ICONS

Beaver Bird paved the way for Wick­en­burg to be­come the Team Rop­ing Cap­i­tal of the World.

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When Leo “Beaver” Bird got sick of the bru­tal Mon­tana win­ters and moved as a wran­gler to the then dude ranch­ing cap­i­tal of the world—Wick­en­burg, Ari­zona—recre­ational team rop­ing was in its in­fancy. Dy­na­mite Arena had been up and run­ning for a few decades al­ready, but the few North­ern snow­birds, many work­ing as dude wran­glers in Wick­en­burg, didn’t have any­where else to rope.

That was 1992, and that year Beaver con­vinced his boss at the Wick­en­burg Inn, Merv Grif­fith Jr. (of The Merv Grif­fith Show fame), to let him build an arena and host rop­ings with fel­low wran­gler Terry El­len­berger. Open rop­ers showed up from time to time, but mostly lo­cal re­tired ranch­ers came to play in those early days.

“When we started putting on rop­ings, it was $15 a man,” son-in-law Brad Smith re­mem­bered. “And when he ended it, it was only $30 a man. Beaver’s big­gest rop­ing was that Over 40 #10 draw­pot on Tues­days, when he’d get 500 or 600 teams. He’d have a $100 a man, 80-per­cent pay­back rop­ing be­fore it, and he’d have to limit it to 50 teams and take en­tries over the phone. They joked that he was the only per­son tak­ing call-ins for a #12.”

When the Wick­en­burg Inn closed as the dude-ranch fad faded, Beaver helped build Horse World, also in Wick­en­burg, and even­tu­ally put on rop­ings at the Rodeo Grounds in town be­fore he re­tired in 2012, at the same time he was di­ag­nosed with prostate can­cer. For years, many rop­ers wouldn’t miss any of Beaver’s Tues­day Over 40 jack­pots, and Beaver started award­ing jack­ets to rop­ers who didn’t miss one all sea­son. Hav­ing one of those jack­ets was a point of pride in Ari­zona team rop­ing cir­cles.

“My dad was the op­po­site of one of to­day’s pro­duc­ers,” DeeDee Smith said. “He was very laid back. He was re­ally good about giv­ing peo­ple re-runs, and he al­ways set up a good score and was very roper friendly. If a guy came up to him want­ing to ar­gue about his flag­ging, he’d tell them a story and they’d all be laugh­ing by the end of it.”

Beaver, a fa­ther of five kids, was mar- ried to his wife Judy for 50 years. He had two em­ploy­ees—Colleen Wat­son, who an­nounced for him for years, and Manuel Urquijo, who started work­ing the strip­ping chute for Beaver at his ear­li­est rop­ings at the Wick­en­burg Inn and stayed with him through­out his pro­duc­tion ca­reer.

“Other pro­duc­ers in town stayed off Tues­days, even as ev­ery­thing got so big here,” DeeDee said. “That was Beaver’s day, and ev­ery­one re­spected it.”

Beaver, who had qual­i­fied for the In­dian Na­tional Fi­nals Rodeo him­self, was the un­cle of NFR header Dustin Bird, who win­tered at Beaver’s Wick­en­burg home.

“We ate din­ner at Beaver’s house ev­ery night,” Dustin said. “Some­one would be giv­ing him hell at the rop­ing, but never once did he say a bad thing about any­body. He never did get flus­tered. He re­ally was a neat guy.”

BEAVER BIRD

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