John Van "Tex" Austin (1886 – 26 October 1938) was an American rodeo promoter, known as the "King of the Rodeo" or "Daddy of the Rodeo" because of his efforts to popularize the rodeo outside of its core American West demographic.
He owned the Forked Lightning Ranch in New Mexico. From 1925 to 1929, he was promoter, manager, and director of the Chicago Roundup.
Austin's birth name, in St. Louis, Missouri, was Clarence Van Nostrand. In 1908, he left St. Louis and adopted a new persona, changing his name (and usually was called Tex Austin) and saying that he was raised on a cattle ranch in Victoria, Texas. He worked at the L.F.D. Ranch in Roswell, New Mexico and then at a ranch at Las Vegas, New Mexico.
He claimed to have worked for Don Luis Terrazas, the Chihuahua cattle baron of the Creel-Terrazas Family. In 1910, he was a captain under Francisco Villa in Madero's revolutionary forces against Diaz.
He even took his rodeo to the newly opened Wembley Stadium in London, in 1924. Austin took to Britain such rodeo stars as: Ike Rude, Manerd Gayler, Dave Campbell and Rube Roberts. The rodeo was challenged by animal rights activists attempting to get a court order barring the rodeo on the basis of animal cruelty. The Wembly rodeo, in which Austin lost $20,000, was to cause Parliament to pass the Protection of Animals Act 1934 which made it an offense to rope an untrained animal or to ride one using a cruel appliance such as a strap cinched tight around its genitals. Tex Austin returned to London with his rodeo in 1934 and they performed before the king and queen. Bronc riders including Herman Linder, Frank Sharp, and Pete Knight rode in the 1934 London rodeo; the featured bucking horse of the show was the legendary Midnight.
In the early 1920s, he was involved with the Vermejo Park Ranch guest ranch.
In 1925, he bought land in the old 5,500-acre (22 km2) Pecos Pueblo Grant for a guest ranch called Forked Lightning Ranch. The main ranch house was one of the first works of John Gaw Meem. The ranch is now part of the Pecos National Historic Park. Austin would hold cattle drives between the ranch and Las Vegas, New Mexico, recruiting city folk back east to participate in the drives. The ranch was later owned by Buddy Folgeson and the actress Greer Garson.
He committed suicide in 1938, a few weeks after getting a diagnosis that he was going blind. He died of carbon monoxide inhalation while he was in his car at his home. Photographs of his rodeo days were found stacked on the couch of his home.
He was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1976.
Notes and references
- U.P.I. (26 October 1938) "Death Cancels Plans King of Rodeo Shows" Kokomo Tribune p. 2, col. 8
- Staff (29 December 1928) "“King of the Rodeo” Now showing at Gem" The Salt Lake Tribune p. 15, col. 2
- Forked Lightning Ranch - nps.gov - Retrieved February 18, 2008
- Staff (19 September 1936) "Austin Given Famous Mint Special Recipe" Santa Fe New Mexican p. 1, col. 1
- This fact is disputed. The Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, held in Fort Worth in February, 1918, also claims to be the first indoor rodeo. Tanner, Beccy (16 January 2012). "World's first indoor rodeo? Texas and Kansas haggle over bragging rights". The Wichita Eagle. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015.
- Staff (28 June 1935) "Cowboy Title To Be Sought For in August" The Arcadia Tribune p. 2, col. 2
- Staff (25 July 1935) "“They've All Been Throwed,” Says Veteran Rider of 'Outlaw' Broncs" Galveston Daily News p. 9, col. 1
- This rodeo was organized by Charles Cochran, and managed by Tex Austin. It ran from 14 June to 5 July 1924 and was the First International Rodeo. "Mrs. Grant E. Ashby Rodeo Collection 1924-1983" National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
- Porter, Willard H. (1975) "A Visit with Ike Rude" Roping and Riding: Fast Horses and Short Ropes A.S. Barnes, Cranbury, New Jersey, p. 39 ISBN 0-498-01549-1
- "ASKS PREMIER TO STOP RODEO STEER ROPING; British Society Appeals 'in Name of Humanity' Against Contest of American Cowboys.". New York Times. 17 June 1924. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
- "COCHRAN A BANKRUPT; SPORTS VENTURES FAIL; Troubles of 'King of English Showmen' Included Dempsey-Carpentier Fight and Rodeo.". New York Times. 12 September 1924. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
- "Protection of Animals Act 1934" Chapter 21 Geo. 5, 17 May 1934 amending the "Protection of Animals Act 1911", United Kingdom
- Carson, Gerald (April 1972) "The Late, Late Frontier" American Heritage (Magazine) 23(3): p.75
- The National Sporting Club Ltd., under the direction of Tex Austin, presented the 1934 London rodeo held at White City, London, 9 June to 6 July 1934."Mrs. Grant E. Ashby Rodeo Collection 1924-1983" National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
- Staff (28 August 1936) "From Rodeos to Restaurants; Tex Austin Takes Up New Role" Santa Fe New Mexican p. 2, col. 4
- Staff (27 October 1938) "Facing Blindness, Tex Austin Takes His Own Life" Albuquerque Journal p. 2, col. 1