Rodeo club took bulls by the horns

Larry O'Neill, BA '63, was national collegiate co-champion in bareback riding in 1959.
Larry O'Neill, BA '63, was national collegiate co-champion in bareback riding in 1959. Photo: Courtesy of The Alcalde/Texas Exes

This story originally appeared in The Alcalde.

They'd grown up everywhere in the state, from dusty Lubbock to stately River Oaks, but they were all Texas kids and proud of it. Likewise, they loved The University of Texas at Austin. But the one thing the university needed, this ranch-loving handful of '50s students agreed, was an official rodeo club.

With horses, broncos and arenas involved, starting up a rodeo team was more complicated than forming a chess club. So in 1956, the group of friends took their request to the UT Board of Regents -- who shot it down.

"They told us that if we wanted to have anything to do with rodeos or anything to do with agriculture, we should all go to Texas AandM," Rhetta Moody McAlister, BS '60, said.

Today McAlister is a miniature-donkey rancher who has been nominated for the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Back in 1956 she was just a college freshman, but she'd been a national barrel-racing champion in high school and was eager to keep the dance going.

The regents hadn't counted on the determination -- or well-connectedness -- of this group. Several of its members, such as John Mecom Jr., '58, and Reese Lockett Jr., BBA '60, Life Member, hailed from Texas families prominent in everything from oil to trail-riding.

Within weeks, the students were back with a petition in favor of a UT-sponsored rodeo team. Among its 2,000-some signers were Gov. Price Daniel, Sen. Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the iconic Roy Rogers. This time, miraculously, they got the go-ahead.

And they charged. As the '50s closed out, Los Charros Inc., as the rodeo club officially named itself, came roaring onto the UT social scene. Within three years it had grown to 200 members and hundreds more hangers-on.

The Charros built a 7,500-seat arena, hosted the country's largest college rodeo, threw dances and barbecues, invited famous singers to perform and even captured national news coverage.

"I know we had more fun than anyone else at the University," said McAlisters sister, Bebe Moody Boone, BS '59, Life Member.

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