WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees


For those who have grown up around the world of pro rodeo and team roping in particular, certain names always enter into the conversation. Names like Dean Oliver, Dale Smith, Jim Hudson, Joe Glenn and Fred Darnell. These are the men that helped to establish and set the standards of pro rodeo. So when you talk about Fred Darnell you are tempted to start with how good he was in the roping arena, but there was a lot more to Fred Darnell than just a team roping legend. I want to start clear back in the 1st grade as a 6-year-old little cowboy headed off to school for the 1st time. The story goes, on the first day he didn't know his name. The teacher had called on him to tell everyone his name. Fred calmly answered, "0 A Bar. That's my call." The other kids said no, Fred, she wants to know your name, not your brand.

Fred Darnell was born July 8, 1919, in Douglas, Arizona and he grew up on a ranch in the Chiricahua Mountains in the southeast corner of Cochise County. He attended grade school in Apache and high school in Douglas, Arizona. Fred grew up in tough times. He didn't play sports in high school, as there was too much work to do. If you weren't doing anything else you were cutting wood. It was a little different back then, no electricity no telephones. Fred grew up with two brothers and two sisters. He graduated from high school in 1936. In 1940, he married Elizabeth Strange and they had 2 sons, Jimmy and Billy.

Fred was as good a cowboy you ever worked with. He had the best horses, most of them he made and trained. On the ranch he would ride in the morning, come back, unsaddle at noon then ride again in the afternoon. He always talked about "wet saddle blankets" and how they helped to make a good horse. When he would see someone else's horse acting silly, or being too high, he would say, "That horse needs a few wet saddle blankets."

There was no doubt that Fred Darnell was old school. He was a man of his word, whether selling calves or buying a rope horse, you could deal on a handshake. Fred said, "A guy was no better than what his word was."

He and Elizabeth lived a simple, good life. They lived within their means, as money was hard. They appreciated what they had. No credit cards, they paid everything in cash. He tried to make work fun. He said, "If you make it fun it sure went by a lot faster." He also had a sense of humor, as he would say, "Adversity builds character and with as much adversity as you have had this past year you've really turned into a character."

Nobody liked to rope more than Fred did. Head, heel or rope calves it didn't matter. It has been said that there are cures for the alcoholic or the dope addict, but there is no cure for the roping fever.

Fred has a long list of wins throughout his rodeo career and there was not a tougher match roper in the business when Fred was going strong. In 1940, Fred's brother, Casey, and Joe Glenn paid his dues to join the "Turtles," a pro rodeo association. (The "Turtles Association" was the beginning of the pro rodeo cowboy association of today.) Fred won money at his first pro rodeo and never looked back. He attended several National Finals Rodeos as a contestant. He wound up fourth for the team roping title in 1953, 1954, 1955, and in 1959. He was fourth four times. Fred was respected by his peers as they elected him to serve on the Rodeo Cowboys Association Board as a team roping director.

I must also say Fred was a good teacher and passed down good team roping genes, as his son Billy qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in 1968, 1969, 1970,1971,1972, and 1974.

What made Fred so tough was that he didn't beat himself. He was a thinker. But when something did go wrong he always told it like it was. There were no excuses. If you missed you missed. Fred rode good horses that he trained himself. Jim Hudson always said, 'When Fred Darnell shows up at a roping, check his horses very close. They may have a cocklebur in the tail or a little mud on them, but they are probably the best horses in the arena." Son Billy talked about his dad letting him ride his good horses at the ranch. Billy said, "It was like driving a Cadillac."

In 1960, the family ranch at Rodeo, New Mexico, sold and Fred worked for the new owner until 1970. Then he and Elizabeth moved to Phoenix where he worked in a feedlot. In 1976, Fred and Elizabeth moved to Animas where he worked for the school district and helped his son on the Animas Ranch.

Fred took pride in his family and his horses. Fred never took himself too seriously, yet he instilled a can do attitude in most everyone around him. As we get to the later stages of Fred's life we learn that he only had one kidney and when it began to fail we knew he was in trouble. For three years he and Billy made the trip from Animas to Las Cruces for dialysis. They made this trip three times a week for three years. Billy tried to give him one of his kidneys, Fred wouldn't even talk about it. It was not only no, it was hell no. So when Fred reached the point in life where enough was enough he stopped the dialysis and the good Lord took him on February 21, 1996.

But don't you know when Fred reached the top of the stairs at the pearly gate and the voice from the other side asked, "What's your name?" Fred calmly said, "0 A Bar. That's my call."

Prepared and presented by Eddie Browning