as thousands surrounded the rodeo ring Friday night, the second of the three-night event. With riders bucked from bulls, cowboys wrestling steers and horses barreling across the ring, the Kueckelhan Ranch Rodeo celebrated its 62nd year.
“It’s just down-home good, clean fun,” Belinda Phillips said. “You can take a 2-year-old and you can take your 80-year-old grandmother, and everyone is going to have a good time.”
Belinda Phillips with her husband, Jason Phillips, were taking tickets at the north entrance of the rodeo grounds Friday night. Jason Phillips said what makes this event different is that it’s one of the last, if not the only, family operated rodeos in the country. With 62 years of experience, he said the Kueckelhan family knows how to run a rodeo, which is possibly the largest event in Fannin County.
“The Kueckelhan rodeo is the Kueckelhan family,” Jason Phillips said. “It’s run by awesome people.”
Lester Haynes Kueckelhan, who died in July 2013, started the rodeo in 1955. His wife Malda Kueckelhan with other family members and friends keeps the tradition alive today. Malda Kueckelhan said what continues to excite her is how the rodeo’s reach keeps broadening and growing.
“I think that’s the thing that has astonished me because it just seems to have really grown recently within the last few years — how many people from far away contact us,” Malda Kueckelhan said.
Just at this year’s rodeo, Malda Kueckelhan said she had visitors from South American countries and travelers who made it a point to stop at the rodeo even if it’s out of their way.
Besides the usual rodeo events like barrel racing and team roping, this rodeo also has activities outside the ring, such as pony rides and a mechanical bull. Malda Kueckelhan said this year’s event also featured the Santa Rosa Palomino Club from Vernon and rodeo clown Dusty Myers from Mississippi, who Malda Kueckelhan said they booked about three years in advance.
“We’ve had him booked, but this was the earliest we could get him,” Malda Kueckelhan said.
More than 500 people participated in the rodeo events, and the Friday night grand entry featured 126 riders. Tyler Miles of Wickes, Arkansas, competed in the bronc riding events, and he described himself as a real cowboy. While many rodeo attendees said bull riding was their favorite event to watch, Miles said it’s the bronc riding that takes the most bravery.
“You can’t be scared of them, but it doesn’t take real bravery to get on them,” Miles said of the bulls. “Most bull riders say they’re scared of the broncs.”
Miles said to be successful in a rodeo, riders must really want it and they have to try hard. For those thinking about getting involved in a rodeo, he said one can’t be a wimp and needs to find someone to learn from.
“Find somebody that’s already doing it and really want it,” Miles said. “It’s something anybody can do, but if it was easy everybody would do it.”
Belinda Phillips said her family is a rodeo family, and her sons have roped calves and ridden bulls. She said this is a sport that just about anybody can participate in.
“If you want to run barrels and you got a horse, there’s nobody who will tell you no — and that’s what makes it so great,” Phillips said.