Day of the Cowboy rodeo honors iconic cowboy

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee Cattlemen’s Association will host a ranch rodeo to commemorate the national Day of the Cowboy, and to honor the memory of a local cowboy, on Saturday, July 27, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Okeechobee Cattlemen’s Arena, 1885 U.S. 441 N. Admission is free.

Pete Clemons

The Pete Clemons Memorial Ranch Rodeo will honor the iconic rodeo cowboy who died in his sleep on Sept. 16, 2018, at the age of 91.

Mr. Clemons was a famed former rodeo star, a successful citrus grower and rancher, and the owner/operator of the Okeechobee Livestock Market. Highly regarded for his friendliness, honesty and genuine desire to help people, Mr. Clemons was considered by many to be the best-known and best-loved cattleman in the state.

In 2008 he was inducted into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame. He has also traveled twice to South America to serve as an ambassador of U.S. rodeo. The high regard for Mr. Clemons by his peers was reflected by his selection as “Big Boss” of the National Day of the American Cowboy celebration in Okeechobee in 2007 and 2008.

In 2009, Mr. Clemons was the recipient of the Florida Folk Heritage Award. In 2013, he was named to the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Buster Kenton used Pete Clemons as the model for the cartoon figure “Kowboy Jake,” which is now the mascot of Osceola High School.

In 2011, the National Day of the Cowboy honored Mr. Clemons with the Cowboy Keeper Award. The Board of Directors of the National Day of the Cowboy organization bestows its annual Cowboy Keeper Award on organizations, events, projects and individuals it determines have made, or are making, a substantial contribution to the preservation of pioneer heritage, as well as to those whose efforts support the continued growth and preservation of cowboy culture.

In 2016, the Florida House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., added Mr. Clemons to its list of Extraordinary Floridians “as one of the best known and beloved cowboys in our state.” The Florida House honored Mr. Clemons with its first Florida Icon Award.

Mr. Clemons was born in 1927 and grew up working on cattle ranches in Osceola and Highlands counties. His parents, Oscar and Theressa Bronson Clemons, were both members of pioneer Florida cattle families. Mr. Clemons paid his own way through the University of Florida by working as a rodeo performer, and in 1950 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture.

Mr. Clemons’ professional rodeo career began when he was in high school and continued until he was well into his forties. He won a record nine All Around titles at the annual Silver Spurs Rodeo in Kissimmee. This required excelling in five events: saddle bronc, bareback bronc, calf roping, steer wrestling and bull riding.

In 1949 Mr. Clemons was the Kissimmee Jaycees’ representative at the National Jaycees Rodeo in Colorado Springs, and he stunned the western competition by entering all six events and coming away once again with the All Around title. As a rodeo cowboy, Mr. Clemons served as an unofficial ambassador for the Florida cattle industry. He competed throughout the U.S. as well as in Canada and Cuba. He appeared in televised professional rodeos on a regular basis and raised championship rodeo bulls on his ranch in Okeechobee.

Cowboy artist Buster Kenton used Mr. Clemons as his model for a cartoon character “Kowboy Jake,” used to promote the rodeo at the National Jaycees Convention in Colorado Springs, which featured a rodeo. Kowboy Jake later became the mascot of Osceola High School.

National Day of the Cowboy is observed annually on the fourth Saturday of July. It’s a day for honoring cowboy culture and to preserve our pioneer heritage.

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