WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees


When you first meet Les Shannon it doesn't take long to figure out that he is a working cowboy; a Ranch Cowboy. He talks about working with other Nature, watching the progress of your cattle, and riding young horses. It has been said that Les Shannon absolutely loves what he does. He really doesn't see it as a job.

Les was born in February of 1942, and his family moved around a lot while he was growing up. He can remember helping his Dad when he was 10 or 11 years old. As a teenager, Les's folks moved to Texas, but Les didn't like it there so he came back to Arizona when he was only 16 years old.

His first job was working through the spring round up on the C Spear Ranch. The next year, he came around the mountain to go to work on the 76 Ranch where he stayed a year or so. Les worked on the 0 Bar O's, the Three Links, the Hackberry, the Lazy B's, and he worked in feedlots in California and Casa Grande. At each place Les stayed for a year or two, sometimes a little longer. In 1974, he started working at the Sierra Bonita Ranch and stayed for 21 years. Les speaks about this ranch with great admiration. "The Sierra Bonita ranch is one of the best ranches in the State of Arizona. It could make more feed with less rain than any other country I've seen."

It was in 1962 when he met Judy Noling. At that time he was working on the Hackberry Ranch just outside of Safford, and she was going to the Safford Beauty College. They met at a dance at the Old Country Club. It was the cowboys from the Hackberry and the girls from the beauty college. Les was actually dating Judy's best friend, but Les and Judy hit it off. She thought he was as cute as he could be, he was a hell of a dancer, and after all he was a cowboy. It was love at first sight, and for these two, it was just meant to be, as a three-week courtship has turned into 44 years of marriage. They have three boys Cody, Kelly, and Keith.

Les used to rope a little, but his real hobby is racehorses. For nearly 50 years he has been around the game. He has ridden in match races, and he has trained a few of his own horses. But he really likes to go to the races to visit with his friends, and to watch his horses run. He would take his horses to the County Fairs, and he would also run them at Rillito (Tucson) in the winter and Prescott in the summer.

One of Les's favorite racehorse stories is about his horse named Khal Me Bionic. Les had been training Bionic in the evenings. The boys would gallop Bionic around the big lake on the Sierra Bonita Ranch to get him in running shape. When they thought he was ready to run, Les loaded up the family and Bionic and headed for the horse races in Prescott. Bionic's first race was a disaster... After being loaded in the starting gates, Bionic lunged forward skinning his head, but it was his bloody nose that concerned Les. Les tried to get him scratched, but the race officials said he should run. Bionic did run, but the jockey held him back so he would not suck blood into his stomach. Bionic finished dead last some 20 lengths behind. The next week Bionic was checked by the track vet and was cleared to run in the feature race. For this race Bionic was fit and ready to run. Bionic was a 40:1 long shot, because in his only other start he finished last by 20 lengths. Of course Les knew why he had performed so poorly. This race was Bionic's race. At the top of the turn when all the other horses were done, Khal Me Bionic just got another gear. When he crossed the finish line there was not another horse in the picture. The next day the headline in the local paper was: An Unknown Came Out of the Bushes to Win Feature Race.

Les said his racehorses have made him a little money. He says they help him from going completely crazy during the droughts.

The key word here is completely, they help him from going completely crazy. I bring this up because I found out that Les Shannon does have a little crazy in him. Or at least he did in his younger days. Have you ever heard about a suicide race? In Truth or Consequences, NM, they hosted a race where 8 to 10 riders would start on the top of the mountain; they would race down the steep slope with their horses sliding on their butt. They would then drop off the riverbank to the Rio Grande where they would change horses to swim the river. They would come out the other side and race about a mile to the finish line.

Les Shannon entered this race two different times. He won it both times. Les said, "It was the wildest thing I've ever done." When you are coming off the mountain and your horse is sliding on his butt, your job is to keep him upright. When you changed horse at the river you needed to cinch up tight, because when your horse hit the cold water of the Rio Grande he would draw up and if you weren't cinched your saddle would turn. This is where all the crowds would gather to watch the wreck at the river.

The ranch life is the only life that Les knows. It is the only thing he has ever done. Some have said that being a ranch cowboy is a pretty tough lick. And even Les has said, "There have been a lot of bumps and bruises along the way," but Les also talks about how rewarding his life has been. Things like being able to raise his family on a ranch, being able to do your own thing, working with young horses, or being able to watch his race horses run, plus not having to work a 9 to 5 job.

Today, Les is working on the Sands Ranch just south of Kartchner Caverns. He still worries about the drought, still shoes his own horses, still takes time to call his mother every Sunday. There is no doubt; Les Shannon is the real deal.

Presented by Eddie Browning