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Herman Linder: A Legend in his time

If ever there was a cowboy that was born to ride bucking horses, it was Herman Linder.

Born in Wisconsin and raised as an Albertan where he ranched and lived at Cardston until his death a few years ago at age 95, Linder himself always claimed that a bronc rider is born, not made.

Linder’s amazing life is well-chronicled in a book written and published by Harald Gunderson’s Sagebrush Publishing of Calgary. The 170-page illustrated volume in old black-and-white and new four-colour is available through Canadian Cowboy Country Magazine’s online library, www.canadiancowboy.ca.

Titled The Linder Legend, the book was published in 1996, several years before Linder’s passing. The Linder Legend is a definitive history of rodeo in North America, and Herman Linder played a key role in shaping modern rodeo.

Herman took to riding steers and wild range horses when he was just a kid on his parents’ ranch. You might say his first professional ride was when, at age 12, a threshing crew gave him one dollar to ride a snorty harness horse on the open prairie.

Linder related to Gunderson: “A few of the fellows knew I was riding steers and horses at home so they dared me to ride a frisky horse that was hitched to a bundle wagon. They threw on an old-fashioned saddle with a big saddle horn. I was on in a flash and did that ol’ horse give me what-for. There were lots of times the men could see daylight between that horse’s back and my backside, and sometimes I had both feet straight up in the air. But I hung on and rode him to a stop.”

At age 14, Herman rode in his first real rodeo at Cardston in 1921. But he performed under an alias. He was introduced to the crowd as “Alberta Pearl.” All dressed up in a floppy girl’s hat “tied under the chin with a pretty red ribbon, faded middy and a short skirt hidden by big, sheepskin chaps,” Linder earned a whopping $6 for his Alberta Pearl ride.

And, of course, he stayed on the bareback bronc as it sunfished from one end of the arena to the other before a pick-up man lifted him off. The Cardston crowd thought they’d witnessed their first cowgirl bronc rider in action.

Herman began competitive rodeo riding in 1924 at age 17 and after a “rough, tough five-year apprenticeship behind him, he entered the Calgary Stampede and rode against Pete Knight, Earl Thode, Lee (Canada Kid) Ferris, Dan Utley and the Watrin boys.” He emerged a hero – a winner of both the Canadian bronc riding championship with saddle and the open bareback bronc riding championship.

“By the end of 1939, Herman Linder had won 22 titles in the Calgary Stampede, a record that is unsurpassed and probably never will be broken. He was crowned All-Around champion of Canada seven times while competing on saddle and bareback broncs, steer decorating, steer riding and calf roping. He also won the North American All-Around five times.”

Linder’s big thrill came when he “won it all” at the Calgary Stampede in 1934. He won first on bareback, first on bulls, first on saddle broncs (Canadian entries) and second on saddle broncs (open entries). The performance earned him North American and Canadian All-Around Cowboy recognition for that season.

While Linder’s fame as a rodeo cowboy grew in Southern Alberta, he was perhaps more widely-know across the line. He competed in the major U.S. rodeos and indeed created – through a one-day cowboys’ strike at the Boston Rodeo in 1936 – the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. He was in on the planning committee that started the Miss Rodeo America Pageant in the early 1950s and he got the Southern Alberta Rodeo Circuit to endorse a Miss Rodeo Canada Queen contest. Connie Ivins of Cardston was the first winner and was second in the American Pageant at Casper, WY in 1955.

Linder’s extraordinary life took him over both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans on rodeo promotions to Britain and Australia. He’s in six Cowboy Halls of Fame. But in the meantime, he built up his Cardston ranch, specializing in Maine-Anjou beef cattle, to win numerous awards, the highlight of which was the Alberta Master Farm Family Award in 1971.

After his retirement from rodeo riding, Linder became a top promoter of the sport across the country. He made a failed attempt to bring rodeo to Vancouver, beaten off by animal rights activists. He got things going in Edmonton in 1951 with a rodeo series that brought some of his celebrity friends in as entertainers, such as Rex Allen and Slim Pickens. He put on a successful rodeo in Montreal for the 1967 Olympics.

And through it all, this amazing, clean-living man kept his modesty; so much so, perhaps, that he is not remembered, even in Western Canada, as possibly he should be.

Writes Harald Gunderson in the introduction to his book, The Linder Legend: “Old timers say Herman had so much command of a horse he made riding saddle broncs look easy. All he had to do was sit up straight and do it right. With his own grace and style, he was the picture bronc or bareback rider; he was the cowboy on the bucking horse, the emblem of rodeo that many in Canada came to admire.

“He (was) modest to a fault and a walking, talking museum of rodeo. He indeed (was) a Legend in his time.”

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