Tex's Early Life (1)

Early Life

I have found two written accounts of Tex McLeod's early life and present them before my own attempt to put events in chronological order. Neither account is completely accurate, but they make a good starting point. The first is an article from 'The Western Horseman' magazine and has the feel of an epitaph, and the second is the report of an interview Tex gave to the 'Leicester Evening Mail' in 1933.

I don't know the date of publication of the account in 'The Western Horseman' by respected Rodeo journalist Willard H. Porter, but it is probably from shortly after Tex died in 1973. The magazine has been published since 1936 and is dedicated to rodeos and the Western Stock Horse. I presume Porter accessed mainly US sources that are not available to me so I have transcribed the article in full below. It certainly fills some of the gaps in the information I have found elsewhere.

Western Horseman Article


Tex McLeod was a trick roper and showman before there were rodeos.

Alexander de Avilla McLeod was born on November 11, 1889, at Hornsby's Bend near Manor, Texas. Such a formal handle on a young fellow cried out for help, and sure enough, the boy was soon called Tex by everyone who knew him, including his Scottish father and Spanish mother. Ten years later, the McLeod family moved to Luling. From here, Tex embarked on a series of 'gone-again/back-again' ventures.

He ran away to Shreveport, Louisiana, and met a man in the railroad station who asked what he could do. "Ride, rope, milk cows ... anything," replied the 12-year-old. He got a job in the Red River Parish. Then it was home again, only to leave for a job on a ranch west of San Antonio.

The family then moved to Gonzales, Texas, the town that the future showman chose to be from during his worldwide adventures. He got several more jobs: breaking horses, shipping mules, working cattle. And there was a stint on the L.O. Hillman Wild West Show. The following year (he was 20) was perhaps the most important in his career. He went to Mexico to work for the Milmo family's Rancho Chemal, near the Rio Salado. And it was here that he learned the many tricks — plus the gorgeous technique — of the Mexican rope spinners, something he would never forget and would continue to embellish his whole life.

Back from Mexico in 1911, he joined the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Show, associating with the likes of Hank Darnell, Chester Byers, and Sammy Garrett. The quartet, the hottest trick ropers of the day, became known as The Big Four. He entered the Calgary Stampede the following year, where his five-horse catch, earlier mastered at Elko and Cheyenne, proved a sensation. At most of his rodeos, he also rode broncs and entered the wild horse races. He was an excellent "ear-down" man.

The Bud Atkinson Wild West Show sailed for Australia in 1912, with top hands like Stack Lee, Del Blancett, Hoot Gibson, and Tex McLeod as headliners. In 1913, he was with the Sells-Floto Shows; in 1915 with Barnum & Bailey; in 1917, with the Jess Willard Wild West Show.

In the December 1985 International Trick and Fancy Ropers Association's newsletter, the following historical note appeared:

The first big Stampede at Calgary, Canada, was produced by trick roper Guy Weadick in 1912. For many years the Stampede had trick roping contests for men and women. Winners of the 1912 women's Contest were Florence LaDue (Mrs. Guy Weadick), first: Lucille Mulhall, second; and Bertha Blancett. third. Men winners in 1912 were Tex McLeod of the United States, first; Magdelina Remos of Mexico, second; and J. Welch of Canada, third.

In those days, McLeod was taking many firsts all over The West in 'Stampedes', 'Roundups', and 'Frontier Days' performances (the word 'rodeo' had yet to be coined). Trick and fancy ropings were competitive, judged by a panel.

In that era, it was customary for individual cowboys to 'sell' themselves, and/or the particular show they were headed for. Such advertisements appeared in 'The Wild Bunch', 'The Billboard', and Fog Horn Clancy's 'Roundup, Stampede and Cowboy Sports Guide'. One of McLeod's ads urged readers to 'Meet Me at Walla Walla.' Beneath a photo of Tex, the ad held forth: 'Let 'Em Kick. Stay With 'Em. The Biggest and Best Real Wild West.'

