Tom Blasingame

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Thomas Everett "Tom" Blasingame
Born (1898-02-12)February 12, 1898
Waxahachie, Ellis County, Texas, USA
Died December 27, 1989(1989-12-27) (aged 91)
Claude, Armstrong County, Texas
Occupation Rancher
Spouse(s) Eleanor Aloe Morris Blasingame (1914–1999, married 1933–his death)
Children

Tom Blasingame, Jr.

Nancy B. Etheridge
Notes

(1) Blasingame was presumably the oldest cowboy in the history of the American West, having devoted seventy-three of his ninety-one years to ranching.

(2) Blasingame taught former Texas State Senator Teel Bivins of Amarillo how to handle livestock.

(3) In his typical work week, Blasingame slept in a camp house without electricity and rode a hundred miles per day.

Thomas Everett Blasingame, known as Tom Blasingame (February 12, 1898 – December 27, 1989),[1] was a Texas cowboy for seventy-three years. At ninety-one, he was still on the job at the JA Ranch south of Amarillo. Two days after Christmas in 1989, he dismounted his horse, Ruidosa, stretched out on the grass, folded his arms across his chest, and died.[2] Blasingame received many honors for his longevity and dedication to ranching.

Born in Waxahachie, the seat of Ellis County, south of Dallas, Blasingame decided as a child that he would work on a ranch. In 1918, he headed to the Texas Panhandle and was hired on the large JA spread, which had been jointly established in the Palo Duro Canyon by John George Adair (1823–1885) and Charles Goodnight (1836–1929), probably the best-known of Texas ranchers throughout history.[3]

Ranching experiences[edit]

Before he settled permanently at the JA, Blasingame worked for a time on ranches in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Blasingame said that he moved about during the 1920s so that he could see the country. Working for different ranches was the only way a poor man could travel, he said. He described life on the ranch accordingly:

We lived outside all the time. We had our bedrolls rolled up in a tarp. If it was raining, we'd just cover up with our tarps and sit there. We'd bathe in the river. It was pretty cold sometimes. We lived on beef and pinto beans. The meat kept fine outdoors. It was a lot better than this Frigidaire meat, you bet. Down on the desert outfits, they made lots of jerky. I'd eat it with biscuits if they was good, or I'd just eat it straight. You didn't have many good bread cooks out in the camp. In the wintertime, we'd have them steaks for breakfast, and gravy. It was a pack outfit, so you didn't get eggs or anything like that. It had to be stuff you could pack, but I never got tired of eating the same thing all the time."[2]

Blasingame here describes his experiences training horses:

I like to break horses. They raised their own horses here at JA and they'd break about forty broncs every spring, 4-year-olds. They was wild. They had run on the range. In the long run that was the best. A 4-year-old is pretty well hardened and hard to hurt, and he's got a good tough heart, too, not like these horses nowadays that are halter broken when they're winter colts not even a year old. I never did hit the horses much while I was breaking 'em, maybe a slap on the neck or somethin' just to let 'em know they done somethin' wrong. A horse is pretty smart. He knows when you're abusing him, and when you're not."[2]

Back at the JA, Blasingame lived on Campbell Creek in a camp house without electricity during the week and came to Claude, the seat of Armstrong County east of Amarillo and north of the ranch, on weekends to see his wife, the former Eleanor Aloe Morris (May 26, 1914 - October 3, 1999),[1] the daughter of a neighboring rancher whom he married on November 2, 1933. At the time of her death, Eleanor was living in Boise, Idaho, the city of residence of her son, Thomas White Blasingame (born ca. 1936), and her daughter, Nancy B. Etheridge (born ca. 1946). She hence outlived her husband by nearly a decade. The Blasingames had four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.[3] Blasingame was not affiliated with a church but said that he had "read lots of books. Read the Bible a lot. I believe what the Bible says, but I don't reckon I'm religious. Even if I was, I couldn't go to church because I've got too much work to do."[2]

Tributes to Blasingame[edit]

In 1986, television news anchor Barbara West produced an award-winning television mini-documentary on Blasingame. This program introduced the then-unknown Blasingame to America when it was shown on many US stations at the time and Dan Rather used it in his on-air tribute at the time of Blasingames's death.

Former Texas State Senator and Ambassador to Sweden Teel Bivins, an Amarillo Republican, introduced a Senate resolution on March 1, 1990, which hails Blasingame's accomplishments. Bivins, whose family has long held ranching interests in the Texas Panhandle, recalled that Blasingame personally taught Bivins as a youngster how to handle livestock.[4]

In 1989, Blasingame received the "Texas Trailblazer Award" at the annual Texas Ranch Roundup. It was noted that he had full days, often riding a hundred miles, and having returned to his camp house to prepare his evening meal. His only luxury was said to have been his transistor radio, which he used to listen to Texas Rangers baseball. Blasingame also received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. In 1986, Governor Mark Wells White recognized Blasingame for his dedication to ranching.[3]

"Tom Blasingame" is also the title of a western song with lyrics by Ian Tyson. The composition refers to "eighty-five years in the saddle" because Blasingame began horseback riding at the age of six.

Blasingame's tenure at the JA Ranch partly corresponded with that of Clarence Hailey Long, the inspiration of the original Marlboro Man advertising campaign.[3]

Some six months before his death, Blasingame appeared at the first ever gathering of the American Cowboy Culture Association, which holds the annual National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration in Lubbock, Texas.[5]

At Blasingame's funeral in the JA Cemetery (where Eleanor would also be interred thereafter), a tent was erected for friends and the media representatives who attended. No one had been buried in the old ranch cemetery for years, but Blasingame requested to be buried there. Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie "Ninia" Bivins, the only child of owner and ranch manager Montgomery Harrison Wadsworth "Montie" Ritchie and herself the JA heir, led an empty saddle procession to the cemetery, with cowboys following her. Mrs. Bivins saddled Blasingame's gray horse and turned his second best pair of boots backwards in the stirrups, much as the military does to honor its fallen comrades by demonstrating an "empty spot" difficult to fill.

Western writer Linda M. Hasselstrom wrote a poem about Tom Blasingame entitled “Death of the Last Cowhand.” It appears in her book Bitter Creek Junction (High Plains Press, 2000). It also may be found on her website.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Social Security Death Index Interactive Search
  2. ^ a b c d Tom Blasingame
  3. ^ a b c d Exhibit at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon
  4. ^ Texas State Senate, Resolution by Teel Bivins of Amarillo honoring the memory of Tom Blasingame, March 1, 1990
  5. ^ "National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration, Inc. (Lubbock, Texas)". cowboy.org. Retrieved September 5, 2013.