An already very good year got even better Saturday for Cody Lee when he captured his second consecutive Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping championship at the Osage County Fairgrounds.
The 38-year-old from Gatesville, Texas, currently leads the steer roper world standings of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). By defending his Pawhuska crown, Lee became the 12th multiple-title winner in the history of the prestigious invitational roping.
This marked the 60th straight year for the local event, which is sponsored by the Osage County Cattlemen’s Association. It was first held in 1954 to honor the memory of the late cowboy actor’s father, a longtime area ranch foreman who had recently died. Both father and namesake "Son" were noted for their roping abilities.
In order to reclaim the Ben Johnson crown, Lee had to beat out several hometown favorites. Runnerup on Saturday was veteran Pawhuska roper Shorty Garten, who made a strong bid for his second local title exactly 20 years after earning the 1993 championship.
Pawhuskans also won two of the three preliminary rounds as Dee Kyler grabbed opening-session honors with a 12-second tie and Chet Herren claimed round three with the fastest tie of the day — an electrifying 8.8-second effort.
But, Lee was a model of consistency as he turned in the first and last tie-downs of the competition, while also scoring on both his steers in between. The defending champ led off the event with a 14.6-second time and followed it in round two by making the second-fastest tie of the day, in 11.6 seconds.
The defending champ entered the 11-man finals round with a 3.3-seconds lead over second-place Garten. After the Pawhuska veteran posted a 17.2 on his fourth attempt, Lee roped in the overall victory on the final run of the contest with a 15.3-second effort.
A combined overall time of 57.1 seconds by Lee topped Garten’s four-steer mark of 62.3 seconds. (The runner-up finish was the second for Garten, who also was second in 2005.) Skiatook cowboy Ralph Williams placed third with a 75.5-second total and Kyler was fourth.
Lee took home a significant share of the more than $25,000 handed out in prize money at Pawhuska. He also won a champion’s commemorative saddle made by Yoacham’s Custom Leather of Bartlesville. The fourth-round fastest time was recorded by former world champion Scott Snedecor of Uvalde, Texas.
This year’s field of 35 ropers included 10 past Ben Johnson winners. Seven ex-champs were among the dozen finalists who advanced to the fourth round.
In addition to Lee and Garten, past champions in the contest included: three-time defending PRCA world champion Rocky Patterson of Pratt, Kan.; C.A. Lauer and J.R. Magdeburg from Buffalo, Okla., and Mike Chase of McAlester. Other ex-champs included J. Paul Williams of Burbank and a trio of Pawhuskans: Gip Allen, Rod Hartness and Brady Garten.
Winner of the first three Ben Johnson titles (1954-56) was Shoat Webster, the rodeo hall-of-famer from Lenapah who died last month at age 88. Webster wound up taking a record six local championships. Next best was Jim Davis with four crowns and Buster Record, who captured three.
A pair of two-time winners — Patterson and Allen — were back this year, Allen is the Pawhuska fire chief, as well as a brother of 18-time world champion Guy Allen. Others who won the Ben Johnson twice were Don McLaughlin, Sonny Davis, Jim Bob Altizer, Olin Young, Bud Upton and Shaun Burchett.
In the latest PRCA steer roper money standings, Lee is leading the way with nearly $31,000. Herren, who cashed in for $18,000 at a recent pro event at San Antonio, trails Lee by about $2,300. Third place is held by Patterson.
For the day’s-quick tie, Herren was awarded a prized pair of spurs presented in memory of the late Mary Hartness, who served many years as secretary of the OCCA. The spurs were hand made and donated by Doug Cook of Lenapah.
Heavy rains an hour before the scheduled start of the roping forced the event to be moved 100 yards across the fairground’s to the Clarence L. Brantley Indoor Arena.
The indoor conditions did not seem to favor the ropers, who missed on more than 55 percent of their attempts. Twenty-two of the 35 competitors scored no-times in the second round and, during one futile stretch, there were seven misses in eight tries.