Another notice challenged 17 of the best trick ropers in the world at that time stating: "Tex McLeod, World's Champion Fancy Roper, 1912, Wants To Meet Fred Burns, Chester Byers, Sammy Garrett , Hank Darnell , Bee Ho Gray, Weaver Gray, Frank Hopkins, Estevan Clemento, Will Rogers, Stanley Whitney, Buffalo Vernon, John Welch, Colorado Cotton, Monte Wilkes, Henry Boggs, Jack Hutton, and Eddie Cobb."

Veteran rodeo buffs tell us that McLeod could also work wonders on the back of a pitching horse. When he was 18, he rode the celebrated bucking horse Flaxie, then owned by the Texas Bud Snell Bronc Show. In consequence, the young man earned quite a reputation. Few twisters had topped Flaxie — Hugh Strickland and Wild Horse Charlie were two of the few.

They say that McLeod was a thinker and, from the viewpoint of contest bronc riding, was ahead of his time. In the teens of this century, riders used their own saddles - form-fitting designs called 'bear traps', 'freaks', or 'monstrosities'. McLeod studied these shapes, deciding that the wide, undercut swells and the high, deep-dish cantles were not needed. So, in 1914, he chopped up one of his big, heavy trophy saddles, taking off the fenders, altering the cantle, and cutting down the skirts. Now, he must have felt, he had something that would give him the feel of a horse.

Writing in 'Western Horseman' several years ago, Jerry Armstrong described the reaction of fellow rodeoers:

The first time he showed up in an arena with his new streamlined saddle, all of the other bronc riders gathered about for a look-see. The resultant verdict was that McLeod had been out in the Texas sun too long. They laughed at the stripped-down kack until McLeod went out and won a go-round in it. Then they rushed to judges with the charge that using such a saddle in a contest was unfair and illegal. The judges, though, ruled otherwise.

McLeod is credited as the saviour of the 1918 Add Day/Ray Knight presentation at Lethbridge, Alberta. When Tex arrived (to trick rope on contract), he discovered that the cowboys had 'struck', claiming that the Canadian broncs were too large and too tough. "Saddle up anything you've got I'll ride him," McLeod told the producers. They culled out a salty one and, true to his word, Tex rode it. The show went on and played to packed stands for, as someone suggested, "The riders weren't going to let a contract rope spinner show them up."

Tex first went into vaudeville around 1914, and by 1917 he was playing Churchill's Restaurant on Broadway in New York. His spinning ropes and lively yarns were a great hit. He was often compared to Will Rogers, because of the similarity of their acts, and many show-biz aficionados allowed that McLeod was more polished, more sophisticated. They said that while Rogers was a 'diamond in the rough', McLeod was a 'clear-cut diamond'.

In 1919, he sailed for England to open at the Liverpool Hippodrome on June 16. With Billie Barnes (later known as Hollywood actress Binnie Barnes), the swank Tex McLeod act toured England, Australia, Africa, and America from 1924 to '26. In 1927, Tex appeared with Maurice Chevalier in 'Whitebirds' in London, where he got rave press.

Leicester Evening Mail Interview

This article appeared in the 'Leicester Evening Mail' in June 1933. The headline is highly offensive, and its use says a lot about the attitude of the editor. The reporter even managed to squeeze in a snide remark about Tex's wife. I toyed with the idea of omitting reference to the article altogether, but have included it as one of the few interviews with Tex that have survived and left it as it appeared in print. Most of the information given by Tex in the interview tallies with other accounts and evidence.

Cutting from 'The Leicester Evening Mail' 24 June 1933 [33]


By 1910, Tex's family had moved to Gonzales, Texas and this is confirmed by the census of that year. Tex was recorded working on a ranch at Justice District 4, Jeff Davis County, Texas. People living in the back of beyond would consider that place a backwater. The County was named after Jefferson Davis, the only President of the Confederate States, and has a strange pentagonal shape that touches Mexico at a single point, although the nearest settlement in Mexico is actually over 60 miles from that point.

