It’s appropriate the most successful cowboy in the history of “the Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West” could be described the same way.
Casey Tibbs, at one time or another, was the wildest, richest cowboy of his day.
“He put ‘wild’ in ‘wild west,’” said his friend Sharkey Begovich, who had one of the best collections of Tibbs’ memorabilia anywhere displayed in his Gardnerville casino.
In the history of the Reno Rodeo, no cowboy ever won more events than Tibbs. His nine championships during the 1950s have never been challenged and likely never will.
Tibbs was born March 5, 1929 in a cabin 50 miles north of Fort Pierre, South Dakota, and started participating in rodeos at the age of 14. By the time he was 20, he had won his first world championship in saddle bronc, capturing the title in 1949. He was the youngest man ever to win a world saddle bronc title. Over the next decade, he won five more saddle bronc titles (his six are the most in PRCA history), two all around titles and a world title in bareback.
Tibbs won his first Reno Rodeo tile in 1951, winning a buck off and $500 prize in saddle bronc. He won the saddle bronc four of the next five years and captured all around titles in 1952, 1953 and 1956. He won bull riding in 1956.
Tibbs was rodeo’s biggest star in the 1950s, not only for the skill he showed in the arena, but for the flamboyance with which he participated. He was featured in Life magazine after winning the world all around in 1951. His friends included the elite of Hollywood, including Gene Autry and John Wayne.
His flamboyance in the arena was mirrored outside it. Tibbs was known to love drinking, fighting and gambling. He could win a big paycheck in a rodeo one day and blow it in a casino that night.
Long after his days of competing on rodeo circuit were over, he was a favorite with Reno Rodeo crowds, often being asked to join in the grand entry parade and participate in any way he could.
In his later years, Tibbs quit drinking and was known as one of rodeo’s greatest ambassadors. He was in the inaugural class inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame when it was established in 1979. A giant bronze statue of Tibbs riding the famed bronc Necktie was unveiled in 1989. Titled “The Champ,” the statue welcomes visitors to the Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Tibbs died January 28, 1990.