COWPOKE HUGHIE LONG
by Chris Evans
Hood County News – February 14, 2001“Now gather ’round waddies, of your cares be ridCome and listen to the story of the Prongy Kid”
When he first came to Cresson in the middle 1930s, Hughie Long was here to do a job, not find a home. But, alas, a real home was something the little cowboy from Prongua, Saskatchewan, then 28, hadn’t enjoyed in many a moon.
Home, see, was a foreign concept by now to Hughie Long, who had for most of 15 years traveled across Canada and middle America in other people’s vehicles, riding the rodeos, sharing money for meals with other cowboys, sleeping mostly on the ground.
Fiery and Irish-looking with red hair and freckles and steel-blue eyes, Hughie Long, even though he was quite small, looked and could be tougher than the back side of the proverbial shooting gallery. He was, too, “broke up physically somewhat” as they say, by this time, which was after a decade and a half of riding broncs and bulls, not to mention an early life that was even worse.
Already, his exploits as an itinerant bronc and bull rider had earned him enough skins and scars to put him in anybody’s hall of fame — or anybody’s hospital.
Already, the Prongy Kid, so dubbed for the popularized pronunciation of the name of his Canadian hometown, had made rodeo history as a charter member of the Cowboy Turtles Association, the forerunner of today’s Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the first successful effort by contestants to get fair pay and treatment from show producers.
Already, and in spite of the fact he had only a third-grade education, Hughie had been responsible for writing out the basic rules still now used in bareback bronc and bull riding.
Already, though not a lot of Texas rodeo folk knew it, the Prongy Kid knew more about training horses — all kinds of horses — than most professional trainers.
In Cresson, a cow and horse town situated on a major rail line north, Hughie found friends and would-be business acquaintances that, shall we say, put their faith in him.
“It was the Depression and rodeo cowboys, all of them, were down and out,” said Hughie’s widow, Helen. “There was a saddlery on Exchange Avenue, right off main, owned by Frank Edelbrock, and the bull-riders and bronc-riders and other contestants would hang around Edelbrock’s because that’s where the guys who put money on them would come to meet them.”
According to a copious 1969 article in The Quarter Horse Journal by noted writer Sam Ed Spence on Hughie, the Prongy Kid ended up living in Cresson after meeting Cresson-based rancher George Glascock, a noted gamesman and the man who supplied Brahman bucking stock to the Fort Worth Stock Show for years, at Edelbrock’s.
“Edelbrock had earlier put the bug in Glascock’s ear about Hughie’s rodeo talents, and he introduced the two men,” Spence wrote.
Glascock then asked Hughie if he wanted to enter the bull-riding at the Stock Show. Hughie, accustomed to having the person who put up the entry fee take half the winnings if he won, said yes, but asked what type of deal Glascock would want to make.
“Well, you’re the one riding the bulls,” George Glascock said, to Hughie’s surprise. “You make the deal.”
“I’ll give you your entry fees back, plus a fourth of my winnings,” gulped the Prongy Kid, who sorely needed money.
Glascock, in a move that solidified what would be a long friendship, said that was fine with him. So did prominent gambler and calf-roper George Wilderspin, who overheard the conversation between Hughie and Glascock and put his money on Hughie, too.
And according to Spence’s story on Hughie, the Prongy fared quite well that Stock Show. “Out of 40 bull riders…Hughie was the only one to stay aboard all his bulls,” Spence wrote.
“He also drew a big check in the bareback riding, and both Mr. Wilderspin and Mr. Glascock made handsome returns on their investments.”
Not long thereafter, Glascock, who had no idea of Hughie’s horse-training skills, asked if Hughie would be interested in training five colts in Cresson. When Hughie turned the colts back over to George Glascock, they were “not only broke, but were handling and even working a rope,” Spence wrote. And when word got out around Cresson about Hughie’s equestrian prowess, others — Volney Hildrith of Aledo and the Slocum brothers of Cresson among them — hired him to work with their steeds.
Hughie, who was about as Irish and Catholic as you could imagine, ended up buying a house and building a barn between the Baptist and Methodist churches in Cresson, which wasn’t exactly crawling with Catholics.
The Prongy Kid in his high boots became a sight around these parts until his death in 1987. He even became known for a certain comment — “Well, h*#*!” — which he issued in impatient moments when exasperated.
Though print stories said he was 5-7 and weighed 148 pounds, Helen Long said Hughie “would never have been weighed or measured without his boots.”
“He was jockey-size almost, a little bigger” she said. “His boots always had heels that were at least two inches, sometimes more than that. He was all torso. And he never weighed more than 145 in his life.
