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Headed for the hall

Jim Bothum is inducted into the St. Paul Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Jim Bothum rides Blue Rocket at the 1964 Clovis Rodeo in Clovis, Calif.

If you ask a bareback or bronc rider why is it that they prefer not to ride bulls, their answer is usually in so many words, "Those guys are crazy."
   But not Jim Bothum.
   Although the Prineville resident was known for his saddle bronc riding, he was crazy just long enough to ride bulls for about five years early in his rodeo career. He had to give it up eventually because the massive bulls had a tendency to pull his groin muscle.
   And although he has been out of rodeo for about 20 years now, he is celebrating his recent induction into the St. Paul Rodeo Hall of Fame, which happened on Thursday night.
   "I just heard about it one month ago," Bothum said. "I got a letter and I was quite surprised.
   "I was pretty pumped up, maybe choked up."
   Bothum, born about 120 miles northwest of Wichita, Kansas in Great Bend, was raised in the Woodburn area of Oregon from when he was just five years old. The St. Paul Rodeo, a 20-minute drive from Woodburn, was his "hometown" rodeo.
   "Everything was just so neat," he said. "And the arena - the big, round arena - and little fir trees around the track, it was just a little different."
   Bothum picked up saddle bronc when he was 15. He tried bareback riding at the time, but his protege, George Menkenmaier, was in the world standings for saddle bronc at the time.
   "He was really good and he was from Burns," Bothum said of his mentor, who was ranked second and third in the world standings in 1956 and 1958, respectively. "I thought it was pretty great to have an Oregon cowboy leading in the world's (standings)."
   But Menkenmaier's life was ended here in Prineville, Bothum said, after the bronc rider was in a car accident.
   "It really hurt," Bothum said. "It bothered everybody, all the cowboys.
   "I just watched him as a kid, just saw him at rodeos."
   The skill of Menkenmaier influenced Bothum greatly, and in 1959, at the age of 19, Bothum entered his first rodeo in saddle bronc at the Salem State Fair.
   Of course, when you're risking your life eight seconds at a time, it's nice to be paid accordingly. The St. Paul Rodeo, which currently has a purse ranked 24th among PRCA rodeos, seems to have been no different back when Bothum was in it. Six years after his first rodeo, Bothum took first in saddle bronc at the 1965 St. Paul Rodeo.
   "I won a little over $500," he recalls. However, three years later, Bothum was involved in a car accident that took him out of rodeo for six years until 1974. When he came back, he was in nine rodeos that year, and then ended it when he tore his knee, forcing him to be out for another year.
   When asked if that was the only rodeo injury he suffered over his career, Bothum shrugged his shoulders, "No, some broken ankles, collarbone, arms, but that's the only thing."
   When he returned to the rodeo in 1976, with only nine rodeos in eight years to his name, Bothum picked up where he left off.
   In a situation that can only be described as bittersweet, Bothum won the top spot in the saddle bronc at the St. Paul Rodeo in 1983. This is why the cowboy feels he is being inducted into the hall of fame.
   "Probably because I kind of grew up there and won the bronc riding twice," he said. "I rode a lot of practice horses in that arena."
   After moving to Prineville about 20 years ago, Bothum didn't stray too far from his cowboy roots. He worked on ranches but has since retired. He also helped to inspire his nephew David to take up saddle bronc.
   Bothum, along with 17 other inductees that he knows in and out of the rodeo, were inducted on Thursday night at the St. Paul Rodeo, one of his favorite rodeo's that he competed in.
   One of his other favorite rodeos? Chief Joseph Days in Joseph, Ore., where in 1985, his final year in rodeo, Bothum took the saddle bronc competition and went out on a high note.
   He would quit rodeo that year, or as he said, "it quit me."