Jeff Davis County, Texas from Google Maps [82]

Fort Davis is the County's biggest town and is tiny; even in 2010 the population of the entire County was only 2,342. White migrants moved into the area after the Civil War and displaced the Native Americans - though not without a struggle. Cattle ranchers had begun operating in the area from the 1880s. It isn't possible to pinpoint the location where Tex was living but he was staying with ranch owner Robert Robertson, who was only a couple of years older than Tex according to the census.

Assuming that Willard Porter's article is correct, Tex didn't stay long in Jeff Davis County and went to work at the Milmo Family's Rancho Chemal at Rio Salado where he learned rope spinning, before moving on again.

When interviewed by a reporter from 'The Era' in February 1927, Tex claimed to have joined a company that was a rival to Buffalo Bill in 1911. He was referring to the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch in Ponca City, Oklahoma. This was a huge cattle ranch founded by Colonel George Washington Miller, a veteran of the Confederate Army. Ponca City didn't exist until 1893. It was laid out by Burton Barnes and named after the Ponca tribe of Native Americans who were forcibly relocated to the area from Nebraska under the 'Indian Removal' programme in 1877-1880. Nearly one-third of those relocated died as a result of malaria and a lack of provisions.

Cutting from 'The Era' 9 February 1927 [23]

Miller's three sons Joseph, George Jr, and Zack formed a Wild West Show, initially performing locally, but later putting on tours. Over the many years it ran, the show's cast included Lillian Smith, Bill Pickett, Bessie Herberg, Bee Ho Gray, Tom Mix, Jack Hoxie, Mexican Joe, Ross Hettan, and even an elderly Buffalo Bill for a time.

Poster from the 101 Ranch Wild West Show [79]

Early Films by the Bison Film Company

According to the National Film Preservation Foundation [80]:

Alert to new opportunities, the Millers diversified into motion pictures. In 1912, the New York Motion Picture Company arranged to use their Wild West gear and performers to make "Bison-101 Ranch" Westerns in the grasslands above Santa Monica, California. For authentic Oklahoma locations, Hollywood movie companies went to the original 101 Ranch near Ponca City where such films as Paramount's 'North' of 36 (1924) and Pathé's 'Wild West' (1925) were shot. By 1925, the Oklahoma complex had become a tourist destination, attracting some 100,000 visitors yearly.

The Bison Film Company produced an astonishing number of short silent films between 1909 and 1917 [81] though little information remains about them. The company even made the first Werewolf film in 1913.

In later life Tex claimed to have taken part in some of them but there is no saying which - though probably not the Werewolf one. By the end of the Bison Film Company's heyday, Mack Sennett, Charles Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle and various other silent movie stars were churning out silent movies at the new studios in Hollywood and other parts of California.

Stampedes and Wild West Shows

The Calgary and District Agricultural Society was formed in 1884 to promote the town and to encourage farmers and ranchers from Eastern Canada to move west. Calgary held its first fair in 1886 which attracted a quarter of the town's residents. By 1889, it had acquired land on the banks of the Elbow River to host the exhibitions but crop failures, poor weather, and a declining economy resulted in the society ceasing operations in 1895. A new company was formed in 1899 and the exhibition gradually grew with a federally funded Dominion Exhibition being held in 1908. This included a parade, a rodeo, horse racing and 'trick roping' competitions. By 1912 the increasingly popular event had acquired the name 'Calgary Stampede'. According to the archives, Tex took part in 'trick roping' at that very first Calgary Stampede in September 1912.

Cutting from The Calgary Stampede Archives [77]
Calgary Stampede 1912 Programme cover [85]

Tex must have set sail for Australia shortly after the Calgary Stampede as, by December 1912, he was appearing in Bud Atkinson's Circus and Wild West Show which was touring Australia, starting in Sydney.

