BONHAM — "I always had a pony; from the time I could walk, I could ride a horse."

BONHAM — "I always had a pony; from the time I could walk, I could ride a horse."

Marty Kueckelhan is a picture of Texas personified. A wiry cowboy of 52, Kueckelhan speaks with slow, southern drawl. He punctuates his sentences with chewing tobacco. And he speaks of his late father Haynes — the founder and longtime proprietor of the annual rodeo that bears his name — with a reverence and respect only a good southern upbringing could produce.

"My dad had worked all the events in rodeo as a competitor — he later specialized in bulldogin’ — but he was interested in having his own rodeo on his own place," Kueckelhan recalled Thursday, sitting behind a rustic desk in a small office on his family’s ranch, 6 miles north of Bonham.

"So with the help of his folks, they built the first ring out of hog wire and railroad crossties. He borrowed the church pews from the local church and put them on flatbed trailers and that’s what the grandstands were that first year."

The elder Kueckelhan improved the arena in the rodeo’s second year, eventually replacing the pews with a metal substructure on which the family would place 2x12s each summer for the crowd to sit.

"I have a sister, there was two of us, and the rodeo was like a third child to him," Kueckelhan said of his father. "I’m serious. I mean, he ate, breathed and slept it, and he thought about it all the time, about how he could improve it."

Haynes Kueckelhan died in 2013, just days before his 58th annual rodeo was set to begin. Over the course of his life, he had built the Kueckelhan Ranch Rodeo into a yearly event that routinely drew 20,000 spectators over its three-day run.

"Our rodeo is very unusual in that it’s owned, ran, promoted and produced by our family," Marty Kueckelhan said. "We say it’s the largest family-owned rodeo in the United States, ‘cause I don’t know of another anywhere. There very well could be, but all the ones you hear about are run by a riding club or chamber of commerce of something like that. Not by a family."

The 60th engagement of the Kueckelhan Ranch Rodeo will kick off on July 23 this year, boasting its usual full slate of rodeo events, plus trick roper/announcer Anthony Lucia, famed rodeo clown Gizmo McCracken and a performance by the All-American Cowgirl Chicks. For Haynes Kueckelhan’s only son, it will be another entry into the family history books.

"It’s been easy for me. My dad was the one who had to learn everything about it the hard way. I don’t deserve any credit. My dad deserves the credit," Marty Kueckelhan said.

"My dad believed in it. His goal was to have those stands full of people, and he was successful. And we continue to do that. He put on this rodeo because he wanted to, and because it provided entertainment for our area. And we’re just trying to carry on that legacy."