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From the Vault: Wick Peth

by Matt Naber | Nov 15, 2018

Wick Peth was the original bullfighter, the man credited with changing the job from part-time clown into full-time protector. He was the first real specialist, a pure bullfighter and the first to earn a living that way. 

His 37-year career ended in 1985, six years after he was part of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame’s inaugural class.

Peth had no interest in being funny for rodeo audiences, although that was part of the job when he quit riding bulls and concentrated on saving bull riders. “I was about as funny as a funeral in the rain,” he was fond of saying.

Born April 15, 1930, in Mount Vernon, Wash., Peck was featured in LIFE magazine in 1963. He didn’t smoke or drink, worked hard to stay in shape, and was serious about his job of protecting cowboys in the arena. Stocky and strong at 5-foot-6 and 170 pounds, Peth played harder than some cowboys fought, and was frequently wrestling or roughhousing.

He also had a knack for turning back bulls and saving hung-up or fallen bull riders. His courage and expertise were appreciated by the cowboys, including fellow Hall of Famer Larry Mahan, the two-time bull riding champion and six-time all-around world champion.

“I felt during that time, or even possibly in this time, that Wick was probably one of the greatest athletes rodeo has ever known,” Mahan told ProRodeo Sports News in 1998. “He was in far better shape than anybody out there competing. An incredible athlete, very tough physically and mentally.”

In the same story, Peth said, “I was never really satisfied with my performance. I always knew I could get better.”

By the end of 1978, he had been elected bullfighter for the NFR seven times. On his plaque at the Hall of Fame, it says the only reason he didn’t make it every year was to give the other guys a chance at the job.

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