Rodeo legend Harry Tompkins passes at the age of 90



Erath County rodeo legend Harry Tompkins passed away Friday. He was 90 years old and leaves behind a profound legacy in professional rodeo.

Tompkins was larger than life with Hollywood good looks and the astounding athletic ability to ride the toughest bulls and broncs professional rodeo had to offer. An eight-time world champion, Tompkins won five bull riding titles including three straight years from 1948-50 and two more with a title in 1952 and eight years later in 1960.

His all-around cowboy titles came later in his career with wins in 1952 and 1960. He won both the bareback riding and bull riding titles in 1952.

This picture could have immortalized Harry Tompkins by itself but his eight world titles really sealed the deal as a legend in professional rodeo.

He was forever immortalized in rodeo by “The Dean of Rodeo Photographers” DeVere Helfrich who was the premier rodeo photographer and the inventor of the “classic style” of rodeo images.

In 1949, Tompkins had drawn a rank bull known as Yellow Jacket, and the talk behind the chutes was Tompkins had met his match. Tompkins made it known he was going to ride the bull and if Helfrich would make sure he kept the camera on Tompkins there would be something special for Helfrich to photograph.

Tompkins had a good idea of Yellow Jacket’s bucking pattern and he proved he had the bull figured out when he turned and gave a mile-wide grin to Helfrich as he passed by for perhaps the most famous picture in rodeo.


That image greets people who visit the Dublin Rodeo Heritage Museum, and Tompkins would be the first to admit he got a good deal of mileage out of the picture too.

Tompkins was stylish and had the rodeo hardware to go along with it.

Tompkins didn’t just ride bulls he “styled and profiled” on them and made it look easy.

He was quoted as saying, “I just rode horses and bulls. It was easy for me to do and I did it as good as anyone could do it.”

Tompkins’ talents were recognized with his induction into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, the Professional Bullriders Hall of Fame and the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Ring of Honor.

Originally from Furnace Woods, in the Peekskill Mountains of upstate N.Y. Tompkins had never seen a bull until the first time he crawled on one and of all places it was rodeo’s most prominent event at Madison Square Garden.

Tompkins was an all-around cowboy and it didn’t matter what animal he drew the crowd was in for a show.

The stories about professional rodeo athletes many rodeo fans cut their teeth on are the stories of Tompkins life with a schedule that included long road trips and flying his airplane as he took part in as many as 75 rodeos a year at his peak.

He had some great traveling partners along the way to include the legendary road crew of Jim Shoulders, Casey Tibbs, and Jack Buschbom. That’s pure gold when it comes to the champions of rodeo and they were the cowboys that molded the image of professional rodeo.

Funeral services are set for  10 a.m. CT, July 3, at the Cowboy Church in Erath County at 4945 US-67, Stephenville, Texas, 76401.

The following is a partial  list of just some of Tompkins’ rodeo wins: 

Central Wyoming Fair & Rodeo (Casper, Wyo.)

• Bull riding – 1952, ’61 

Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days 

•  Bull riding – 1949
National Western Stock Show Rodeo (Denver, Colo.)

• Bull riding – 1948, ’54, ’59, ’60, ’62, and tied ’67 

Tri-State Rodeo (Fort Madison, Iowa) 

• Bull riding – 1951, ’53, ’58
• Bareback riding – 1955, ’59, ’60 

Old Fort Days (Fort Smith, Ark.)

• Bull riding – 1950, ’51 

Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo (Fort Worth, Texas)

• Bareback riding and All-around – 1954, ‘57
• Bull riding and All-around – 1960
• Bull riding – 1951
• Bareback riding – 1952, ’65
• All-around – 1962 

Big Sky Roundup Rodeo (Great Falls, Mont.)

• Bull riding – 1950
• Bareback riding – 1954 

Helldorado Days Rodeo (Las Vegas, Nev.)

• All-around – 1955
• Bull riding, bareback riding and All-around – 1958 

Lewiston (Idaho) Roundup

• Bull riding – 1948 

Snake River Stampede (Nampa, Idaho)

• All-around – 1957
• Bull riding – 1958

Sandhills Stock Show & Rodeo (Odessa, Texas)

• Bull riding – 1955
• Bareback riding (tied with Freckles Brown) –1961

Ogden (Utah) Pioneer Days Rodeo

• Bull riding, bareback riding and All-around – 1955
• Bull riding and All-around – 1960

West of the Pecos (Texas) Rodeo

• Bareback riding – 1963  

Colorado State Fair & Rodeo (Pueblo)

• Bull riding – 1950
• Bull riding and bareback riding – 1953  

Red Bluff (Calif.) Round-Up

• Bareback riding (tied with Sonny Tureman) – 1949

Reno (Nev.) Rodeo

• Bull riding – 1952
• Bull riding, bareback riding, and All-around –1958

California Rodeo Salinas 

• Bareback riding – 1950, ‘53
• Bull riding, bareback riding and All-around –1955
• Bull riding – 1960

Days of ’47 Rodeo (Salt Lake City, Utah)

•  Bareback riding – 1952
•  Bareback riding and All-around – 1965

San Angelo (Texas) Rodeo

• Bareback riding – 1950, ’61
• Bull riding, bareback riding and All-around – 1959
• Bull riding and All-around – 1960
• Bareback riding and All-around – 1965 

San Antonio (Texas) Stock Show & Rodeo 

• Bareback riding – 1951 

Grand National Stock Show & Rodeo (San Francisco, Calif.)

• Bareback riding – 1957
• All-around – 1961 

Rodeo of the Ozarks (Springdale, Ark.) 

• Bull riding (tied with Del Hataway) – 1961 

St. Paul (Ore.) Rodeo

• Bull riding – 1950-51
• Bareback riding – 1953
• Bull riding and bareback riding (tied with Bob Swaim) – 1954 

La Fiesta de los Vaqueros (Tucson, Ariz.)

• Bull riding – 1951, ’55-56

Santa Rosa Roundup Rodeo (Vernon, Texas)

• Bull riding (tied with Gerald Roberts) – 1953
• Bareback riding – 1955
• Bull riding, bareback riding, and All-around – 1960 

About debug 971 Articles
Debug user

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.