“Very, very few people ever saw him without his boots,” she said with a smile.SPARTAN, TRAGIC EARLY LIFE
Born Joseph Hugh Long, May 12, 1907, at Battleford, Saskatchewan. Hughie was the middle of “the nine children who lived,” Helen Long said. “Two didn’t.”
James Patrick “Joe” Long, Hughie’s father, spent 12 years as a Mountie and served in the Boer War in South Africa during World War I. During the Boer War, when Hughie was 11, his mother Sarah died, leaving an elder sibling to care for the family until Joe Long came home from the war.
When the head of the household did arrive home, he did what seems unthinkable now but was probably quite common back then: He farmed the nine children out, so to speak.
Hughie, who was the oldest living boy, was sent to live with another homesteader out in the country. “The work was hard, although it didn’t hurt me a bit,” Hughie told Spence years later. “But Hughie was doing all the work and he didn’t like that,” Helen Long said. “He left after only a few months.”
Before he did, he and a neighbor boy had “our own private little bronc bustings” when the farmer would go into town for union meetings.
At 14, he finished the third grade. It would be his last formal education.
“What was sad was that he’d been gone, out in the middle of nowhere, for two years and there’d been nobody to wonder where he was, to wish he’d come home, to care about how he was doing,” said Helen Long.LURE OF THE RODEO
In 1924, a 17-year-old Hughie went to work as a cowboy on the Sweet Grass Reserve Ranch not far from Prongua. Most of the summer he rode fences and checked cattle. It was during the Sweet Grass summer that he learned he needed boots to ride a bronc. The same summer would provide his first exposure to a “stampede,” or rodeo. “I had got to thinking I was a bronc rider,” he told Spence years later.
Hughie, in his first try at bronc riding, made the finals.
The Prongy Kid drew a big bay gelding with black points. “He came out of the chute in a dead run, and about a quarter of the way down the arena he jobbed all four in the ground and hit a hard twist,” Hughie recalled. “He threw me so high I didn’t think I’d ever come down. But I did — head first.”
When his Sweet Grass employment ended that fall, Hughie was paid off in cattle — “about eight head” — which he herded into town and cashed at a local butchery.
In 1926, Hughie and an Indian bronc rider known as Cowboy Hamern made the 75-mile trip from Prongua-Battleford to Seagram Lake for the Saskatchewan Bronc Riding Championship.
Hughie Long, at 19, won the Saskatchewan Championship.
And with $80 prize money in his pocket and his prize bronc trailing behind, he and Cowboy Hamern made a much shorter 75-mile trip back to Prongua.
Armed with confidence untold, Hughie began to dream of entering the famous Calgary Stampede, something he did without much satisfaction in 1927.
The reason? “I hadn’t figured on the Brahmans,” he said later. “Wish I had had some wings. They might have come in handy with all the air time I was putting in. That was my first introduction to the humpbacked cattle, and they really ironed me out.”
Later, Leon Lamar, who had seen Hughie’s Calgary rides and been impressed despite the outcome, approached Hughie with a deal. Lamar owned two Wild West shows, one which was part of the big Johnny J. Jones operation in Canada. He could use a good bronc rider, especially one with Hughie’s dazzling and careless spurring style.
Hughie and his good friend, trick roper Gib Potter soon left for the next big show. In a few hours, Hughie found himself ensconced as the protagonist in an old Wild West show tradition — the Pony Express act.
“I’d mount one horse, race around the arena, then quit him on the run and grab the saddle horn on another for a flying mount and a trip around the arena to a waiting third horse,” he recalled. “About the time I’d get situated on this last one, the Indians or bandits made the scene and shot me out of the saddle, after which I’d be carried out of the arena. It kept me a lot more skinned up than the broncs did.”
Gib and Hughie soon left Lamara and joined an impresario named fittingly named Shakey Davis, whose bronc-riding show was but a sideshow to the main event, a freak show with assorted trained animals. Hughie described to Spence the culinary delights of the stop with a wry wit.
“We’d just have time to eat before we’d have to put on a show, but eating didn’t take long…’cuz we had this one-arm cook who couldn’t turn out a great deal of vittles and what he did throw together undoubtedly qualified him for Duncan Hines’ blacklist.
“So as much as possible, we ate out. And we slept out, too — out in the open.”
At one such setting they lucked upon a couple of old bed springs which kept them off the damp Louisiana ground. “Besides that, we had two Mexican Hairless dogs who also had an aversion to the cold, bare ground, and every night they’d curl up beside us, which is all right if you like to be kept warm by Mexican Hairless dogs.”
Through the end of 1927 and well into 1928, Gib and Hughie did the sideshows, but then headed for rodeos in Pampa and Miami, Tex., with a master plan of going back to Calgary. After nearly starving while the Pampa rodeo was postponed two days due to rain, Hughie placed in the money, which bought him and Gib a good meal, and hitched a ride to Miami, where the Prongy Kid placed in steer and saddle bronc riding.
