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Alonzo Pettie

Named for a grandfather born in slavery, Alonzo Pettie was born on June 18, 1910 in Tyler, Texas. His mother died in 1919 and after his father’s death in 1926, Pettie learned to break horses to support himself. Two years later, he began working on a West Texas ranch, and the rancher saw his skill with horses and taught him to ride. Pettie began riding professionally in rodeos and, although he no longer rides horses, he has been a cowboy ever since.

In 1929, Pettie failed to dismount from a bucking bronco on the correct side in an Odessa, Texas, rodeo. He was thrown, dislocating his shoulder. Undaunted, he went on to win the bull riding contest the same day with his arm in a sling. In the years that followed, he suffered many serious injuries, including a ruptured navel that required surgery and a broken pelvic bone in 1930.

Pettie served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1944. Returning to the United States, he continued in the rodeo circuit, traveling to Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas. While competing in Colorado’s first black rodeo in 1947, he broke his pelvic bone again, spending three months in a body cast. After that, he stopped riding broncos and bulls. In 1962, Pettie began working in the maintenance department at the Sears Seminary South store in Fort Worth, Texas. The next year, he tied for first place in a best-dressed cowboy competition. He transferred to Denver in 1965 and eventually retired from Sears ten years later. He continued to ride horses until 1995 and was featured in a 1996 Levi Strauss ad campaign for Red Tab jeans.

Pettie, a storyteller and speaker of renown, is chronicled in the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center in the Five Points district of Denver. “The Champ,” or “Ole Alonzo,” as he was called, was an active member of the Colorado Black Cowboys and Horseman Association member since its formation. Working with youth, the association organizes rodeo events with bareback riding, calf and steer roping, and barrel racing.

Pettie passed away on August 2, 2003.

Pettie was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 17, 2002.

Accession Number

A2002.120

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/17/2002

Last Name

Pettie

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Greenville School

Pleasant Green School

Red Oak Elementary School

First Name

Alonzo

Birth City, State, Country

Tyler

HM ID

PET03

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

United States

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Colorado

Birth Date

6/18/1910

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Denver

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Cornbread, Peas (Black-Eyed), Buttermilk

Death Date

8/2/2003

Short Description

Cowboy Alonzo Pettie (1910 - 2003 ) is the oldest living African American cowboy in Colorado. Pettie, a storyteller and speaker of some renown, is chronicled in the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center in the Five Points district of Denver. "The Champ," or "Ole Alonzo," as he is called, has been an active member of the Colorado Black Cowboys and Horseman Association member since its formation.

Employment

Denham Garage

Brown Garage, (Denver, CO)

Western Spring and Wire Ltd, Denver

ABC Bowling Lanes

Sears Roebuck & Company

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Alonzo Pettie interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Alonzo Pettie's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Alonzo Pettie recalls his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Alonzo Pettie talks about his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Alonzo Pettie remembers his father

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Alonzo Pettie recalls growing up in Longview, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Alonzo Pettie discusses his family's property and lineage

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Alonzo Pettie explains furnishing stock for a rodeo

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Alonzo Pettie recounts his early schooling

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Alonzo Pettie remembers his parents' deaths

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Alonzo Pettie describes his transient life following his parents' deaths

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Alonzo Pettie recalls his childhood activities with neighbors

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Alonzo Pettie discusses the guidelines he followed as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Alonzo Pettie speculates on the longevity of some of his family members

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Alonzo Pettie shares family stories about slavery

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Alonzo Pettie recalls spending time on his grandfather's farm

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Alonzo Pettie recounts how he learned to ride rodeo

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Alonzo Pettie remembers the rules of segregation among children

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Alonzo Pettie recalls his mother's contributions to home and community

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Alonzo Pettie describes Saturday night dances at his uncle's house

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Alonzo Pettie remembers his sisters' deaths

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Alonzo Pettie recalls how he started riding in the rodeo

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Alonzo Pettie explains how he injured his shoulder

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Alonzo Pettie remembers participating in rodeo competitions

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Alonzo Pettie recounts some of his riding injuries

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Alonzo Pettie describes his riding style

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Alonzo Pettie talks about breaking wild horses

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Alonzo Pettie discusses his service in the United States Army

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Alonzo Pettie remembers racial attitudes in the Army

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Alonzo Pettie describes some of his duties in the Army

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Alonzo Pettie recalls his post-Army career

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Alonzo Pettie details his involvement in rodeo from 1948 through the 1980s

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Alonzo Pettie remembers being named Best Dressed Cowboy, and a cattle drive

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Alonzo Pettie recalls his marriage in 1962

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Alonzo Pettie remembers his career with Sears Roebuck in the 1950s and 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Alonzo Pettie discusses how he has kept his cowboy style through the years

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Alonzo Pettie discusses black cowboys and rodeo

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Alonzo Pettie remembers his rodeo days

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Alonzo Pettie remembers his horses

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Alonzo Pettie recalls his work for Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Alonzo Pettie remembers his Red Tab jeans ad for Levi Strauss & Co.

