Fremont County, Iowa

Rooms for the Cowboys
by Lona Lewis

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of July 23, 2012

Source: Thanks to Darla From for sharing her memories.

Events like the Rodeo are so much more than just the evening performance. A great many components all have to come together to ensure everything needed for the Rodeo is in place. In the past, a very important issue was where the cowboys stayed the entire week of the Rodeo. Today, with airplanes and cars, the cowboys move from one Rodeo to another many times in the same week. Then in a small town, the only way to house all of the contestants was to use private homes. The cowboys had a room and the homeowner's extra money with friendships and warm memories resulting from this arrangement.

Martha Leffler-later Babcock was one of the homeowners. Martha found herself a single mother with a 14-month-old daughter, Darla, when in 1946 her husband died of polio. Martha did many things to keep her family together. The range of jobs included mending nylon hose for women using a gadget to go down a run and pull the stitches back together to making custom flannel work gloves in one of her bedrooms with a machine for the Raites Glove Company. She did some simple cosmetic work for friends such as plucking eyebrows. Doing laundry for Doctor Nelson helped provide medical needs for her husband. She worked at the restaurant Shorty and Lucretia Birkby had with their gas station north of town. In later years, she became the city clerk in Sidney.

The Rodeo offered Martha needed extra income. During Rodeo, the family all moved to the basement and they rented out all of their bedrooms and a large sleeping couch in the living room to cowboys. Darla said they liked the calf ropers and steer wrestlers best because they were the nicest of the cowboys.

Todd Watley one of the 1st steer wrestlers and bare back riders and James Bynam, steer wrestlers were her first guests. She always made sure roomers were good people and always had rooms full. Some brought their wives and families.

Martha started cooking family style dinners for her cowboy roomers. It was fried chicken every day for that is what they liked best; homemade pies; mashed potatoes and gravy and homegrown sliced tomatoes. She served them a big meal once a day, usually after their final performance for the day.

Roomers had places- in the garage, in a closet, under their bed- where they would hide the piece of pie they wanted to have when they came home late in the evening. One cowboy said, "If I eat another piece of chicken, I'll sprout feathers." So Martha had steak the next evening but the other cowboys objected--"We want fried chicken, yours is the best and we never get enough."

The same cowboys returned year after year and became like family. Jim Shoulders roomed there along with his wife and little boy. The cost was $2.00 a room and $2.00 a meal. Most were frugal but some did leave tips. Martha used the money to pay her house taxes. 

Return to View From the Attic Page

Return to Fremont County Home

Page updated on June 22, 2023 by Karyn Techau