by Jim Olson
“When I was a teen-age kid on ranches in Texas and Oklahoma, Foghorn Clancy had already made quite a name for himself in rodeos. Neither of us knew then that we were later to meet and work together in such rodeos as the Fort Worth Stock Show, Houston Stock Show, Madison Square Garden and practically every major rodeo throughout the country, and to become warm personal friends.” Gene Autry, 1952.
Ever wonder how they announced a Rodeo or Wild West Show before the advent of the public address (speaker) system? Especially some of those early, large, outdoor shows where events were held in arenas ¼ of a mile long with crowds in the tens of thousands? I will tell you how. His name was Foghorn Clancy.
Frederick Melton “Foghorn” Clancy was born April 4, 1882 to John P. and Fannie W. Clancy in Phoenix City, Alabama. When young Clancy was about a year-and-half-old, his father died, leaving a widow with four young boys to raise. When he was about ten, his mother remarried to a Texas rancher and the family moved there. By the time he was fourteen, Frederick thought he was a top-hand, so he set out on his own to be a cowboy.
His first, and really only, “real” cowboy job was on a ranch just out of Mineral Wells, Texas. He worked there about two years. In his book, My 50 Years in Rodeo, Foghorn states he left the ranch to go to town and join the Army for the Spanish – American war in February of 1898. The Army turned down the fifteen-year-old for service.
Having spent all his money while in town, Clancy hunted around for a job. He got one working for the local newspaper. He became the new town crier. His voice boomed so, that folks soon dubbed him “Foghorn.” The name stuck.
In July of that year, Foghorn and a friend set out for the Fourth of July celebration at San Angelo, Texas where they were having a roping and riding contest (they were not called rodeos yet). Foghorn entered the bronc riding because he fancied himself as a pretty good “bronc peeler.” He was promptly bucked off!
Foghorn later said that, although his pride was hurt, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to him. The promoter of the show came up and said, “Young man, you are not much of a bronc rider, but I have heard you are the town crier at Mineral Wells. If you want a job announcing the show, I could use you.” Thus ended his bronc riding career (after one horse) and entered a new career. He had his first announcing job.
Foghorn recalls Booger Red won the bronc riding and J. Ellison Carroll, the roping contest. But what really stood out about that first contest he announced at San Angelo in 1898, was that Foghorn Clancy became hooked on announcing. He sought to make a career of it (which was practically unheard of at the time).
Luckily for the rest of the world, Clancy was able to find sufficient work announcing. In the beginning, he called polo games, boxing matches, carnivals and of course, Wild West shows (later rodeos). Just about anything he could in order to put a little jingle in his pocket. Through it all, he eventually emerged as the premier rodeo announcer of the early 1900s.
In 1911, while announcing the Kansas State Fair, Foghorn introduced President William Howard Taft to the audience. When given the floor, the President opened his speech with, “If I possessed the voice of your announcer, you might all hear me as clearly as you heard him.” There were reportedly sixty-thousand people there and newspaper reporters commented on the President’s remark. Foghorn later wrote, “This not only gave me a lift in spirits, it was great publicity and I began to branch out and travel further distances from home to announce bigger shows.”
Along the way, Foghorn got into the promotion end of the business as well. He often hired out as a promoter and announcer for various Wild West shows and rodeos. In this case, he would show up a couple of weeks in advance to a particular town. He would do publicity, then when the time came, he would announce the show in his booming voice.
In those years of transition between Wild West shows to rodeos, he explains the main difference being Wild West shows were a paid performance for the cowboys and cowgirls where the rodeo “contest” was no guaranteed check. Contestants only won a percentage of the entry fees for placing at a rodeo contest. Some shows did a combination of both.
Foghorn made many note-worthy friends during his years of being connected with rodeo. One year, while announcing Houston, Will Rogers was making an appearance at the request of the committee. Even though they had given him a whole row of box seats, he never spent time in them. Instead, he made his way to the announcers stand to watch the rodeo with his friend, Foghorn. Of course, Will knew most of the cowboys. They would come by and say “howdy” in between events. Many of them offered Will and Foghorn a drink when they stopped by. Will joked later that “It was just like meeting a bunch of varmints at a water hole.”
Foghorn was quite successful at promoting shows for other people. Throughout his stellar career, he promoted for Tex Austin, Pawnee Bill, Colonel Jim Eskew, Guy Weadick, Colonel Zack Mulhall,C.B. Irwin, Gene Autry and many others. Foghorn tried, but was not very successful at promoting his own show. Probably due to bad timing (the onset of the Great Depression in 1929) Foghorn almost went broke trying to produce his Bar C Wild West show.
During the depression, Foghorn contemplated bankruptcy. He lost his home, his stock and just about everything else. By now, announcers were using a “public address system” and having a booming voice was not as important as it once was. Having a good spiel and working cheaply was. Announcers could be had just about anywhere for a few bucks. Rodeo committees, with the exception of a few large shows, would not pay the added cost of travel, room and board to have someone like Foghorn come work during those bleak years. It was through this time that Clancy reinvented himself.
Although he was accustomed to writing promotional articles for newspapers in the line of duty while promoting, Foghorn never really considered himself a columnist. That changed however as trade publications such as “Hoofs and Horns” began to carry his column “Memory Trail” and other rodeo articles penned by him.
Foghorn was an authority on the early days of rodeo. He lived it. It is lucky for us that he wrote about those early days. If not for this, much of the early history would not have been recorded. Foghorn Clancy unknowingly became one of rodeos first historians!
On the anniversary of his being involved in rodeo for fifty whole years, he wrote a book titled, My Fifty Years in Rodeo: Living with Cowboys, Horses and Danger. This book has been one of the go-to places for current-day historians to find reference material for years.
In his latter years of rodeo involvement, Foghorn wrote rodeo columns for several different publications. He also promoted rodeos, almost exclusively by this time, for Col. Jim Eskew in the eastern part of the United States. The die-hard Texan family even made their home in Waverly, New York for a good many years while he worked for Eskew.
Foghorn Clancy married Alice H. Clancy, affectionately known as “Mother Clancy” to the rodeo crowd. The couple raised five children together—mostly on the road.
Rodeo’s first announcer and historian died April 28, 1957. In 1991, Foghorn was posthumously inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum’s, Rodeo Hall of Fame. n