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February 2017

Slim Pickens
Slim Pickens 
In 1944 the war was at its zenith and no rodeo was held, but in 1945 directors decided to bring the event back for a four-day run. There was some criticism because the war was not over. Some were concerned the city would be too crowded and there would be a lack of food. The concerns proved to be unfounded. Unrationed egg and poultry supplies provided enough for 80,000 meals, and buffalos slaughtered at Idlewild Park let the rodeo association to announce it would be serving buffalo burgers.

Charles Sadleir was again the rodeo association president and Harry Rowell the stock contractor. Slim Pickens was the rodeo clown.

Long before he appeared in such movies as Dr. Strangelove and the Apple Dumplin’ Gang, Slim Pickens was a cowboy and bullfighter.

He appeared in rodeos from the age of 12 and was one of the top clowns on the professional rodeo circuit before entering films in 1950. He was the clown at the Reno Rodeo several times in the mid and late 1940s.
“I knew Slim real well,” said Hall of Fame rodeo star Gerald Roberts. He used to ride broncs and bulldog before he ever got into the movies. He worked for me when I put on a couple of shows.”

Roberts said Pickens was a fair bronc rider, but really made his mark as a rodeo clown, where he was fighting bulls using a cape in the same way as the Mexican matadors. His rapport with the crowds was excellent. He was nicknamed “El Toreador.”

“He was exactly the same way in real life as he was in films,” Roberts said. “ He was always fun to be around, always had a joke to tell.”

Pickens, who died in 1983, returned to the Reno Rodeo from time to time after his Hollywood career was launched. He was the recipient of the Silver Spurs Award, presented to celebrities who have kept the western spirit alive, and was grand marshal of the Reno Rodeo parade.


The stories for the Count Down to 100 are excerpts from “A History – The First 80 Years” by Guy Clifton.

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