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Alonzo Pettie, 93; Co-Founded the First Black Rodeo in Colorado

August 13, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

Alonzo Pettie, the bronco-busting, bull-riding cowboy who co-founded Colorado's first black rodeo in 1947 because he had been banned from competition with white riders, has died. He was 93.

Pettie, who maintained his own home and rental properties into his 90s, died Aug. 2 in Denver of causes associated with aging.

"There ain't nothing like a good ride," Pettie told the Associated Press in an interview in March, explaining that he would still be competing, had his legs not given out. "I don't care where you are or who you are. It's just like music -- smooth and perfect if you do it right."

Named for his grandfather, who was a slave, Pettie was born on a Texas farm in 1910 and was orphaned by age 16. He supported himself by breaking horses, and a rancher taught him to ride and took him to rodeos.

Although African Americans are estimated to have made up a quarter of the West's cowboys, they were not allowed to compete in rodeos. But they were paid as pre-event entertainment -- riding bulls or broncos out of the chute.

It was dangerous work -- Pettie suffered several injuries and in 1929 dislocated his shoulder when he was bucked off a bronco. A few minutes later, he rode a bull with his arm in a sling.

Pettie moved north to Colorado in 1942 while serving in the Army during World War II.

When he and a friend organized the first black rodeo in 1947, Pettie broke his pelvic bone for the second time, spent three months in a body cast, and gave up bulls and broncos. But he continued to ride until a few years ago and appeared in the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo until he was 77.

A snappy dresser, Pettie tied for first place in a best-dressed cowboy competition while he was working for Sears, Roebuck and Co. in truck maintenance. In 1996, still looking far younger than his years, he was selected as a model for a European advertising campaign for Levi Strauss.

Pettie is featured in the Black American West Museum in Denver.

He is survived by a daughter, Earnestine Himes; a brother; a sister; four grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and one great-great grandchild.

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