Cutting from 'The Sun' (Sydney) 16 December 1912 [86]

In 1913, Winnipeg held its own 'Stampede' but it was not a great commercial success and WW1 resulted in it being shelved for a number of years. Tex took part and can be seen on the photo below riding a 'bucking bronco' called 'Turkey Trot'. He also entered the 'Fancy Roper' competition and won the 'Fancy Roper of the World' championship.

Postcard showing Tex McLeod at the Winnipeg Stampede 1913 [76]
Postcard showing Tex McLeod 'Fancy Roper of the World' at the Winnipeg Stampede 1913 [120]

Tex worked again in Australia for a while and arrived back in America on 25 April 1913 on the Ventura, a reasonably large (for that time) steam passenger ship owned by Oceanic Steamship Co. of San Francisco and built in 1900. A passage from Sydney to San Francisco at that time would have taken about 22 days.

Matson Liner Ventura [1]

In 1915 'The Daily Missoulian' (Missoula, Montana) carried an article about a challenge issued by Tex McLeod to an Australian rider named Jack Morrissey, to be held at the Missoula Stampede in July. Tex issued a similar challenge in Australia in 1924. This is an example of the cowboys 'selling themselves' mentioned by Willard Porter; similar techniques to drum up interest were employed by Barnum and Bailey for whom Tex had also worked. The photo attached to the article also shows some of Tex's trophies.

Cutting from 'The Daily Missoulian' 11 April 1915 [75]

Tex took part as a bronco rider in the 'Pendleton Round-up' in Oregon and is seen in the photo below being thrown from his horse. The date is not known but believed to be after 1914.

Tex McLeod being thrown from horse at the Pendleton Round-up [78]

Tex's WW1 War Draft record from 1917 says he was working for the Jess Willard and Buffalo Bill Show. Jess Willard had been a world heavyweight boxer billed as The Pottawatomie Giant. He lost his title to Jack Dempsey on 4 July 1919 and thereafter alleged that Dempsey had cheated. The contest was brutal; Dempsey went on to become one of the greatest heavyweight boxers in history; Willard lost his hearing as well as the fight.

Dempsey Willard
Dempsey vs Willard [73]

William (Buffalo Bill) Cody died in 1917 and the business was sold, so Tex must have joined around that time. I originally thought the 'Buffalo Bill' job was just talk, but tracked down a cutting in 'The Philadelphia Inquirer' showing that he really was with the 'Wild West' show - apparently one of a number of 'ropers and rough riders'. The draft record recorded his occupation as 'Horse Man' and stated that he was married and living in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Cutting from 'The Philadelphia Inquirer' 15 April 1917 [20]

First Marriage

By April 1917, Tex had met Emily Stickney (1894-1980), who would become his first wife. According to the cutting from 'The Philadelphia Inquirer' shown above, they were both in the 'Buffalo Bill Wild West and Circus' show - and I doubt whether that was the first time they had appeared together. They probably married around 1916/1917 but I have not been able to locate a marriage certificate. Emily had been born into a family that could well be described as 'American Circus Royalty'. A great deal of information about the Stickney circus dynasty can be found in Olympians of the Sawdust Circle by S.L. Slout which is the source of much of the information below. [117]

Emily's grandfather, Samuel Peck Stickney (1808-1877), was born in Boston. Described as a 'competent but not outstanding rider', he was known as 'Old Sam' or 'S.P.' in the profession, and was one of the leading American circus proprietors before the Civil War. He had a great reputation as a ringmaster, horse trainer, instructor and circus manager. He had five children who went into the circus business - one of them Emily's father Robert.

Robert 'Bob' Theodore Stickney (1846-1928) was a circus bareback rider. The quote below is an extract from an 1899 interview of Bob Stickney and Lewis Sells (1841-1907), the founder of Sells Circus, by a reporter from the 'Los Angeles Herald' [116]. The expression "with the air of a Chesterfield" used in the article is strange. It appears in all kinds of American newspaper articles from that era without explanation. It possibly refers to Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, but I have no idea why Americans should have found him of interest. If anyone reading this has an explanation I would love to hear from you.

