Veteran rodeo clown shares 30 years in the business

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 16, 2007

GALLION &8212; His friends and family know Tony Tidwell as one of many things: a prize-winning cook, a craftsman of homemade barbed wire Christmas wreaths and an animal lover. He is known in the rodeo world as a rodeo clown named &8220;Rawhide.&8221;

Tidwell recently relocated to Gallion from Brownwood, Texas; where he had a rodeo career spanning more than 30 years, both as a rider and a clown.

When asked what it is about the rodeo that appeals to him, Tidwell immediately pointed out the danger. Just like with NASCAR and Mexican bull fighting, he mused, people are drawn to thrill of seeing danger.

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But more importantly, Tidwell comes from a family of cowboys and people involved in the rodeo. He said he had his first experience clowning when he was in the 10th grade.

Wheat Peck, a veteran rodeo clown, taught Tidwell everything he knew about the business.

From his own experiences, Tidwell boasts several scars and even broke his neck once from rodeo-related injuries. When he was still a bull rider, however, he saw even worse.

Tidwell was present when Lane Frost, the 1989 World Championship Bull Rider, was killed in Cheyenne, Wyo. at the feet of a bull.

One of the responsibilities of a rodeo clown is to interfere with the bull after a rider has dismounted in order to prevent injuries. They also assist in un-hanging a rider who might be caught. Similarly, riders can interfere if a bull charges one of the clowns.

Although the aspect of danger being in the ring is appealing, Tidwell said his favorite part about being a clown is making children laugh and seeing people entertained.

Tidwell is currently training a three-month old rat terrier named Liberty Star &8212; named for being born on July 4 &8212; to be his show dog when he goes to work rodeos next year in Chipley, Fla. He also plans to train spider monkeys to go along with his act. He will be in the ring to provide crowd entertainment, while three to four other clowns will be in charge of the bulls.

In his time in the industry, Tidwell said he has seen things change. For one, interest has grown so much, riders are able to make a decent wage for their efforts, he said.

Tidwell said they also train bulls differently now, with mechanical boxes to simulate riders, much like a mechanical bull for humans to simulate the animal&8217;s kicks and bucks.

But one thing has remained the same about the rodeo: where you can find one.

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