A Stillwater resident’s legacy was recognized Dec. 12 in Las Vegas, Nevada, during the annual National Finals Rodeo.
Bud Bramwell, who has lived in Stillwater for most of the last few decades, makes an annual trip to take in the festivities. But his 2019 trip was a unique one, as he was honored for his achievements in rodeo with the Forgotten Trailblazers award.
He first moved to Stillwater in 1958 to attend Oklahoma State University on a rodeo scholarship. After finishing school and turning professional, Bramwell was one of an estimated 15 black professional cowboys out of a total of more than 4,500, and was a pioneer for future black cowboys to make it to the professional ranks. He worked in professional rodeo for 20 years, and at the time, he said he was just happy to be where he was at.
“We didn’t look at it like people look at it nowadays,” Bramwell said. “It was just a way of life. Even though I was from Connecticut, I had never experienced segregation before. I moved here and I was oblivious to it. At the time I was just happy to be here and happy to go to a rodeo.”
Bramwell said he wanted to be a professional cowboy from the time he began riding horses. Growing up in Connecticut, he was still able to hone his roping skills, which helped him eventually land his scholarship.
He said it was a shock to him to hear that he had been nominated for the award.
“I had no idea. When you’re doing something 50 years ago, you just do what you did,” Bramwell said. “All of a sudden 50 years later, somebody tells you you’re getting an award. That was something that was really special. It didn’t hit me until I got there that I was getting an award. My family was really happy that I got it.”
With him being among the first professional black cowboys, there is no doubt a path that was partially blazed by those like Bramwell, who were able to make it more possible for black rodeo professionals to be in the business today.
“I’m glad there are a lot more guys now,” Bramwell said. “A lot of the younger guys, they don’t really know what it was like back then. I can remember before the Civil Rights Bill was passed, I went to a rodeo in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I was just sitting there waiting to participate, and a policeman came over and told me I couldn’t stay there.”
Bramwell now lives in Stillwater, and with the use of an aqua treadmill, helps rehabilitate horses at his home for rodeo competitors. The speech that was delivered during the awards ceremony was written by Keith Ryan Cartwright, who is currently writing a book on black cowboys in history. The following is the text of the speech that was read:
“They ride horses, run barrels, rope calves, buck broncs, ride and fight bulls, and they even wrestle steers. They are the underrepresented cowboys and cowgirls of rodeo, and the spirit of their pursuits often intersected with America’s struggle for racial equality, human rights, and social justice. They are the black cowboys of rodeo and the Forgotten Trailblazers Award highlights their accomplishments and acknowledges their rightful place – not just in Western history – but in American history. It’s an honor to introduce the 2019 recipient, Mr. Bud Bramwell.
“Mr. Bramwell is perhaps best known for co-founding the American Black Cowboys Association 50 years ago back in 1969 and, as the organization’s first president, he was instrumental in producing and promoting an all-black rodeo in Harlem and other inner cities on the east coast from 1970 to 1973. ... In 1962, he competed professionally for the first time in Fort Worth, Texas. At the time he was one of only 15 black cowboys among more than 4,500 professional cowboys. In 1975, the PRCA created the First Frontier Circuit – one of the 12 regions – and Mr. Bramwell not only competed in the newly formed circuit but dominated the competition. He was the First Frontier Steer Wrestling Champ in 1975, ’76, and ’77, and once again in 1984 – but that’s not all. Proving he was an All-Around Champ, he did that in 1975, ’77, and ’78. Then after more than a 20 year career in rodeo, which included competing everywhere from little Okmulgee, Oklahoma, to Madison Square Garden in New York City, Mr. Bramwell began a decade-long career training, rehabbing, and reconditioning horses – a career that still continues today.
“… the recipient of the Forgotten Trailblazers award, a cowboy to the core, Mr. Bud Bramwell.”