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Bull Rider Reflects On His Groundbreaking Rodeo Career

Bull Rider Reflects On His Groundbreaking Rodeo Career


From humble beginnings to a lasting legacy, a multi-faceted Black cowboy’s journey along the road less traveled

By Bob Wooley
Special to the Wyoming Truth (AP Storyshare)

For many young boys, growing up to be a cowboy and rodeo star is the ultimate dream. But for Abe Morris the dream became a reality, leading him to a new home in the Mountain West, a successful bull riding career and a life filled with adventure.

Morris attended the University of Wyoming on academic and rodeo scholarships in the mid-1970s — a time when Black cowboys on campus were a rare sight. After earning  a degree in business management, Morris hit the rodeo circuit, qualifying for the Mountain States Circuit Finals Rodeo eight times and the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo twice. A career in rodeo broadcasting followed, including calling the action at Cheyenne Frontier Days for nine seasons.

Now in his 60s, Morris works for the Department of Veterans Affairs to help families access their benefits and spends time with his son, Justin, a sports journalist.

A life-long affinity for chocolate chip cookies has spurred his interest in creating a business to rival the Keebler Elves and sweeten his legacy.

The Wyoming Truth spoke with Morris about his career and life away from the chutes. What follows are excerpts from the conversation.

How does a kid from New Jersey get interested in bull riding?

Morris: I had four older cousins who lived about 150 yards from a rodeo arena and participated in junior rodeo events. When I was like 5 years 0ld, just out of the blue, my father said Im gonna take you down the road to live with your aunt for a while.” I went and stayed with her family for the whole summer of 1962 before I started kindergarten.

Had you ever been on a horse before that?

Morris: No. My cousins wanted me to be a cowboy like them. I didnt want anything to do with what I called “them stinky animals,” so they would bribe me to get on a pony. They didn’t give me any instructions. They just put me on and told me, Hold on to the mane.” The ponies would just take off running. My cousins thought it was funny. Once I figured out how to ride, I thought it was fun.

How did you go from riding ponies to riding bulls?

Morris: This guy named Howard Harris got me started. He added junior bull riding to his rodeos to get younger bulls used to getting into the bucking chutes and [give] kids a chance to learn how to ride bulls. So I started riding junior bulls when I was 10 years old.

Do you remember your first bull ride?

Morris: Oh yeah! My cousins picked out the easiest one — basically, a runner — so I got on, and he ran around the whole pen. My hand was shaking like a leaf. . . .I remember the gate opening and the bull just crow-hopped out of the chute. I didnt know if I was on or off at that point. It was like I blacked out. Then the next thing I remember is hearing the whistle blow, and I was still on the bull. I won second place and got paid $7.50. I was hooked.

Was there ever any doubt you’d turn pro?

Morris: When I was 16, I broke my leg riding a bull in practice. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to come back. I sat out for a whole year. When I came back, I was scared to get on. They picked out an easy bull for me to get my confidence back up. So I got on the bull, and he started jumping around and bucking the chute. I said, in a terrified tone, “Just let me get off, and I’ll get back on.” Of course, they didn’t let me get off. And afterwards, they said, “If you’d have gotten off, you’d have never gotten on another bull again.”

How was your reception at UW?

Morris: They embraced me like you wouldn’t believe. The rodeo team just wrapped their arms around me. . . .

Were you expecting a warm welcome?

Morris: I didn’t know what to expect. . . I’d never even competed at a rodeo unless my cousins were on the bucking chutes.

In rodeo, people judge you by your buckles. Every freshman on the rodeo team had a buckle. But I’d never had an opportunity to compete for one. I was shy and skinny. I stashed my hat and boots away. I didn’t want anybody to know I was a cowboy because I didn’t like the attention.

Then, one day I was wearing a T-shirt that said “Rodeo. America’s Number One Sport,” and one of the Black football players asked why I was wearing it, and I said, “I’m a cowboy.” He was cracking up, saying, “There’s no such thing as a Black cowboy!” When I showed him pictures of me competing, he ran off with my photo album to show the other football players that I really was a Black cowboy.

Back then, the college rodeo was on campus. So the first time I competed, all of the football players and people in my dorm came to support me.

When did you decide to give professional bull riding a shot?

Morris: I got my PRCA card the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college.

Back then, were you aware that the first Black cowboy to get a PRCA card had gotten it just 10 years earlier?

Morris: Oh yeah! When I was a kid, I knew all about Myrtis Dightman. Sometimes when I was riding junior bulls, they’d call me Myrtis Morris.

You were one of the pioneers. Do you ever think about that?

Morris: I understand what I’ve done, and the legacy, or whatever I’m going to leave behind. But I don’t dwell on it.

Is that from a good upbringing or the fact that rodeo keeps people humble?

Morris: It’s both. We were all scared — not terrified to the point we wouldn’t get on. But every bull rider has that moment of fear. How could you not? Getting into that bucking chute keeps you pretty grounded.

I didn’t stop riding bulls until around 1994, when I was 38 years old. I won first place at a rodeo in Riverton that season. The next night, I got a bull in Cheyenne that jacked me up. He blasted me — messed up my hip. It was a long recovery, but I wanted to come back. And then one day a guy told me, “You’ve gone about as far as you can. It takes a braver man to walk away from this sport.” I took his advice; I never rode another bull after that.

I’d already had my PRCA announcer’s card by then, and I was also selling life insurance. I worked as an announcer for the next nine years. I was so busy when I retired from riding, I never had time to look back.

What made Cheyenne Frontier Days a special event to cover?

Morris: When I was a kid, I watched Cheyenne Frontier Days on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” Curt Gowdy was the announcer, and I never dreamed that one day I’d be doing what he was doing. The first year I was the announcer was the year that Lane Frost was fatally injured during his ride. I was the last on-camera interview he did before his final ride. Afterwards, when I heard he hadn’t survived, I sobbed. Lane was such a friendly and cordial guy, and it was a tremendous loss for the sport.

Was your son a rodeo fan?

Morris: My son loved the rodeo. He used to watch tapes of me competing, and he would pretend he was riding a bull on the arm of the couch. When his ride was over, he would jump off, toss his hat in the air and throw his hands up in victory…just like he’d seen me do. He got on a steer one time, and he wanted to keep going, but since he was playing other sports at a high level, I felt it was too risky to let him keep doing it.

What’s the latest with your cookie business?

Morris:  When I have time, I bake cookies to sell at rodeo events. It’s something I hope to pursue in a big way when I retire.

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