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Cowboy Heroes

by Jim Olson

“Tad Lucas – First Lady of Rodeo

Tad Lucas was known for many years as “The First Lady of Rodeo.” She competed, not only in the United States, but in Canada, Mexico, England and Australia as well. She was an expert horsewoman who performed in trick riding, bronc riding and relay racing. She was best-known for her “daring and courage” in the trick riding event.

Born Barbara Inez Barnes on September 1, 1902, at Cody, Nebraska, she was the youngest of twenty-four children! Her parents were Lorenzo White Barnes and Hannah Garthside Barnes. She claimed her father gave her the nickname “Tadpole” (later shortened to Tad) because she never really crawled like other children as a baby, she just seemed to slither along. Before long, she moved from “slithering along,” to riding. She started a-horseback at such a young age, that later in life she could never remember a time when she was not an equestrienne.

She and her brothers rode colts from an early age and they often rode calves just for the fun of it. She participated in various informal contests and horseback races against other local ranch children and Sioux Indian children from the area. Tad entered her first rodeo at the Gordon, Nebraska, Fair in 1917. It was reported she won the girls’ steer riding event. She was only fourteen.

Tad had made up her mind to follow rodeo as a career after seeing her first one a few years prior. By the time she was twenty, she hired on with a Wild West Show. She became a professional cowgirl.

For a couple of years she toured the United States and Mexico with a group of Wild West performers and Rodeo Cowboys. Along the way, she met James Edward “Buck” Lucas who also worked for the Wild West Show. The two were among a group of performers who were selected for Tex Austin’s Wild West Troupe to perform in London, England in June of 1924.

While in New York City, awaiting departure, Tad and Buck were married. Their honeymoon was the voyage to London. It was also in London that Tad first debuted as a trick rider, wowing the crowds.

After returning from England, Tad and Buck built a home near Fort Worth, Texas. She would live there the rest of her life, raising two daughters along the way.

From the 1920s through the mid-40s, Tad competed at just about every major rodeo across the country. She won titles at the Cheyenne Frontier Days in trick riding as well as relay racing and bronc riding. She also won at rodeos in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Fort Worth and even Sidney, Australia, to name a few.

From 1928-30, Tad won the All-Around Cowgirl title at Madison Square Garden and was awarded the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer trophy as a result―which remained one of her most prized possessions.

Sometime in the mid-20s, Tad and Buck became partners in the Triangle Rodeo Company and produced shows for a few years. One of their most famous bucking horses was called Fiddle Face. Her favorite trick horse was a little black horse called Candy Lamb.

A story once told by Tad: “Five Minutes to Midnight was once saddled for me in place of a black horse that looked like him. Jim Massey discovered the mistake just in time and suggested I forget the ride!”

She also said, “In the early 1930s, at Madison Square Garden, a girl told a gentleman she was Tad Lucas. She asked to wear his coat because she was cold, but never brought it back. Next day, the police came looking for me!”

Tad said they were big pranksters back in those days while killing time at the longer shows back East. She has told many stories of calling people at their hotels and pretending to be a reporter from such and such newspaper, asking for an interview. The cowboys (or cowgirls) would get all dressed up in their best duds to go and meet the reporter at a certain spot, usually a cafe. When the contestant arrived, looking like they just stepped out of a western movie (of course that was very out of place back East), they would sit around for a while waiting on the reporter who never showed―all the while receiving a ton of stares from the other patrons. Eventually, the pranksters would show up and let the poor subject off the hook, with a big hooray of course.

By all accounts, Tad was a woman of great humor, talent on a horse, and having plenty of spirit, courage and compassion.

Starting in the late ‘30s and through World War II, women’s events were dropped from most major rodeos. However, Tad remained active through a new organization. She was one of the charter members of the Girls’ Rodeo Association formed in 1948, the predecessor to the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA). She supported the fledging organization as a performer, contestant, officer and rodeo official through her retirement in 1958. In 1966, she was also one of the founders of the Rodeo Historical Society. She served as its president from 1970 to ‘74. She was elected to the board of directors for another ten years and became an honorary board member in 1984.

Tad was the first, and only person, honored by all three rodeo halls of fame. She was elected to the National Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1967 (the first woman elected), the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1978, and the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1979.

Tad is still considered one of the greatest rodeo cowgirls of all time and one of the most successful, popular, and famous women of rodeo history. In her will, she made provisions for a memorial award to honor women who excel in any field related to our Western heritage. After her death, daughter, Mitzi Lucas Riley made that dream come true by establishing the Tad Lucas Memorial award.

Barbara Inez “Tad” Lucas died on February 23, 1990, in Fort Worth―leaving behind the legacy of a cowgirl not soon to be forgotten.