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Queen of the cowboys

Carolynn Vietor, Philipsburg, Montana, is the first woman to be inducted into the Rodeo Legends category for the Montana Pro Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame. She has led a storied life in rodeo, serving as Miss Rodeo America, president of the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association, and as a lifelong barrel racer. Photo courtesy Carolynn Vietor
Leslie Conn

Carolynn Vietor is proud to be counted among the cowboys in her favorite sport.

The Philipsburg, Montana cowgirl will be inducted into the Montana Pro Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame on January 25 in the rodeo legends category. She is the first woman to enter the Hall in that category.

A Texan by birth, Vietor’s grandparents gave her her first taste of rodeo. J.G. and Doll Callan had front row box seats at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, and even before barrel racing was an event at the stock show, Vietor was soaking up the rodeo. When the barrel racing made its debut in San Antonio and she saw it for the first time, it ignited a passion in her. “I remember so vividly the barrel race,” she said. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

J.G. Callan was a rancher horseman who taught his granddaughter to ride and made sure she had a horse. And when she and her mother moved to Corpus Christi, her grandparents made sure the horse went with her, so she could keep riding.

“We have so much talent in women’s rodeo, the barrel racing and breakaway roping. Our women are such athletes and the horses are just outstanding. It was such an honor to be in a position that you can make a difference in women’s lives, even at the high school and college level.Carolynn Vietor

After high school graduation, Vietor went on to Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, competing on the college team in the goat tying. She was the National Inter-Collegiate Rodeo Association’s Southern Region champion goat tyer two years in a row and qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo in 1964. In 1965, she won the College National Finals Rodeo queen title, and that same year, ran for Miss Rodeo Texas and won.

From the Texas pageant, she went on to win the 1966 Miss Rodeo America title and two years later, graduated with a degree in home economics and speech.

Then she met her husband, Bill Vietor, who was a Montanan. Bill, a former Air Force pilot, was stationed in Laredo. They married in 1968, and when his stint with the Air Force was over in 1972, they moved to Montana, to Bill’s family ranch, where they raised commercial crossbred cattle.

She ran barrels at regional rodeos, staying close to home to raise their two sons, Callan (Cal), born in 1971, and Justin, born three years later. In 1979, Cal was killed in an airplane accident along with Bill’s father.

Vietor had taken one of her husband’s horses and turned it into a barrel horse. When she started her barrel racing career, a special horse came along. Promono, a sorrel gelding, is her favorite of all time. She filled her Women’s Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) permit on the horse and could have won the 1979 Montana Circuit Finals, had she not tipped a barrel. “He was just the greatest horse,” she said. A son of Classy Bar, he died young but she and her husband were able to purchase his full sister. That began their breeding program: a Doc Bar stud crossed on Promono’s breeding. Vietor has ridden several of their colts at circuit finals, and in 2003, won the Montana Circuit Finals on Classy Eye Am, one of her colts, also known as Bump.

Vietor moved towards the administrative end of rodeo in the 1980s. In 1985, she was Northern Region Director for the WPRA, then was Montana Director for ten years. She was elected president of the WPRA in 1995-2003, and again from 2013 to 2016.

She considers her work with the WPRA one of the most satisfying things she’s done. At the time of her first presidency, the WPRA was producing women’s rodeos with all the events, including bareback riding and bull riding, with the finals held at the Stockyards in Ft. Worth. The WPRA is the oldest women’s sporting association in the U.S., and the only one to be run by women, Vietor said, and “I think that’s why we are a standout.”

It was a privilege to represent women in rodeo, she said. “We have so much talent in women’s rodeo, the barrel racing and breakaway roping. Our women are such athletes and the horses are just outstanding. It was such an honor to be in a position that you can make a difference in women’s lives, even at the high school and college level.”

Vietor has been awarded a multitude of honors throughout her career. She was the 1999 Coca-Cola Woman of the Year and in 2002, was given the WPRA Heritage Award. In 2008, she was selected as the Texas State University Alumna of the Year because of her work in professional rodeo. During her first tenure as WPRA president, she, along with others, worked to secure equal money at the National Finals Rodeo for the barrel racers, which happened in 1998. She is a Lifetime Member of the WPRA, an award bestowed by her peers. She was also chosen to judge the Miss Rodeo America pageant.

And she’s not slowing down. “I would get old if I slowed down,” she laughed. “The minute you slow down, you get old.” She and her husband Bill, who was called Willy in Montana to differentiate him from his father, also named Bill, live in Wickenburg, Ariz. in the winter and spend their summers at their ranch outside Philipsburg. In the summers, they help at the Ranch at Rock Creek, a five-star dude ranch which hosts a rodeo each Tuesday night during the summer, and Vietor is one of the barrel racers at it. She’s proud to make a professional run for the exhibition rodeos. “I wear full dress code and make the best run I can possibly make.” Her favorite part of it is being an ambassador for the sport and for the nation, as many of the dude ranch visitors are foreigners.

“I’m very proud of it and I think we leave a pretty good impression of rodeo,” she said. After qualifying for seventeen Montana Circuit Finals Rodeos, this fills the void left when she cut back on WPRA competition.

She competes in jackpots and 4D barrel races and still marvels at the channels her life took. “At this stage of my life, to still be able to promote rodeo and the western lifestyle, is a dream come true.

“I’ve been supporting rodeo, and that is my passion.”

The Vietor family was inducted into the Montana Pro Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame in 2016.

The awards banquet was Jan. 25 at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center. For more information, visit http://www.montanaprorodeo.org.


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