Hughie and Gib continued north to rodeos in Alliance, Neb., and Great Falls, Mont. At Alliance, Hughie won about $70 for riding the famous bucking horse Funny Face, plus $3 apiece mount money on loose-rope barebacks out of a long shotgun chute.
The latter event, which was open only to saddle bronc contestants, was so dangerous that few takers other than Hughie stepped up. According to Gib, Hughie used what the little Canadian cowboy was known for, the “Long Chilling Technique,” in which he spurred his barebacks about the neck and shoulders to keep them from advancing too far down the arena. After riding each of four hopping horses out into the arena, the Prongy Kid would cock a leg up, hop off and run to mount another horse. After the fifth, organizers stepped in and closed the contest.
For the decade that followed, the Prongy Kid made rodeos throughout the heartland of America, commonly entering three events and finishing in the money in two or three of them. At Calgary, where he was snakebit as a bronc and bull rider, he participated in the three-man wild horse race that is so much a part of Canadian stampede rodeos.
At a by-invitation-only, 21-day rodeo staged at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, Hughie took second in bareback average and third in bull riding. In the entire three weeks, the Prongy Kid had ridden all but two of his bulls, including one that crashed through a fence as Hughie stayed aboard.
How many total titles Hughie won is probably a figure forever lost as no records were kept in those days. Further, because the Prongy Kid chose not to compete during the winters on the California-based Western circuit, which was the only rodeo organization at the time that kept records, he wasn’t represented.
PART IITHE COWPOKE COMES HOME TO HOOD COUNTY
If he’s not in every rodeo hall of fame it’s not because the Prongy Kid didn’t earn the right. He is in several, among them the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. He will presumably rate a top exhibit at whatever Cowboy Hall of Fame opens in the near future in the Fort Worth Stockyards.
One reason he didn’t go west to rodeo in winter was that he came to Fort Worth, where for about three years in the early ‘30s he worked in the horse and mule barns at the Stockyards and lived in a cowboy rooming house.
After the meeting with George Glascock and George Wilderspin in Edelbrock’s Saddlery and the ensuing invitation by Glascock for Hughie to train horses in Cresson, the Prongy Kid’s life took a sedentary turn. Oh, he still traveled to and competed in rodeos. Now, for the first time in a long time, the little cowboy had a place to call home.
For a time in 1943 he worked as a mounted guard at the Bluebonnet Bomb Plant in McGregor. When Uncle Sam called in 1944, Hughie, 37, joined the Army and was stationed initially at Camp Bowie near Brownwood, enabling him on weekend passes to go to Cresson to work with numerous reining horses he owned and won money with.
Then, after he’d received orders for overseas duty, the war ended and Hughie was discharged. In the years that followed he owned, co-owned or trained numerous quarter horses that have won registers of merit — Quick Silver Long, Jiggs Bailey, Mucho Stampede, Aledo Red Man and on and on.
Helen Long came into the picture in 1950. “I’d come down here to the Stock Show from Columbus, Ohio, where I lived, and a mutual friend was touring us around,” she recalled. “When I first met him, Hughie was just another horse trainer to me. I guess I wasn’t all that impressed.”
Helen Long remembers hearing that Hughie “had been the bronc-riding champ of Saskatchewan when he was just a kid and got a little silver charm a half-inch square for it…He’d done some steer decorating but he wasn’t really big enough to do steer wrestling. He’d started riding saddle broncs, then later bareback horses and, of course, bulls.”
Of course, bulls.
At the time Helen long met her future hubby, Hughie was involved in a troubled and nearly ended marriage to his first wife, Peggy, an erstwhile hoochy-coochy dancer and sideshow artist he’d met in New York.
Hughie and Peggy, reportedly both under some influence of overlibation, had been wed during or shortly after a rodeo in Madison Square Garden. That union had taken a turn for the worse when Peggy confessed to Hughie after they’d been married 11 years that she had been married five times previously — and only bothered to divorce one of the previouses, all of whom were presumed to be living.
A divorce from Peggy meant losing the house between the two churches and moving the little hightail barn, which today is one of Cresson’s most unique architectural structures, about three lots north. Helen, an accomplished horsewoman whom Hughie married in the middle ‘50s, was what today would be called an upgrade.
HUGHIE’S LAST RIDE
As he got older and his pain from injuries past increased, the Prongy Kid came to rely more and more on medication, particularly. Helen Long said Hughie, not unlike many of his peers in what were the true formative years of what we now call rodeo, drank to hide pain if not fear. “Those guys were all alcoholics, pretty much, that was part of the way of life,” she said. “Hughie wasn’t one to drink until after he’d work hard all day, though. He did once tell me that he never got on a bucking horse or bull sober until after the war.”
