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Cowboys’ Turtle Association member “Dude” Smith Jr. passes away ​

by TRACY RENCK | Jul 03, 2019

PRCA Media Coordinator

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Vernon “Dude” Smith Jr., one of the oldest living Gold Card members (No. 159) and one of the few remaining members of the Cowboys’ Turtle Association, passed away July 3 in Wichita Falls, Texas. He was 91.

A visitation for Smith will be from 6-8 p.m. (CT), July 5, at the Owens & Brumley Funeral Home in Burkburnett, Texas. Funeral services for Smith will be at 10 a.m., July 6, at Central Baptist Church in Burkburnett.

Smith joined the Cowboys' Turtle Association two years before the association’s name changed to the Rodeo Cowboys Association, which eventually became the PRCA.

During that time, he was rubbing elbows with some of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame’s most notable cowboys who helped shape the sport as it stands today.

“We all knew each other back then, but the guys today don’t all know each other,” Smith said in a June 9, 2017, article in ProRodeo Sports News. “I don’t know what happened, but there’s not as many cowboys anymore.”

Smith competed in every event, except team roping, since it wasn’t a common event during his ProRodeo career.

His parents took him to his first rodeo when he was 13, and the action sparked a fire that led to his rodeo career.

Smith went on to compete across the country, from the Cow Palace in San Francisco to Madison Square Garden in New York and down into Texas in places like Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio, but he made most of his money competing in Kansas and Nebraska.

Smith made his Madison Square Garden debut in 1947 by riding 15 bareback horses, 14 saddle broncs, 15 bulls and competing in 11 bulldogging rounds. He estimated he won about $6,000 (equal to $68,903 in 2019).

“The riggings we had, you could wad up in your bag, and the ones today are like I am – just stiff – and they have to wedge their hand in there,” Smith said.

Smith never made it to the NFR, having topped out at No. 16 in the world standings in 1966. But his son, Vern, competed as a bull rider at the NFR in 1980, placing eighth in the average and finishing 11th in the world standings.

Dude Smith traveled with Neal Gay, Casey Tibbs, Bud and Bill Linderman, and others – hitting the road and the airports to rodeos.

“My best friend is Neal Gay, and we’ve been sidekicks for years,” Smith said, noting the two met through Gay’s cousin who owns the dairy that Smith worked at as a kid.

Smith said Tibbs was always up to something.

“He (Tibbs) was a thrill every day – you could bet something was going to happen, he was a prankster,” Smith said.

Smith’s last time in the chutes was around 1973 when Tibbs invited him to compete.

“I said, ‘I haven’t got any equipment,’ and he said I could borrow some, and I got in the bareback and I made a good ride,” Smith said. “He said, ‘If you rode like that when we rode for money, you might have won something.’ I won a lot of money and I felt like I had done better than those guys who won all those buckles. … I wouldn’t trade my life with anybody’s.”

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