Steer ropers headed to town

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Steer roper Brad Prather takes aim during last year’s Ben Johnson Memorial competition at the Osage County Fairgrounds Arena. The Skiatook cowboy is expected to be back in action Saturday afternoon for the 2013 event. JOURNAL-CAPITAL FILE PHOTO
Barnsdall cowboy Cody Garnett loops the horns of a steer during last year’s Ben Johnson Memorial Roping. Garnett is expected to be one of the contenders for the 2013 event, which will begin at 3 p.m. Saturday at Osage County Fairgrounds Arena. MIKE ERWIN/JOURNAL-CAPITAL

The best steer ropers in the world will compete for top honors this weekend in the 60th-annual Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping at the Osage County Fairgrounds Arena.

Sponsored by the Osage County Cattlemen’s Association, the prestigious invitational roping event is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. at the Osage County Fairground’s Arena. Adult tickets for the roping cost $10 each.

This year, the traditional Father’s Day roping event is being moved from Sunday to Saturday.

The OCCA convention, which starts Friday, will conclude with a Saturday night dance featuring music by national recording star Trent Willmon.

The lineup of steer ropers for the 2013 Ben Johnson Memorial includes the four leading money-winners from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Currently atop the PRCA standings is Cody Lee of Gatesville, Texas, who won the local event last year. Pawhuska’s own Chet Herren is currently second on the PRCA money list.

Reigning steer roping world’s champion Rocky Patterson of Pratt, Kan. also will be competing in the Osage County event. Patterson holds third place in the latest pro rankings, just ahead of another of the Ben Johnson invitees, Jojo Lemond of Andrews, Texas.

At least 30 roping contestants are expected to participate.

Area cattlemen started the memorial roping event in 1954 as a way to honor the father of cowboy actor Ben Johnson, a legendary Pawhuska-area figure for whom the local fairgrounds arena is named.

In addition to his long service as a ranch foreman on a major Osage County cattle operation, Johnson, senior, had earned several national steer roping honors in the 1920s. A native of Harrison, Ark., he died in 1952 when he was 56 years old.

The elder Johnson was posthumously inducted in 1961 by the Rodeo Hall of Fame of National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

Ben (Son) Johnson matched his father’s legacy by earning a 1953 team roping world championship. He died in 1996, two decades after winning an Academy Award as best supporting actor for his role in “The Last Picture Show. Johnson, who is buried at Pawhuska Cemetery, would have celebrated his 94th birthday on Thursday (June 13).

The younger Johnson was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979. Each year since 1998, the Rodeo Historical Society has presented the Ben Johnson Memorial Award for contributions to the sport of rodeo.

Other weekend activities

An OCCA ranch rodeo featuring working cowboys and cowgirls from area cattle operations is scheduled to begin in the arena at 6 p.m. Friday.

Ropers for the Ben Johnson event are scheduled to be introduced at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the Fairgrounds Women’s Building. The introductions will come during the barbeque lunch which follows the OCCA ranch tour.

Junior roping contests for youngsters in several age brackets will begin at 2 p.m.

On Sunday, the Shoat Webster Classic steer roping will be held at Kylar’s Bar K Arena, located approximately nine miles southwest of Pawhuska. The annual contest is sponsored by the Osage Steer Roping Club. It begins at noon with three divisions of competition.

The Classic competition was named in honor of four-time steer roping world champion Shoat Webster of Lenapah, who often attended the event in the past. Webster died three weeks ago, on May 20, at age 88.

Webster was the winner of the first three Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Ropings in 1954-56. He also earned titles in 1959, 1960 and 1965.

The steer roping world champion of 1949, 1950, 1954 and 1955, Webster was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs in 1979 and the National Cowboy Museum Rodeo HOF in 1990. He retired from rodeo in 1989 after nearly a half century of active competition.

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