As he aged the Prongy kid’s irascible side often took over and he could be cranky, loud or intemperate. The “Well, h*#*!” exclamations became more and more frequent. For many years he ran the rodeo in Cleburne. Later on, besides training horses on his own, he was known for his work with Hood County 4-H horses. “I remember he’d talk awful mean to those 4-H kids, yell at ‘em, treat ‘em pretty bad,” recalled a parent recently. “For all that, the kids just idolized him.”
“Oh, he was tough on horses, too if he needed to be,” said Helen Long, asked about the horse-whisperer techniques of today. “He had one mare and she was an outlaw. She’d want to fight. Hughie’d get a leather hobble on her front foot, he’d teach horses that they can’t get mad and fight and get away with it.
“But with gentle colts, he could be gentle, too.”
In some ways, he mirrored his father, James Patrick “Joe” Long, a Northwest Mounted Policeman whose own hero was the bare-fisted Mounty pugilist Joe McDermott. “Hughie’s daddy, who came and stayed with us here in Cresson, probably motivated Hughie more than anybody when he told Hughie as a boy that he’d never amount to anything.
“Hughie’s father was not a good role model as a father,” she said. “In fact, his daughters didn’t want Hughie to have anything to do with their father, who had pawned them off on another family.
“But Hughie was in some ways like his dad. He was a man’s man, self-educated, self-made…,” she said, her voice trailing off.
One of the funniest Hughie Long stories involves a mynah bird that was given to Hughie and Helen’s son, Joe, when Joe was a child. “Mama Dottie Haltom gave us the bird, and even though it was Joe’s bird, the bird took to Hughie right off the bat,” Helen Long said.
Helen Long said she tried desperately, with every minute she’d spend with the bird, to teach it some harmless or cute sayings such as “Hi, Mom” and “Hi, Pop” and “Hi, Joe,” but to no avail.
“That bird only listened to Hughie, and it picked up everything he said,” she recalled.
About this time Hughie was asked to work with a horse owned by a retired military officer.
As was his custom, Hughie wanted the horse’s owner astride the horse as much as possible. In this case, the retired military officer was slow to respond to some of Hughie’s instructions, so Hughie started to yell. “It startled the guy, upset him so much he finally just got off the horse and left,” she said.
But after a few days, the military man returned to resume the training sessions. And while he was there, his wife, concerned that Hughie might be again browbeating her husband, called on the phone.
When he got to the phone, Hughie was nowhere in sight. The mynah bird, however, was close by. And began blurting over all of the Prongy Kid’s favorite epithets and exclamations, among them “Well, h*#*!”
“I think we’d better get off the phone,” she told her husband. “Sounds like Mr. Long’s in a bad way again today.”
Though there weren’t many new injuries, the old ones began to nag Hughie. He often said the most painful was a separated shoulder that tended to go out on him and required a general anesthetic to put back in place. “He also had some short ribs on his left side that overlapped and stuck out,” Helen said. “He got that from riding a spinning bull. As the bull was spinning, Hughie went to get off and the bull caught him with his horn, buried his horns right in Hughie’s short ribs down by his belly.
“In that particular case the pickup men or whatever had to come out and physically take Hughie off that bull’s horn.
“But Hughie had had all sorts of injuries he never talked about,” she added. “He’d had his teeth knocked out by a bull’s horn, he’d had both his ankles broken, the dislocated shoulder…”
In July 1987, the Prongy Kid “was sick for a month and went into the hospital, then when he came home he was not himself, his mind was gone,” Helen Long said.
A few nights before he died Oct. 27, 1987, Helen Long was at her husband’s side at All Saints Hospital in Fort Worth.
“I thought Hughie was either asleep or unconscious when a man in boots and a big cowboy hat walked down the hall outside Hughie’s room,” Helen said.
Of a sudden and much to her surprise, the Prongy kid’s blue eyes suddenly popped open. “He said `There goes that damn ol’ so-and-so; we’re both up in the bull-riding tonight,’ naming a long-ago bull rider he’d known.
Then Hughie glanced around the hospital room and blurted, “This is the damn nicest hotel room we’ve stayed in in a long time.”
“I realized he didn’t really know where he was, that he was incoherent, that he’d probably never be the same again,” Helen Long recalled.
On his last night at home, Hughie went into the bathroom to get some aspirin from the medicine cabinet. Helen said he complained that his head was “rum-dum, which was what he always said.” Then he toppled over into the bathtub, where Helen found him sitting incoherent.
“We got him to the hospital, and after that, he spent a week in a nursing home, where he got pneumonia,” she said. “Then it was back to the hospital, then back to the nursing home, where he died overnight.”
The Prongy Kid’s last ride was over. The final buzzer had sounded.