Fathers Day is June 16 and Pawhuska has the perfect annual event for dads — the annual Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping competition, held at the Osage County Fairgrounds as the final event of Cattlemen’s Week.
This will be the 66th year for the steer roping, which was created in honor of champion rodeo cowboy Ben Johnson Sr., who died of cancer in 1952 at the age of 56. Friends and relations decided to honor Johnson by helping to fight the disease that took his life, and they established a benefit steer roping event in Pawhuska.
The introduction of steer roping participants is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. and the competition will begin at 1 p.m.
Lou Ann Smith, an organizer of the steer roping, said an added attraction this year will be exotic animal races featuring camels and ostriches. The theme for the races will be “Bring racing back to Osage Downs.” G.R. Carter, the record-setting Osage County jockey, will be leading the way on the exotic animal contests, Smith said. Carter is primarily known for his work with Quarter Horses, but he has also had success with other breeds.
Additionally, there will be skydivers on-hand to bring in the U.S. and Oklahoma flags from the air, she said. The U.S. flag will be larger than the big one that the city of Pawhuska flies downtown for holidays, she said.
Smith said St. Jude will be the beneficiary this year of the donation made on behalf of the Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping. Each year a donation is made from the previous year’s proceeds.
For anyone who hasn’t been told the history, there were two well-known Ben Johnsons — father and son. This steer roping event is held in memory of the father, who was a three-time steer-roping champion in the 1920s at Cheyenne Frontier Days, and later gave up roping to work on the noted Chapman-Barnard Ranch near Foraker in Osage County. The son was also a champion cowboy, but he became better known for his motion picture career.
For those interested in all things Ben Johnson, the new Ben Johnson Cowboy Museum that will celebrate the legacies of both Ben Johnsons and a whole lot more is scheduled to open during Cattlemen’s Week. The ceremonial opening will be the evening of Tuesday, June 11, and the new museum will open to the general public the next day.