"Bob Stickney was the best rider that ever set foot on a horse," said Lewis Sells of the Forepaugh-Sells Circus one night last week. He was standing in his menagerie tent, whip in hand, leaning against a stake. "There are young fellows in there," he continued, waving his whip in the direction of the "big top" where the performance was in full swing, "who may be able to do more tricks on a bareback horse than 'Bob' could in his best days, but they lack pre-eminence in the qualities that made Stickney famous. When he walked into the ring it was with the air of a Chesterfield. Every motion was full of grace and dignity. He rode in our show for eight years and was the most popular performer we had.
Poster showing Robert Stickney [118]

The full text of the interview is in the cutting below.

Cutting from 'The Los Angeles Herald' 18 September 1899 [116]

By contrast, Emily's mother Emma (1876-1923) was the child of immigrants from Bohemia with no circus connections whatsoever, but she became a bareback rider, juggler, and high wire performer with Robinson's circus before marrying Bob.

Given the family history, it seems almost inevitable that Emily became another bareback rider. She also appeared in a legitimate drama Polly of the Circus by American playwright Margaret Mayo in 1911-1912; Samuel Goldwyn made a silent movie of the play as his first effort on founding Goldwyn Studios, and it was remade by MGM in 1932 with a cast including Clark Gable. Emily later joined her family in exhibiting trained animal acts.

Cutting from 'Los Angeles Herald' 7 April 1913 showing Emily Stickney [121]

Tex and Emily had a son, Clyde Robert McLeod (1917-2003) who worked on the stage and as a circus performer. Clyde progressed to working in Hollywood as a movie actor, and has a mention in IMDb where it says that he had been directed by Charles Chaplin, Frank Capra, and Cecil B. DeMille. Clyde was a stand-in for Anthony Quinn, Ronald Reagan, Rock Hudson and Tex Ritter among others. He even played small parts in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and one of my favourite films - Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles - but I have been unable to find a photo of him.

The Peliplat movie site has this to say about Clyde. I don't know when the text was written:

Clyde McLeod has been a movie extra since 1938. He's been directed by Charles Chaplin, Frank Capra, and Cecil B. DeMille. He's been a stand in for such actors as Anthony Quinn, Ronald Reagan, Rock Hudson, Tex Ritter, among others. Becoming a principal actor has never been his goal. "I got into the business because it was what my mother wanted me to do," said McLeod in 1985.

For McLeod, show business is a family tradition that dates back to the 18th Century, when his ancestors, the Stickneys, played Shakespearean jesters on the stage. His grandmother was a bareback rider in traveling circuses. His mother, Emily Stickney, was a bareback rider with the Barnum & Bailey Circus and starred in the original stage version of "Polly of the Circus" in 1900. McLeod's father, Tex, worked in "cheap" vaudeville shows in the early '20s. For ten years, he commuted from his ranch in Fallbrook to Los Angeles, totaling 130 miles each way.

He later spent his life living with Patricia Enns, another extra who worked in various films during the 1950s and 60s, such as "Artist and Models."

The image below shows Tex at the Churchill Club in New York in 1918. It was included in the article by Willard H. Porter quoted on the previous page.

Photo of Tex McLeod at the Churchill Club in New York in 1918 [158]

By 1925, as will be shown below, Tex had left Emily behind and married wife #2. In her turn, Emily had married George McSparron - another actor and theatrical agent. I don't know whether she carried on with her circus career, but she died in Los Angeles in 1980.

Clyde married Margaret Craig in San Diego in 1960; they divorced in 1973. He died in Florida on 8 November 2003, but his home was in Santa Ana, Orange County, California.

The next page continues the story of Tex's early life.