APACHE, Okla. – Mongo was in lockdown, in punishment mode.
After escaping his fencing near the front of the house in attempts to cavort with a neighbor’s cows, the big guy was temporarily incarcerated behind stronger horizontal bars just outside Maury Tate’s small, square office structure.
“I had to catch Mongo to put him in a pen,” Tate said.
For those who know Mongo as the stationary, gigantic, but calm bull who spends his summer evenings at Cody Nite Rodeo posing for pictures at Stampede Park, this was a wild adventure.
Tate, the Mo Betta Rodeo operator who recently completed 15 seasons as supervisor of the Nite Rodeo, as always was keeping a bit more of a hectic pace than the 2,000-pound gray animal who is a bonus gate attraction.
For a decade-and-a-half, Tate has been a fixture in Cody without Cody much glimpsing his connection to Oklahoma other than repeatedly having the name of his hometown an hour from Oklahoma City mentioned by rodeo announcers.
“I spend more time in Cody, Wyoming, than I do anyplace,” Tate said.
Call Cody a second home. But this is the primary one, where his late parents’ house still stands.
At his desk inside the building next to Mongo, walls heavily decorated with rodeo-related items, Tate was on the telephone.
Whereas once a rope was the main piece of equipment Tate carried around with him as a top-20 nationally ranked calf roper, now a telephone is his lifeline.
In fall or winter, Tate may deal with 100 telephone calls or texts a day, his comparative off-season.
“Shoot, but it’s nothing like Cody,” Tate said.
Awards earned, photographs of rodeo events, a framed Dusty Tuckness shirt – the champion bullfighter is a close friend of the Tates – all accessorize the soft chairs, couch and television set.
This ranch spread of 2,000 acres is the heartbeat of the rodeo operation. While some livestock winters in Wyoming, there were roughly 200 bulls and 100 horses spread out over the land where Tate was also raised.
Now it is the base camp where Tate spends a chunk of the year with wife Nikki and daughters Cydney and Hadley, though they are grown and in their own orbits much of the time.
For Tate, that means he is here when other rodeos in Oklahoma, Houston, San Antonio and Denver do not beckon. This week he is off to Las Vegas, for the National Finals Rodeo.
Cydney has her own business and spends time in Dallas. Hadley attends Southwestern Oklahoma State and is on the rodeo team.
Before he became a stock contractor, Tate attended Western Oklahoma State and was a prominent roper.
The ranch is located about seven miles outside of Apache, population 1,500.
“I still know most everyone,” Tate said. “Anytime you’ve been raised in a place, it’s home.”
For a guy who travels so much, Tate is pretty much a homebody at heart.
Creating a good show
Downtown buildings, including a casino, are condensed into a few blocks.
Once, a multistory structure housed Mo Betta Shirts, Tate’s successful outfit that struck it big when rodeo stars and country and western stars (most prominently Garth Brooks) alike gravitated to his clothing. Tate was responsible for creating many jobs in this town.
Closer to the ranch is the Boone School, where Tate went to elementary school, mostly with local Native Americans.
In-between school and downtown is a cafe named Lucky’s, where he regularly stops for lunch.
“Everyone comes here,” Tate said of the establishment where sure enough when he walked in, there sat another rodeo figure, Hunter Herrin. Herrin spent most of the summer of 2018 tie-down roping in Cody.
Tates and Herrins go back. Herrin’s mother once worked for Maury. Right then Herrin was finishing up an early bite to go watch his son practice with the junior high school football team.
As a stock contractor and rodeo promoter, Tate’s obligation to the Cody Stampede Board of Directors and to Cody, is to supervise a smooth-operating rodeo for 90 straight nights to entertain Yellowstone National Park tourists and residents and keeps the community’s rodeo tradition alive.
Tate makes sure spectators are presented with a good show without ever learning how clown acts had to be doubled up, or riders had to take more than one turn on a bull.
There are acres of wide open pasture land on Tate’s ranch. Sometimes horses will trot up close to fences hard by dirt roads. Other times they may only be seen in the distance – raise those binoculars.
Same for the bulls. Driving around the property in a pick-up truck, Tate can point out veterans who may not be returning to Cody Nite Rodeo, and others making up the future crop and likely will be bucking off cowboys during the summer of 2020.
“They’re coming,” Tate said, gesturing to one group of bulls.
Although the announcer works off a sheet to tell the crowd the name of the bull a competitor is sitting on, Tate and his workers use numbers for the same animals.
Nikki has a list of names for bulls. At times, Cydney and Hadley have named livestock. But they do not have exclusive rights.
“I’ve got a guy in town,” Tate said. “He’s always coming up with names.”
Still, names are for show since rodeo livestock does not respond to names being called the way pets do.
It was sunny, with grass fading in color, but the fall air mild, neither frosty nor toasty.
What seemed surprising was a visible lack of laborers busy performing routine tasks.
An entire tag-team team of workers ensure Cody Nite Rodeo follows a schedule.
“Here, I don’t have help,” Tate said.
He may do the feeding himself and do fence repair. Nikki was handling some painting projects.
Making a cameo appearance, who did some outdoor work this day, was Justin Josey, the former Cody Nite bullfighter now on the Bullfighters Only circuit.
Josey went to high school with Cydney Tate and five years ago came to Cody for the summer to learn about rodeo. Now it is his life.
In-between Tate receiving texts and phone calls, Josey discussed a recent 25-day visit to Spain.
Josey has fallen in love with Spain, but part of it is a professional curiosity. The home of bullfighting of another sort means he can study bulls’ habits and tendencies and believes the education helps him better understand rodeo bulls.
Responding to a tease that one day he will become a matador in Europe, Josey conceded it is not impossible he will try it.
Another visitor, almost literally on a drive-by, was Hadley.
As evidence of the continuing close ties between the Tates and Cody, when Hadley turned pro earlier this year after her 18th birthday, she listed her home with the PRCA as Cody. Her jeep is also registered in Wyoming.
This day, as she swapped it out for another vehicle, she paused said “Love you, dad,” and took off.
Tate is likely to start his Apache days at 6:30 a.m. The first task may be visiting the downtown Co-op for supplies.
There may be as many ranchers shopping there as pause at Lucky’s for lunch.
Actually, on Thursdays, everyone eats at the Sale Barn’s cafe, which is only open that one day a week.
Conversational topics at these random meetings are probably the weather, horses, cattle and branding. A new generation of livestock.
“Right now, we’re trying to get my calves weaned and colts weaned,” Tate said of autumn work.
As he drove past ranch fencing pointing out the old buildings, at times no structures could be seen, only empty land stretching to the horizon.
The previous generation started this, he expanded it and Maury Tate’s children are linked to it. Three generations.
Ranching, livestock, family. The land supported everything.