Veteran Salute: Pete Longbrake raises bucking horses, rodeo stock after serving in Korean war
November 9, 2017
Pete Longbrake has always had a soft spot for kids.
Maybe it's because he waved goodbye to his own childhood aboard a ship to Korea.
"It was my twenty-first birthday when I got on board to go to Korea. We got on some rough sea and…talk about sick. It was the worst I've ever been," he recalls.
Longbrake, now 85, who went on to become a rodeo legend who could ride, rope and provide the very stock for the other cowboys, sold a good share of his horses less than a year ago. He's ranched near Dupree, South Dakota, his entire life, except for the two years in the U.S. Army.
Longbrake's father, Delbert, and older brother Jack died when Pete was 15 years old. When he became the oldest boy in the family with seven remaining children, he felt an obligation and desire to help his mother keep the ranch going. While his father had run sheep, cattle and horses, his mother cut back to mostly horses while Pete was in the war. Those remaining equines would eventually provide quite a life for Pete.
Longbrake attended Cheyenne River Boarding School west of Gettysburg so he could only help his mother with ranch work on weekends until he finished high school.
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"My mother was the caretaker of the ranch. But when I graduated I went right back home." Marrietta (Bridwell) was education-minded, sending each of her eight children to boarding school. "My mother made damn sure we got a high school education. She said if you don't do another thing, I want you to do that." Other than Pete's older brother Jack, each of the children did earn their high school diplomas.
He had about a year and a half to ranch with his family after graduating, before the draft board contacted him.
"I had very little intention of going to college. I was out there on the ranch, where I wanted to be, but then the Korean thing came up."
Being drafted right around Christmas of 1952, Longbrake officially joined the service in January of 1953.
Longbrake said two local friends, Pete Carmichael and another Pete, from Highmore, South Dakota, were in the same division. "They called us Pete, Repeat and Peter," he laughs. "We went through basic together. We thought it was a lot of fun to be in basic training together," he recalls. "A few of us from this area were the only country boys in that training camp. The others were east – from Chicago, Massachusetts, all over. You could sure tell the difference in the way the country boys handled training. We were used to working and it wasn't as hard to switch over as it was for a lot of them." Some of the new soldiers would sit up and cry at night, he remembers. "They had never been away from home, I guess. There were all kinds of kids there. None of us was over 20."
Longbrake also credits his time at boarding school for the easy transition into the army. "I always said being in the army was just like school for me."
After the four months of basic training in California, Longbrake boarded the ship off the coast of San Francisco for that "horrible seven-day trip" to Korea, leaving U.S. soil on his birthday. "The sea did get a little calmer but to begin with, in those rough seas, there was no way to keep from wobbling. The ship was rolling from side to side and up and down, front to back," he remembers.
As a member of the Second Infantry Division (nicknamed the Indianhead Division), Longbrake and his fellow troops arrived in Korea about two months before the cease-fire was announced.
"I landed in an intelligence and reconnaissance company. We did patrol work," he recalls. After the cease-fire, his company patrolled about two miles of the DMZ or de-militarized zone.
Before the cease-fire, he and his comrades were positioned on an observation post on Papa San, the highest mountain in the country. "That's kind of what I wound up doing, I spent about three months doing that. Then afterward we patrolled the south part of the DMZ and the Koreans patrolled the north part."
The valley next to him had become infamous a year or so earlier for battles with the Chinese and Koreans that resulted in thousands of casualties on both sides.
The Indianhead Division continues to defend South Korea to this day. It is unique in that it is the only U.S. Army division that is made up partially of South Korean soldiers, called KATUSAs (Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army).
In November of 1954, a ship arrived on the coast of Seattle and Longbrake was on it.
"We brought the colors back for the second Indianhead division," he recalls. "We brought them back and had a parade and all that."
Longbrake said that upon his arrival to Seattle, he was faced with the task of getting home. "We got paid cash for food and for mileage if we were able to transport ourselves. Otherwise they gave us a bus ticket. This buddy of mine and I got the idea that we'd claim we had a car, then we'd hitchhike and save the money."
Longbrake remembers hitchhiking to an uncle's house, then getting another ride – this time all the way to Cheyenne. "I had to get off at Cheyenne. I caught a bus home."
He had a little time off but then had to return to an army camp in Colorado Springs to finish out his two-year term. "I missed Christmas at home. That was poor planning for a young boy."
In January of 1955, Longbrake was discharged and was able to head home for good.
Longbrake and a fellow soldier and "rodeo buddy" had traveled together from Colorado Springs to Denver to watch the rodeo at the National Western Stock Show before his discharge.
Upon being discharged, Longbrake caught a ride from his buddy to Denver where some friends were attending the NWSS and gave him a ride the rest of the way home.
"That was the end of my military career and I moved back home after that," he said.
"While I was gone someone had burned our house down on the ranch," he said. His mother had sold the cows and was working at the school in nearby Eagle Butte.
Longbrake and his brother Bill decided to rebuild. They moved a trailer house onto the place and bought 50 head of heifers on a Bureau of Indian Affairs cattle loan. Being a quarter Native American, he qualified for the program. "That was a pretty tough situation," he remembers. "You had to rent them for a year until you saw any return."
Before his service, Longbrake had done a little rodeoing. He decided to try it again.
"We had a few horses leftover from our younger years. I started riding broncs and I was pretty good and I had the idea we could raise them and keep our own strings. That's what I did for fifty years."
Longbrake would go on to raise mostly Longhorn cross cattle to use for timed-event stock, along with a bucking string known across the region for quality and consistency. He sold his cattle three years ago.
Just last year he sold some of his horses to his son, former NFR saddle bronc average winner Bud Longbrake. Local professional bronc rider Cole Elshere is also using some Longbrake horses for clinics. "He works with kids like I used to. Hopefully we'll always have some horses that fit high school kids."
Other horses from the Longbrake string sold to Dakota Rodeo owned by Joe Simon and Chad Berger.
Longbrake has sold horses to Suttons, Harry Vold and others throughout the years. His horses have bucked at the NFR, but his heart has always been with youth.
He put on a lot of kids' practice rodeos throughout the years. "I've always had a reputation for good teaching horses."
Longbrake also rode saddle broncs, team roped, bulldogged, "everything but barrel raced" while he was still able.
"I quit riding broncs, then they came up with old timers' rodeos so I went back to it when I was 48 years old. Good thing I stayed in shape, It's sure a lot easier if you are in pretty good shape." Longbrake won saddle bronc riding at the old timers' rodeo in Raleigh, North Dakota at the age of 53 and decided to call it quits. For good.
"One thing I always told the kids, if you want to rodeo and be good, you have to stay in shape. And you have to spend time horseback. On a saddle horse or even better, bareback, for the feel and all that."
"I've always had a soft spot for kids, I've put on practice rodeos to keep them doing it. I think it's the best sport in the world."
Longbrake is proud of his cowboy heritage and looks forward to his grandson and some grand-nephews carrying on the bronc riding tradition.
"We want to keep the Longbrake name out there. But my grandson is more educated than we were. He's good, but he doesn't have to do it like I did."
Two of Longbrake's brothers, William (Bill) and Richard served in the military. Both have now passed on.