When a recent work trip took me through the Cowboy Capital of the World in Stephenville, Texas, I had a fun few days catching up with my son Taylor. Nothing excites him much more now than the daily progress of his young horses, and getting to see some of that for myself was just a joy.
One day, I took the quick 20-minute spin over to the neighboring cowboy town of Hico to see my old calf roper friend Cody Ohl. I hadn’t had the chance to hug him in person since his miraculous rebound from a near-death illness a couple years ago. After watching CO work his arena magic all those years, it’s so good to see him thriving again. Helping young horses progress into winners is a happy place for him now, too.
Before Cody took me outside for a barn and arena tour at his new place, and to introduce me to a gritty sorrel mare he hopes will be the second coming of Sid Miller’s not-so-secret CO weapon Pearl—Mini Pearl—we visited in the living room awhile. We talked about winning and losing, as I’m always curious about cracking such cowboy codes, and our perspectives continue to evolve as we age.
I was sitting there with one of our sport’s all-time greats, and had a grin on my face the whole time noticing a GOAT sign on the wall across the room. When we headed toward the back door that leads to the barn just to the left of that GOAT sign, I stopped to take a closer look and get some CO commentary on the picture hanging above it.
Cody didn’t hang that GOAT sign in his house to pay homage to himself. That sign hangs for his late friend Howard Council, whom CO and so many others consider the GOAT of cowboy saddle makers.
“Howard Council was the undisputed GOAT in his line of work, which was making saddles for cowboys,” Cody stated in such a way as to make it clear that this fact was not up for debate or discussion in his house.
I got that barn tour, complete with young horse hopeful introductions—CO sure is sweet on Mini Pearl, Sid—then headed back to Stephenville. Taylor, who bought his first real calf horse from Sid Miller, and called him Sid, was out in the arena to run a few on his current young favorite. Like Taylor, San Juan seems to enjoy multiple events—calf roping, steer roping and heeling so far.
Then that hand-tooled saddle stamp hit me. Howard Council. I know Taylor takes great pride in riding his first-string steer horse, Rainbow, in a Council. But what was this saddle on the back of his steer-horse rookie, I had to ask. This was a trophy saddle made by the pride of Lawton, Oklahoma himself. It was awarded to the 1994 Senior Steer Ropers Association Super Senior Champion.
Taylor—who’s about to rope at his third National Finals Steer Roping, November 17-18 at the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane, Kansas—recently traded two trophy saddles and a pile of cash to add that second Howard Council saddle to his tack room. And as always, in my world of countless cowboy connections, the dots started connecting themselves.
Taylor’s “new” Howard Council saddle was won by cowboy elder Eldon Dudley the year Taylor was born, in 1994.
Eldon Dudley was the first-ever National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Calf Roping Champion in the fall of 1949, when the inaugural College National Finals Rodeo was held at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. That grand old historic landmark has been a very special place for four generations of my cowboy family, whose ranching and rodeo roots all started in that area way back in the day when there were still ranches around there. We have saddles and buckles won in that building in our homes. Heck, the Cow Palace is located on Santos Street.
Oklahoma A&M’s young Eldon Dudley won that first college calf roping championship in our part of the country in 1949. Taylor followed suit 65 years later, when he was crowned the NIRA calf roping champ his freshman year at Cal Poly in 2014. Now Taylor rides Eldon’s saddle. And it’s a Howard Council, no less. You know, the Rodeo Rolls Royce of roping saddles.
It’s pretty fun to note that Super Looper Roy Cooper’s dad, Tuffy, was the reserve NIRA calf roping champ in 1949, right behind Eldon Dudley. And Tuffy Cooper came back to take the college title in 1950, using the same grit and try his scrappy grandson Tuf just pulled out of his bag of roping tricks to grind his way into this year’s Top 15 right there at the finish line.
It was a very fun few days for me as a rodeo mom in the Cowboy Capital. I got to see the calf Taylor calls Cumberland—he brought her home after making his second NFR on her after driving coast-to-coast, California to Maine, at the regular-season finish line a couple years ago, in 2021.
Cumberland’s a cow now, and had her first calf this year. Taylor promised the little black bull calf to his baby niece, Charlie. Taylor told Charlie Cumberland’s baby can be her college-fund starter calf.
Seeing my boy be the kind of man who pets on that otherwise common black cow, because she earned a special spot in his heart and he won’t forget it…
And watching him pour the Nutrena ProForce Senior feed and extra love to his old bay horse, Hank, who helped him make his first Finals in 2019, just after hauling him home fat and slick from Uncle Kurt’s summer pasture in Colorado…
Well, that’s the good stuff for any mom.
A few months after Taylor won the College Finals, Howard Council died at home in Lawton on November 10, 2014, with his beloved wife and daughter by his side. But what a legacy that kind, talented man left behind to remember him by. His saddles continue to be the gold standard, and will never go out of style. And for that, we all thank you for your lifelong service to cowboys, sir.