Casey Tibbs and the Old Gray Mare | TSLN.com

Casey Tibbs and the Old Gray Mare

Loretta Cowan

Most of his life, Art Cowan, Highmore, South Dakota, made his living buying, selling and raising horses. His two older sons, Pat and Willie, often traveled with him and many times trailed his purchases to their ranch or nearby stockyards.

One of the horses Art bought was an older gray mare. She could not be halter-broke, which was a requirement to be sold to the U.S. Government. Art put her in his bucking string and she was called the “Old Gray Mare.” He had her several years. Vern Elliott would often visit the Cowan ranch and purchase bucking horses for his string. He furnished horses for the big rodeos in Houston, Madison Square Garden, Ft. Worth, San Antonio and Cheyenne. A bucking horse sale was held in Ft. Pierre in 1949 and Art put the Old Grey Mare in the sale. She was purchased by Elliot. About two weeks later, Casey Tibbs won Cheyenne on her. It is the photo of him riding her in Cheyenne that was used as a model for the sculpture made by artist Tony Chytka which was unveiled at the Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center in Ft. Pierre, June 2, 2018.

Willie asked his dad in later years where he had gotten the mare. Art said, “Don’t you remember? You were with me when I got her from the ‘Bee Man’ up on Mission Ridge.” Art couldn’t remember his real name. Willie was about 10 and remembers going with Art to the man’s place, but nothing else.

The Cowan family had pictures of this famous event. But the mystery remained as to who the original owner of the horse was. The only clue was “the bee man.” Willie started doing some sleuthing, scouring Lori Tibbs’ book about Mission Ridge and its people, and found an article about a man in the area who raised bees. At last he had a name. It was Hiram Miner. He had come to Mission Ridge from Wisconsin. He owned a lot of country in the Fort Bennett area and lived at the mouth of Mission Creek. His main source of income was from the bees, but he also ran quite a few horses. He did not have a family and was described by several people as being “eccentric.” Dan Ramsey was a youngster and lived nearby. He said the horses Hiram owned were big and wild. Members of the Tibbs family said that HP, as he was known, would call upon Ansel, Tommy, Short Log Tibbs and others to help him with the horses, but that he was less likely to sell them one of the horses than to an outsider such as Art Cowan. He lived on his place until it was flooded by the Oahe Dam. He moved to Pierre and died at the age of 92.

And so it was that a cowboy, Casey Tibbs, riding a bucking horse called the Old Grey Mare, both from Mission Ridge, South Dakota, won the bronc riding at Old Cheyenne in 1949.