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Alonzo Pettie recounts being honored by Mayor Wellington Webb

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Alonzo Pettie reflects on his life and career as a black cowboy

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Alonzo Pettie shares stories about his brother's mule

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Alonzo Pettie discusses some of the difficulties faced by black cowboys

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Alonzo Pettie shares his views on race

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Alonzo Pettie expresses his views on discipline

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

1$5

DATitle
Alonzo Pettie recalls how he started riding in the rodeo
Alonzo Pettie remembers being named Best Dressed Cowboy, and a cattle drive
Transcript
It's time now to talk about the rodeo now, how you got involved in the rodeo--?$$Well, with the white guy. See, I worked with these people out there in West Texas. See they, the younger boy, he was a clown, he was a clown, see.$$Ed Turner's people?$$Yeah, Ed Turner's people, see. He was a clown, see. Then this other guy, he was, he was something in there, the other brother was older than him, he was something in there. And then Ed was something in the rodeo there. And so we all got to working together. See, then, see, then I wasn't in the contests, but I could ride the exhibition ride, you see. Now, I could ride a bull. I could ride a bareback horse. See, a bull was two dollars. A bareback horse was three dollars, a saddle horse was five dollars. And I used to ride as many of them as I wanted to, as exhibition. See, I couldn't ride in the contest, but I could ride in the exhibition. The colored couldn't, see, and I was the onlyest colored guy out there with 'em, see, all white. And so I, and this, the baby boy, he was a clown. He'd be the clown with the, the cows and things out there on, on the rodeo. You see how the clown do and that. And then they start them, them Brahman bulls, in later years. See, the Brahman--didn't have no Brahman bulls then. They had all ole, just old, it was Texas longhorns. They used to call it Texas longhorns. That's what they used then. But in later years, that, that Brahman bull come in. They shipped him from overseas over here, brought--.$$Brahman is India, right?$$Yeah, brought him over here, the Brahman, and started them like that. See, them Brahman bull is much faster and, and quicker than a, than a regular old Texas bull, see, the Texas longhorn, the ole Texas bull. And boy, they had horns on, oh, three foot long. They said some up here last year. I was, I didn't see none this year cause I wasn't at the parade up there this year. And they called me to Texas, so and I, I worked with those peoples out there on, on the--but I, I'd go there on a Saturday, I'd make more money on a Saturday and Sunday than I make all the month.$$Just riding the bulls and horse?$$Bulls. I'd saddle ride me two bulls--two horses, bareback horses. I didn't have to ride 'em, you just ride out there and jump off of 'em and go back and get me three dollars, go back and get me another one and ride him, and get me three dollars. The bulls come out, I'd ride me a bull; I get two dollars. Go back and get me another one, and ride another one. See, that's four dollars, that's, that's ten dollars I done made. I wouldn't be making but fifteen dollars a, a month. Fifteen back, it was twenty, twenty-eight, and twenty-nine, and so. And that's Saturday and Sunday. You do that twice, twice a week, look what you done made. If you make you, say, six dollars Sunday and six, or six dollars Saturday, and six dollars Sunday, that's twelve dollars. That's, that's one day, that's two days. Now, you got a whole, whole month to go before you get fifteen more dollars off your job, and you do that every Saturday, see, especially this time of year. That's every Saturday clear up until it get cold in, in November. They have that rodeo, exhibition rodeo. That was in the white, do that, out there, out there in West Texas.$$Were there any other black cowboys making that kind of money out there, doing that--?$$Every once in a while, some in the fall of the year, some come out from down in Houston, San Antonio, back down in there. They'd come up there to have a few rides with 'em, you know, out there. They could get some--ride a saddle horse, that's five dollars and bareback horse, three dollars, a bull two dollars, a mule one dollar, all that, just fun, see. Just fun. You didn't have ride 'em. See, I was, I worked with 'em, so I got a chance to make that kind of money, but, but I was the onlyest back out there. Now, they'd come out there to see the show, but they'd be--wasn't nobody in the rodeo but me. Now, every once in a while, they--one might come in there and, and ride him a bull or a horse or something like that, but not regular as I was. See, I was there every, every day, every Sunday and every Saturday. See, I was out there with 'em cause I worked with the peoples that, you know, helped with the rodeo and things like that.$And that night, I was the best-dressed cowboy with this picture here, in that frame up there. Somebody stole the picture, but I still got the, the toffer there, right there. See sitting up in that corner there, see that toffer there, sitting up in there. See, I was the best-dressed cowboy, I won that. And see, there in Fort Worth, now, there in Texas, back in, when I first started working at Sears and Roebuck, down in Texas in forty, '42 [1942], we had that in '43 [1943], down at--that's the mayor, Mayor Justin, John Justin [Jr.], the man that owned the Justin Boot outfit, the Justin boot, the, the boots, that night, that's the mayor of Fort Worth. I'm standing up there, I was the best-dressed cowboy with them guys, see, up there, down there in Texas for Sears Roebuck.$$So you like to dress up in your outfits?$$Oh, yeah, yeah. I just--I come sharp or something when I'm, when I'm round about. You see that little, see, this picture right here. Now, see that was in eighty, eighty--we was having a, we're getting ready to have a cattle drive from Broadway to, to the stock, to the, to the railroad station, down there on 17th Street, right here in Denver. But we was getting that, that morning, we was getting ready to, to get started there. That was the horse--I didn't--.$$Did you participate in that?$$Yeah, I participated, yeah. But they, I didn't have my horse up here. That was another guy's horse I was holding, this other guy, that's his--and, the--but they had me in a buggy. I went in a buggy. They carried me in a buggy down there, rode me down there in a buggy, down to the, to the, to the railroad station. We had a cattle drive down there from, from Broadway, had a bunch of cattle. We drove down there on Broadway, down at, downtown here. And that was back in eighty, eighty-something, eighty, '87 [1987], I believe, something like that.