Rooms for the Cowboys
by Lona Lewis
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 homeowners 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.