Spur collectors everywhere will surely recognize the name of Johnnie Mullins (sometimes incorrectly spelled Johnny Mullens). Several well-known spur makers from the first half of the 1900s made a “Johnnie Mullins” spur. The Crockett version is probably the most recognized, but perhaps that is because they produced so many. Other well-known spur makers making this pattern included Kelly Bros. and McChesney (Nacona).
Just who was Johnnie Mullins? And why his name is forever branded on a certain style of spurs?
Johnnie Mullins was born in Granbury, Texas, August 27, 1884, to Thomas Patrick Mullins and Nannie Terrell-Mullins. Both of his parents were of pioneer stock. Johnnie was one of ten children. His father died when he was a young boy, leaving his mother with nine children at home (the oldest was running a ranch in Indian Territory by this time).
When Johnnie was in about the eighth grade, he was sent to his oldest brother (Ed), in Indian Territory (near present-day Wagoner, Oklahoma). He learned to be a cowboy.
In his younger days, he worked on ranches in New Mexico, then South Dakota and Montana. He soon got tired of the cold North country however and returned to New Mexico once again to break horses for the historic JAL ranch.
Rodeo historian, Willard Porter said, “At seventeen, Mullins already had a reputation as a top horseman and horse breaker and he also knew a few things about a cow.”
While working with the JAL ranch, the Miller brothers, of Oklahoma, came to purchase stock for their ranch. They were also looking for cowboys to be in their 101 Ranch Wild West show, so they talked Mullins into joining up. It did not take much coaxing, probably, because he had already tasted the thrill of arena competition in Juarez, Mexico (where he won the bronc riding) not long before.
Mullins was off to a new career in the Wild West Shows. One that he excelled in.
At one time or another, he performed as a bronc rider, steer roper, trick rider and arena director in shows all across the United States, Canada and Mexico. In addition to the 101 Ranch, he performed with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, the Circle D Wild West Show (which was smaller than the 101 Ranch or Buffalo Bill shows, but said to be a wilder show) and he spent time doing trick riding for the Ringling Bros.
While he was with the 101 Ranch Wild West Show he met and became friends with Tom Mix—also a Wild West Show performer at that time. While doing a show in Indiana, a movie company from Chicago leased the entire outfit to make a “moving picture” (silent movie). Johnnie and Tom Mix were featured, along with about twenty cowboys and cowgirls and about fifty Native Americans. It was called Ranch Life in the Great Southwest. Another picture which Tom Mix and Mullins starred in was called Two Boys in Blue. Shortly after making these films, Tom Mix headed out to California to pursue a film career and Mullins stayed on with the Wild West Show. The two men remained friends until the death of Tom Mix in 1940. Mullins and Mix spent the night “whoopin’ it up” in Juarez, Mexico just days before Tom was killed in that fatal, single vehicle crash near Florence, Arizona.
Other famous men who were counted as Mullins friends include the cowboy actor, William S. Hart, Buffalo Bill, Will Rogers, Charles Russell, Will James, Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Warren Harding and the Prince of Wales.
After gaining a solid reputation as performer and arena director, Mullins was called by his old friend, Guy Weadick, (who had also worked in the 101 Ranch Wild West Show) to come to Canada and help organize the first Calgary Stampede. Mullins was in charge of the cowboys as arena boss and Weadick did the promoting. Mullins also rode broncs there each year from 1912-1917. In 1972, he was invited back to Calgary by management to be an honored guest during their sixty-year anniversary. He was one of fourteen present who had been there in 1912 for the inaugural show.
During the teens and up through the end of the Great Depression era, Mullins was an arena director and stock contractor at many of the best rodeos. In the 1920s he ran the Madison Square Garden rodeo for several seasons. A few of the other shows he ran, and or brought stock to were: Tucson, Arizona; Bozeman, Montana; the Philadelphia World’s Fair; Deer Lodge, Montana; San Antonio and Midland, Texas; Roswell, New Mexico; Bisbee and Douglas, Arizona. Mullins and S.D. Myers (the saddle maker) also helped start the El Paso Kids Rodeo to benefit area youth. Everywhere he went, Mullins was respected as a top hand and a man who could, “get the job done.”
