The Rim Country and Tonto Basin may be remote, but perhaps that isolation and the best air anywhere are what provided the perfect habitat for rodeo champions and legendary cowboys. The area has produced 11 world champion rodeo competitors over the years and some of them still hold records in their fields. It is also home to some legendary cowboys.
To honor those world champions and the founders of the Payson Rodeo, the Payson Rodeo Legends Ring of Honor was inaugurated this year. A special ceremony, dinner and dance were held in July.
Farrell Hoosava, a member of the Rodeo Preservation Alliance Committee, conceived the idea of the Ring of Honor. Research on the candidates and materials on their contributions is in the hands of Payson’s official town historian, Jayne Peace Pyle.
Payson Rodeo Legends Ring of Honor
For historic purposes, let it be known that the following cowboys and cowgirls were inducted into the Payson Legends Rodeo Ring of Honor on July 17, 2009:
1) Arizona Charlie Meadows (1860-1932) – Co-Founder of the Payson Rodeo 1884; he won many championship ropings then toured the world in Wild West shows; a cowboy of many talents.
2) John Collins Chilson (1867-1924) – Co-Founder of the Payson Rodeo 1884; was a “leading spirit” in hotly-contested horse races down Payson’s Main Street; John and four generations of Chilsons after him have roped in Payson Rodeos.
3) George Cline (1886-1976) – Was named World Champion Roper in 1916, 1919, 1923 and 1925; was the first man to rope and tie a calf in Madison Square Garden; was a member of the Cowboys’ Turtle Association; George and four generations of his family after him have roped in Payson’s August Rodeo.
4) Ace Gardner – World Champion Team Roper in 1932; lived in the Tonto Basin.
5) Joe Bassett (1911-1973) – World Champion Team Roper in 1942 and 1952 at New York’s Madison Square Garden; was a famous race horse man, a well-known jockey and trainer; in 2000, both Joe Bassett and his son, John Bassett, were inducted into the Arizona Quarter Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
6) John Armer – 1919 World Championship Bull Tying Contest at Arizona State Fair with his partner George Cline; grandfather of Gila County Sheriff John Armer.
7) John Rhodes – son of John Tewksbury, who was killed in the Pleasant Valley War, was World Champion Team Roper in 1936 and 1938; placed second in 1947 and 1956, and third in 1948 and 1953; he traveled with Joe Bassett and Asbury Schell.
8) Asbury Schell – three-time World Champion Team Roper 1937, 1939 and 1952; is in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.
9) Eddie Schell – son of Asbury Schell – World Champion Team Roper in 1954. Following in the steps of his father, Asbury Schell, Eddie excelled in the sport of rodeo.
10) Nancy Sheppard – world famous trick rider and roper starting in 1938 at age 9; at age 17, she performed in New York’s Madison Square Garden; she was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1991, the Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1996, and the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2003. In addition to wowing rodeo fans for years, Nancy performed for Georgio Armani in Milan, Italy. This beautiful black-haired lady has represented rodeo in so many ways and is the grand marshal for Payson’s 125th Rodeo Parade.
11) Tammy Kelly – Six-time Women’s World Champion Bull Rider – 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2003; Tammy’s great-grandfather was Babe Haught, the famous hunting guide to Zane Grey; she entered rodeo competition at age 32; this tough lady has made guest appearances on several entertainment television shows and has been an advocate for women who choose to ride rough stock.
12) Penny Conway – her father was Milt Simon, a world champion cowboy; Penny participated in Little Britches Rodeos, then at age 15, she started team roping; she completed four years of college on rodeo scholarships; In 2001, Penny won the title of Women’s World Champion Team Roper (header); she is the founder of REACh, which stands for Rodeo Education And Children.
13) Leroy Tucker – Born 1928 at the Frying Pan Ranch at Greenback Valley; in 1957, he won the Arizona Rodeo Association All-Around Championship saddle which was awarded at Payson; in 1958, he won the calf roping at the Houston Livestock Show where he beat some of the best ropers in the world; has ranched all of his life; is an All-Around Cowboy.
14) Eddie Conway – Professional Bull Rider – placed in the RCA National Finals in 1963 and 1964; was on the Top 10 Cowboys list for 10 years while traveling to rodeos all over the country; 40 years later, Eddie turned to roping competitions and in 1999, he and his partner, John Ewing, won the U.S. Team Roping Championship in Oklahoma. Eddie is a rancher and an All-Around Cowboy.
15) Frank Kelly – RCA and PRCA bull rider – is married to World Champion Tammy Kelly; has won at bull riding in five consecutive decades; he was a contestant in the Old Timers National Finals in 1987 (Senior Pro Tour); he went to the Turquoise Finals in 1990.
16) Harry Shill – Payson’s Official Rodeo Ambassador; Harry has a 50-year history of riding bulls; part of that time in the RCA; he rode his first bull in 1956; the last bull he rode was June 2009; is also an entertainer; he has parachuted into a rodeo arena eight times and rode a bull; Harry went to the NOTRA Finals in 1988, as part of the Senior Pro Tour. Today Harry heads the Payson Rodeo Reunion and spends a lot of time promoting the sport of rodeo.
The tickets for several of the performances of the 125th Annual World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo will commemorate inductees Nancy Sheppard, Harry Shill and Eddie Conway with their pictures. Track down the honorees and have them sign the stub and you will have quite a collectible.
The inductees will be introduced in the arena during intermission Saturday night.
A monument with the names of the first inductees to the Payson Rodeo Legends Ring of Honor will be erected at the Payson Event Center.
The August Doin’s Dinner and Dance and the Payson Legends Rodeo Ring of Honor were successful due to the following people and businesses:
Farrell & Mary Hoosava
Chuck & Hallie Jackman
Jinx & Jayne Pyle
Dean & Judy Baker
Arizona Heritage Research Foundation
Daughters of Gila County Pioneers
Rim Country Rotary
Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce
Rim Country Rotary
Payson Rodeo Reunion
Harry & Sharron Shill
AZ3-Hoosava Bucking Bulls
National Bank of Arizona
Kevin Dick Investments
Gracie Lee Haught Children’s Memorial
Git A Rope Trading Company
Git A Rope Publishing, Inc.
Rim Country Hay and Grain
Payson Golf Course
Robert & Melissa Higginbotham
Paul & Hillary Higginbotham
Phil & Jayne Hatch
Jim & Joan Skinner
Rob & Kelly Fanizza
Special thanks to Brittnee Haught, Meg Turlukis and Stephanie Turlukis for helping out; to Angie Lucchesi for the great photos; and The Hashknife Band — Taylor Hale, Don Gibson and Shawn Haught — for providing great music.