I am of the opinion that very rarely is anyone remembered in a vacuum. In the rodeo world, Tuff Hedeman and Lane Frost will be forever linked. Tuff and Bodacious, Ty Murray and Hard Copy, Michael Jordan/Scotty Pippen, Bird/Magic, Jobs/Wosniak…you can probably think of many others. Very rarely is anyone remembered solely, but our interconnectedness is what makes legends and history. Sam Savitt wrote his book Midnight: Champion Bucking Horse, a fictional account based on history, about the collision course between two great figures whose connection would make them legendary. Before Tuff/Bodacious, Lane/Red Rock, Shivers/Yellow Jacket, Freckles/Tornado, before bullriding ruled the sport, legendary saddle bronc horses met up with legendary hands. Midnight met Pete Knight 4 times in their career, with the unridden-in-his-career Midnight coming out on top every time. This book sets the course for their meeting in Cheyenne in 1930.
The story starts with Jim McNabb, whose ranch produced the famous horse. Like the rest of the horses raised at the ranch, Midnight was destined to be a cowhorse. In 1919, when Midnight was a four-year-old, McNabb had every intention of breaking his undescript, and yet unnamed, coal-black horse into a fine stock horse. After 3 failed attempts at riding through Midnights fits, McNabb saw the unique ability of his horse. Men from all over southern Alberta tried their hand at Midnight, and everyone ate dirt. McNabb, under council from the deposed, took Midnight to Calgary, the biggest rodeo in Canada, where he made the showing that would dictate his career. Pete Welch, Calgary’s promoter, bought Midnight from McNabb.
By way of Calgary, Midnight eventually found himself in Verne Elliot’s string of bucking horses. Verne was no stranger to changing the game of rodeo. It was him who first introduced the Brahma bull to rodeo, the first to exploit indoor arenas for rodeos, and one of the first to replace the shotgun chute with the side chute for the rough stock events (Lamb, Gene. Rodeo, Back of the Chutes: 1956, pg 148-149). Verne’s new bucking horses, and in 1928 Elliot found himself the owner of the most famous bucking horse of the day. For $250 dollars, and $5,000 insurance policy, Midnight became his. Immediately he started bucking the great horse at his rodeos. As part of the draw, or a bounty horse, Midnight was the prize attraction at the rodeos. It was at Fort Worth, that Pete Knight first got his chance at Midnight. It went Midnights way, but he would have others. At Pendleton, later in the year, Pete would get another chance that ended the same way. July 1930, at Cheyenne, where Vern’s best stock was displayed, would be the attempt that would forever bind these two together.
Pete Knight picks up the story at this point by telling of a great year in 1930. He was headed for his first world championship. He spoke of all the ups and downs of rodeo life: the long nights driving, the lack of insurance, and the beating his body took. All these things he would say: “added spice and vinegar to life.” (69) Knight had an addiction to Midnight, watching the newsreels (prior to movies in those days) of his bucking action, studying his trips, and gathering information on the horse. When their fateful meeting in Cheyenne, 1930, Knight would be ready. Before the ride, Midnight was paraded around the arena, wearing a “World’s Champion Bucking Horse Blanket”, like a boxer entering the ring. Knight would make it 7 seconds that day, 3 short of the whistle at that time, and Midnight would remain unconquered.
When Midnight passed away, on Nov. 5, 1936, he was buried on the ranch. But not after he had seen Southern Canada, Texas, San Francisco to New York. His final trips were 4 exhibition rides at Wimbledon in London. The horse had taken on all challengers, emerged victorious, bucked long and hard, and became the content of legends. A senator wrote his epitaph: “UNderneath this sod lies a great bucking hoss, There never lived a cowboy he couldn’t toss, His name was Midnight, his coat black as coal, If there’s a hoss heaven, please, God, rest his soul.”
Savitt wrote and illustrated this fascinating book. If you have a rodeo kid, from K-6, this book provides an excellent story, awesome history about the sport of rodeo, and incredible illustrations. It is one of the prizes of my Rodeo library.