Harold L. ‘Buddy’ Heaton | TSLN.com

Harold L. ‘Buddy’ Heaton

Harold L. “Buddy” Heaton, a free-spirited rodeo clown who (without Secret Service clearance) rode a buffalo named “Old Grunter” in John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural parade, died April 14 at The Legacy at Park View nursing home in Ulysses, KS, where he had spent the last seven years of his life. He was 82.

Heaton worked for some of the sport’s greatest stock contractors – including Harry Vold, Reg Kesler, Paul Long and the Beutler Brothers – during a 33-year career as a rodeo clown that began in 1944, when he was just 15. He was inducted into the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2005.

The physically imposing (6-foot, 3-inch, 217 pound) cowboy also competed in all three roughstock events and steer wrestling in PRCA rodeos in the 1950s. The willingness to accept physical punishment he displayed in those endeavors, and an outrageous manner, proved perfect for his real calling as rodeo clown and barrelman in such rodeos as Cheyenne (WY) Frontier Days, the National Western Stock Show & Rodeo in Denver and the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Heaton would expand his rodeo clown act to include various animals, and he soon gained a reputation as a skilled animal trainer, most notably for his work with the Appaloosa, “High Hand,” and the American buffalo, Old Grunter.

Heaton trained High Hand to perform such tricks as smiling, pretending to bite Heaton’s backside, sitting, laying down, counting and, most famously, the illusion that Heaton could lift High Hand off the ground by simply laying his hand on the horse’s back when, in actuality, High Hand could jump straight off the ground with all four feet.

Heaton also taught the horse how to walk on his hind legs, which he continued to do even after retirement.

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Old Grunter, who also went by the stage name “Clyde,” was Heaton’s partner in some of his most elaborate pranks and/or ploys for media attention. In addition to falling in with a Fort Worth, TX, group to appear in JFK’s inaugural parade, there was also the time that he rode Old Grunter up the freight elevator at the Salt Lake City Tribune for a meeting in the news room.

Life Magazine published photos of Heaton and Old Grunter competing in a three-way race between the buffalo, a mule and a horse held at Denver’s Centennial Turf Club. Heaton and his buffalo also appeared on the TV show Wagon Train in 1960, as well as the feature films Bus Stop, How the West Was Won and Desert Sands.

Demonstrating there were no hard feelings about Heaton’s parade crashing at the inauguration, JFK later had Heaton perform for him. Twice. Heaton also performed in front of Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill and Gen. Omar Bradley.

After his career in rodeo ended, Heaton was active as a horse trainer.

Heaton is survived by his wife, Laura Lee; sons, Ted and Tom; daughters, Rhonda, Linda and Cindy. He was preceded in death by his son, Buddie. The funeral was held at 10:30 a.m. on April 18 at the Country View Church, two miles north of Ulysses, KS.

Harold L. “Buddy” Heaton, a free-spirited rodeo clown who (without Secret Service clearance) rode a buffalo named “Old Grunter” in John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural parade, died April 14 at The Legacy at Park View nursing home in Ulysses, KS, where he had spent the last seven years of his life. He was 82.

Heaton worked for some of the sport’s greatest stock contractors – including Harry Vold, Reg Kesler, Paul Long and the Beutler Brothers – during a 33-year career as a rodeo clown that began in 1944, when he was just 15. He was inducted into the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2005.

The physically imposing (6-foot, 3-inch, 217 pound) cowboy also competed in all three roughstock events and steer wrestling in PRCA rodeos in the 1950s. The willingness to accept physical punishment he displayed in those endeavors, and an outrageous manner, proved perfect for his real calling as rodeo clown and barrelman in such rodeos as Cheyenne (WY) Frontier Days, the National Western Stock Show & Rodeo in Denver and the Calgary (Alberta) Stampede.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Heaton would expand his rodeo clown act to include various animals, and he soon gained a reputation as a skilled animal trainer, most notably for his work with the Appaloosa, “High Hand,” and the American buffalo, Old Grunter.

Heaton trained High Hand to perform such tricks as smiling, pretending to bite Heaton’s backside, sitting, laying down, counting and, most famously, the illusion that Heaton could lift High Hand off the ground by simply laying his hand on the horse’s back when, in actuality, High Hand could jump straight off the ground with all four feet.

Heaton also taught the horse how to walk on his hind legs, which he continued to do even after retirement.

Old Grunter, who also went by the stage name “Clyde,” was Heaton’s partner in some of his most elaborate pranks and/or ploys for media attention. In addition to falling in with a Fort Worth, TX, group to appear in JFK’s inaugural parade, there was also the time that he rode Old Grunter up the freight elevator at the Salt Lake City Tribune for a meeting in the news room.

Life Magazine published photos of Heaton and Old Grunter competing in a three-way race between the buffalo, a mule and a horse held at Denver’s Centennial Turf Club. Heaton and his buffalo also appeared on the TV show Wagon Train in 1960, as well as the feature films Bus Stop, How the West Was Won and Desert Sands.

Demonstrating there were no hard feelings about Heaton’s parade crashing at the inauguration, JFK later had Heaton perform for him. Twice. Heaton also performed in front of Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill and Gen. Omar Bradley.

After his career in rodeo ended, Heaton was active as a horse trainer.

Heaton is survived by his wife, Laura Lee; sons, Ted and Tom; daughters, Rhonda, Linda and Cindy. He was preceded in death by his son, Buddie. The funeral was held at 10:30 a.m. on April 18 at the Country View Church, two miles north of Ulysses, KS.

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