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Throwback Thursday: Gene Rambo

by Matt Naber | Mar 01, 2018

Contestants from the Rodeo Cowboys Association (precursor to the PRCA) in the 1940s and ’50s will argue history has never seen a more versatile – or more talented – all-around cowboy than Gene Rambo. He was one of the first, and last, cowboys to regularly and successfully participate in all rodeo events.

How good was Rambo? At Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days in 1948, he won the tie-down roping and bareback riding while taking second in steer wrestling. Later that year, at San Francisco’s famed Cow Palace, he won the bareback riding, was second in steer wrestling, third in saddle bronc riding and fourth in tie-down roping. This was against the era’s best cowboys, at two of the top rodeos of the time.

Strong and athletic, Rambo was 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, and filled with confidence, making him a tough man to beat in nearly every event. Still, he was modest, quick to flash his handsome smile, and well-liked by all the cowboys he regularly defeated in the arena.

Rambo was born June 12, 1920, in San Miguel, Calif. His father was a ranch foreman and a talented saddle bronc rider who also broke horses. By age 7, Gene was reportedly breaking colts.

The hard-working Rambo won a lot of money in the arena, and spent his 1942 earnings on a 1,240-acre ranch in Deerfield, Calif. He consistently won in all seven events for a decade and was the International Rodeo Association all-around champion in 1946, 1948-50. He regularly was among the RCA’s top money winners, but it was perhaps his versatility that kept Rambo from winning titles which usually go to the specialists.

Rambo qualified for the first five National Finals Rodeos and was the heeler for 18-year-old Jim Rodriguez Jr. in 1959, when at age 18, he became the youngest world champion in history.

From 1962-65, he served as team roping director on the RCA Board of Directors. He was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1989, a year after he died from a gunshot accident.

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