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Bascom family photograph
Earl Bascom, rodeo champion, cowboy artist and inventor


John Bascom has a pretty good idea how his late father Earl would have reacted at being inducted into the Utah Rodeo Hall of Fame this past Friday night.

Wait, check that, he is absolutely sure how Earl Bascom would have reacted.

“He would smile and chuckle and hardly believe it,” says John, “and yet he would say well thank-you at the same time.”

You can heap praise and acclaim on a real cowboy. But you can’t make him soak it all in.

Earl Bascom was a real cowboy. Born on a ranch in Vernal in 1906, he did about everything you could do on and around cows and horses. When he wasn’t riding them, or trying to ride them, he was painting and sculpting them, and when he wasn’t doing any of that he was tinkering with the equipment that went on them.

Athlete/artist/inventor: think of a combination Lebron James, C.M. Russell, Thomas Edison.

The renaissance cowboy died in 1995 but as evidenced by his latest accolade – entering the Utah Rodeo Hall of Fame in only its second year of existence – his memory remains strong as ever. Yours would too if you’d left so much of yourself behind.

Not only can Earl Bascom’s sculptures be found in galleries and private art collections around the world, and not only is his name on the list of all-around champions at rodeos from Canada to Colorado, but if you were to visit a rodeo this weekend, you’d see Earl Bascom’s improvements staring right back at you.

In the bareback bronc riding event, that handle the cowboy is gripping onto as if his life depends on it, Earl Bascom invented it and the rigging it’s attached to. It’s called one-handed bareback rigging and he figured out the details way back in 1924.

In saddleback bronc riding, that saddle without a horn on the front – also Earl’s, invented circa 1922.

And the chute the bucking horses and bulls come charging out of sideways – Earl and his brothers dreamed that one up in 1919. Before that, the livestock came out head-first, resulting in a lot of cowboys with busted knees before their ride ever started.

“He just had a knack to see things different,” says John. “I think that was the art in him.”

John was born in 1948 so he wasn’t there to watch his dad cowboy in his prime and witness the unveiling of his many rodeo inventions. But he heard enough about them as they worked side-by-side as sculptors at their foundry in Apple Valley, Calif. during the 1970s and 1980s. By this point Earl had hung up his spurs, for the most part, to concentrate on his art, although he would sometimes break away to film commercials with TV cowboy Roy Rogers, who became a friend and avid collector of Earl Bascom art.

As they worked in the foundry, John recalled, Earl would keep them entertained by spinning tales of life on the range.

“I was just enthralled with his whole history and after he’d tell a story I’d say, ‘let’s go there,’” says John. “So every summer we’d visit these places he’d been. The thing I liked about traveling with him was sitting down with the old cowboys and they’d start talking and they’d say ‘let me tell you about your dad’ and then they’d tell the story he hadn’t told me. He was modest, he didn’t brag. He would always make someone else the big hero. I’d say ‘weren’t you there, weren’t you part of it?’ and he’d say ‘well, yeah, well I guess.’”

John sums up the cowboy ethic Earl Bascom lived by: “Be honest in heart, put forth your best effort, don’t look for glory and give a guy the best chance you can.”

John Bascom, his wife Lisa and daughter Juliette heard even more Earl Bascom stories this weekend as the Ogden Pioneer Heritage Foundation hosted the 2013 Utah Rodeo Hall of Fame ceremonies at Ogden’s Union Station.

To add to the Bascom lore, after Earl was officially inducted along with Archie Anderson, George H., George E. and Angus Baldwin, Glen Thompson, Vicki Vest Woodward and Rose Flynt Bascom (a rope trick artist and Earl’s sister-in-law), the musical entertainment was provided by none other than “Juliette Bascom and the Bascom Ranch Band.” John was on standup base, Lisa on mandolin, family friend John Hixon on rhythm guitar and 13-year-old Juliette on just about everything else.

Juliette is a musical prodigy who has been playing since the age of three and has already performed with Nashville stars. “It’s really interesting that he was able to do everything he did. He was really something,” Juliette said of her grandfather.”

Making him out the big hero.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. EMAIL: [email protected]