Some friends are iconic; so capable it seems they could never die. But they do. Many in the rodeo and ranch world are feeling that today. Rex Bugbee is dead, but if a cowboy had to go out, it was the best possible way. He was doing what he did best, picking up a cowboy from a bronc. The very last thing he did in this life was what he did best and loved most. The good Lord has to love you a lot to let you go out that way.
Rex was one of the best pro pickup men in the business, but he was a good ranch cowboy, too. His good friend Mike Price not only shod his pickup horses for years, but dayworked with him, too.
“We went to catch this cow that raised bucking bulls,” Mike said. “She was just about to try a tight wire fence and Rex retched out and roped her, left-handed of course, just as she hit it and you could hear the wire stretch. We got another rope on her horns and one on a back leg and had her stretched out so she couldn’t hook anybody.
“There was this kid working for Frontier a little and we called him Bareback because he wanted to ride bareback horses. He wasn’t ever going to be able to do it, but those fellers were all real good to him and put him on some stuff they thought wouldn’t kill him. Anyway, we sent him after the truck and trailer.
“A lot of time went by and he hadn’t come back, so I went to find him. I get over to a little creek and he’s on foot, pulling that horse by the bridle on the other side. So I rides up there and whips that horse on the butt. He jumps across and Bareback thanks me like I did the greatest thing in the world and I’m thinking if he’d done that to me I’d think he was an idiot because that horse could’ve jumped right on top of me.
“It’s a long time until we get back there with the trailer but there’s Rex, holding that cow the same way I left her like she was gentle as a dog. She wasn’t. She tried to kill all of us getting our ropes run through to drag her in the trailer.”
Mike was holding an intricate knot tied in leather string. “This has been hanging in the truck since Rex tried to teach me to tie it,” Mike said. “Me and Rex were in Jamie’s shop and I asked him to teach me to tie that knot. He was very patient with me, but he was doing it left-handed you know, so I was having a hard time figuring it out. So he picks up a fiador knot I’d tied and said if you can tie this knot, you can tie that knot.
“So I said OK, then, I’ll teach you to tie the fiador while I learn to tie this one. So he’s trying to figure out how to make my instuctions left-handed and I’m trying to figure out how to make his right-handed. It ended a dead-heat tie. Neither of us learned the knot.
“So I carried this around in my truck. He said he’d leave it loose so I could figure it out. I couldn’t, but one day David (Satterwhite) taught me to tie it. I couldn’t wait to call Rex and tell him I’d learned to tie that knot. He just laughed!”
Jamie Barnard is a boot maker with a shop near Medicine Lodge where Rex lived. “I can’t remember all the different people and knots he helped out there,” Jamie said. “Rex and Teri have done more for me over more years than I can ever remember much less begin to repay.”
Mike said the time he and Rex spent with Jamie in his shop was always good.
Rex went to work picking up for Frontier Rodeo in 2005 and also dayworked on Frontier Ranch in Freedom, Okla., which is about an hour from Medicine Lodge, Kan. He and Teri have two sons, Josh and Jay, and two grandchildren.
We are never ready to lose anyone it seems will never die, but Rex went out still at the top of his game. He will never have to live through getting too old to do the things he loved. He won’t have a lingering, wasting illness that finally claims the shell of what he once was. He won’t have to watch someone with half his ability work his rodeos. God loved him very much.
Today he’s at the best rodeo he ever worked with Clem McSpadden announcing and Lecile Harris and Rex Dunn fighting bulls. It’s the best weather and he’s riding the best horse. He probably gets to pick up Casey Tibbs.
Hang on cowboys; you’ll see him again.