ELK RIDGE — Even after cancer ravaged the body that endured decades of rodeo, Utah’s consummate cowboy Lewis Feild embodied the sport’s maxim that when a situation is bleak, one simply needs to “cowboy up.”
The 59-year-old five-time world champion and Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer epitomized that “pick yourself, dust yourself off and get back on the horse” mentality when he talked his son into helping him with one last ride two days before he passed away Monday night after a five-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
His son, a four-time world champion bareback rider Kaycee Feild, shared a picture on Instagram of his Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame father astride a horse, unforgettable smile on his face, and said Feild “refused to get off.”
That should be expected of a guy who rode bucking horses so well he became the first PRCA rough stock contestant to earn $1 million.
But as accomplished as Feild was, it was his commitment to the sport in which he excelled, and those who searched for success there, that came to define his legacy.
“I think he and Veronica (his wife), they just exemplify what the rodeo family is all about,” said Desiree Cooper Larsen, executive board committee, and former chair, of the Ogden Pioneer Days Celebration. “They were always concerned about people they knew and those they didn’t know. They were always willing to give a hand to the young cowboys coming up. There will always be a piece missing. He is a legend, and he’s left his mark in the rodeo world. He will be truly missed.”
One of those young cowboys was bullfighter Marty Martak.
He said the ways in which Feild influenced his life are immeasurable, including helping him get his start as a professional.
“When I turned pro in bull fighting, I needed two bullfighters to sign off on my card and one stock contractor,” Martak said. “He signed my card.”
By signing for Martak, he was vouching for him, a generosity not lost on the Price native. But he didn’t just lend the young cowboy his name, he mentored him in just about every conceivable way, including traveling to rodeos with him and helping him get into rodeos where Feild was working.
“He was probably one of the funniest people I’d ever met,” Martak said. “He was down to earth, very understanding, wanted everyone to have a chance to be what they wanted to be. He never judged anybody. He had respect for everybody, no matter their background or where they came from. And he gave me the shot of a lifetime.”
He also gave him a lesson that likely saved him some heartache.
Martak said he was feeling “young and invincible” when he decided to spend a night drinking after working a rodeo.
“I went back to my friend’s house and got sicker than heck,” he said. “I got a call at 6:30 in the morning and it was Lewis. He said, ‘What are you doing? I need your help. Can you come over to the ranch?’”
Martak dragged himself out of bed and learned the task Feild needed him for would only add to his post-party suffering.
“He said, ‘We need to move this hay from inside this little horse stall to the other one’,” Martak said, laughing a little. “I was already sick and that hay dust gets in your lungs, well, it was awful.”
He worked without complaint until about 1 p.m., when Feild asked him how he was feeling. When he said “better,” Feild told him he was done.
“To this day, I don’t believe that hay ever needed to be moved,” Martak said. “He was just trying to teach me a lesson. When I look back on it, he taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life.”
He said he took from that, and from Feild’s example, that the sport deserved respect. Sure, it was an enjoyable way to make a living, but it had to be taken seriously and approached with care and professionalism.
And as dedicated and as passionate as he was about the sport, he was even more committed to and proud of his family, Martak said.
In fact, 18 years ago Monday, Martak lost his father. He got the call when he was at a rodeo, and he only manged to talk to one person before he left to be with his own family in Price — Lewis Feild.
“That comfort he was able to give me, well that was the kind of person he was,” Martak said. “For me, it’s unreal that (Feild passed away) the same day.”
Feild emanated professionalism, while extending compassion, when he began teaching at his alma mater Utah Valley University, and when he worked as a pick-up man at rodeos throughout the Intermountain West.
Feild qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo three times and earned a scholarship to Utah Valley State College, where he also earned three national finals appearances. He was the PRCA’s Rookie of the Year in 1980, and he became the first rough stock cowboy to earn world all-around titles since Larry Mahan in 1973. He earned three all-around titles and two world bareback riding championships.
After he retired from the PRCA in 1991, he was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1992. He was the first person inducted into Utah’s Cowboy Hall of Fame, according to Cooper Larsen. He worked as a pick-up man for many rodeos, including the Utah High School Rodeo for decades after his retirement.
It was when he was competing that Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo Director Dave Halverson first met and got to know Feild.
“He was always a crowd favorite, especially after he won those all-around titles,” Halverson said. “He was always one of those guys who came to and was loyal to the Ogden rodeo. My father was the chairman in the late ‘80s, and I was just a little rodeo rat running around when I first met Louie.”
He said there was no shortage of traits to admire in the quiet, hard working cowboy.
“He was just a great guy, loyal, a fierce competitor,” Halverson said. “He is a big part of Ogden Pioneer Days, and we’ll miss him. Our sincerest condolences to his family. He and his family mean a lot to the world of rodeo and the Ogden Pioneer Days.”
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