During World War I, Johnnie rode broncs for a contractor who supplied horses for the U.S. Army. He would ride anywhere from one-hundred to one-hundred-fifty horses per day for the Army officers to view. Most of them bucked!
Johnnie once said in an interview, “Doing this for four years, you are bound to get on a lot of bucking horses. You count these horses, and the horses I rode on the range, in the Wild West Shows, in the rodeos, add all these together and I don’t believe anybody alive has ridden any more horses than I have.”
Willard Porter reiterated the sentiment, writing, “(Johnnie Mullins) rode more broncs in a lifetime than any other human being.”
After leaving the arena life, Mullins spent the balance of his years doing what he was born to do—be a cowboy. He worked on ranches and rode daily till he was almost ninety-years of age!
Before retiring in 1971, he had worked seventeen years for the Green Cattle Company northwest of Prescott, Arizona. In 1969, the Prescott Evening Courier did an article on Johnnie, touting him as “among the last of the great American cowboys.” and that “at 85, he was still working on a ranch and was horseback daily.”
Johnnie Mullins was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Hall of Fame in 1975. He was one of only four persons ever inducted while still living. In an interview he said, “I guess they got tired of waiting on me to die.”
Like all of us will at some point, he did pass. The life-long cowboy died in 1978 after only being officially retired for a few years. He was ninety-three. His saddle and spurs were sent to the Cowboy Hall of Fame.
It is easy to see why spur manufacturers wanted to associate their spurs with the great Johnnie Mullins, a cowboy who had a top-hand reputation in many fields of cowboying—anywhere he went. Perhaps he actually designed the spurs bearing his name and shared the design with the various makers? Who knows for sure. There are a lot of opinions out there, but no concrete evidence I could find. Research was not readily available on this subject. What we do know is that his name will forever live on as long as there are cowboy historians and spur collectors out there. n
CSU Range Beef Cow Symposium encourages young
Colorado State University’s Department of Animal Sciences is proud to host the 24th Range Beef Cow Symposium, Nov. 17-19 at The Ranch in Loveland, Colo. The biennial symposium, sponsored by the Cooperative Extension Service and Animal Science Departments of Colorado State University, South Dakota State University, the University of Nebraska and the University of Wyoming, offers an exclusive program of practical production management information specific to the region’s cattle producers.
This year’s program will highlight a variety of industry speakers delivering valuable, cutting-edge information on beef cattle management strategies ranging from consumer preferences to grazing schemes. Additionally, sessions will incorporate speakers and events geared toward young and up-and-coming producers, including a Young Producers’ Professional Networking Social and a producer panel focusing on how to enter the cattle business as a first generation cattle producer.
An always-popular feature of the Range Beef Cow Symposium is the evening “Bull Pen Sessions”. Speakers will be present for questions and discussion of their topics, offering attendees an opportunity to acquire more in-depth and applied knowledge from presentations earlier in the program.
The symposium also boasts a top notch trade show, showcasing a variety of commercial displays from over 75 allied industry vendors. A pre-symposium Beef Quality Assurance training will also be provided on Monday, Nov. 16 featuring Curt Pate.
Cattle producers are encouraged to join Colorado State University’s Department of Animal Sciences in Loveland to take advantage of the educational and profit building seminars at this year’s Range Beef Cow Symposium. The early registration deadline is October 26, after which registration prices will increase.
For a full schedule of events and speakers, hotel accommodations and online registration, visit the Range Beef Cow Symposium website at www.rangebeefcow.com or, contact Jason Ahola 970/491-3312;
firstname.lastname@example.org) or Libby Bigler 970/491-2333; email@example.com).