STORY BY Rebecca Buchanan and Neil Melancon
T. Barrett Porter, Louisiana’s first professional rodeo cowboy is finally getting the recognition that he deserves.
After a career spanning four decades, Porter, 88, has been inducted into the national Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City as part of the 2015 class. He has won a number of awards in his lifetime, including the National Finals Rodeo in Dallas and National Calf Roping Champion at Madison Square Garden.
“T.B.,” as he’s more commonly known, grew up on his father’s ranch, in Leesville. He kept the family estate alive through his career, expanding it through the years to this 700-acre, working cattle ranch.
“I never thought I’d have all this, being a poor old cowboy,” he said.
If the gates at his ranch in Vernon Parish could talk, they’d tell you all about the accomplishments they’d seen of this cowboy, but also of the husband and father who always made family his top priority. Family first, even if it meant non-stop, 30-hour drives.
“Coast to coast I was rodeo-ing,” Porter said. “Whenever I roped, and I got through with the last calf in Boston, I drove straight home. Boston, Massachusetts, and then straight home with my horse.
“Last time I rode in San Francisco, I roped there Sunday night and Roy Rogers was on it,” he remembered fondly. “I finished roping at ten o'clock at night Sunday and I was home Tuesday. I saw a lot of these cowboy’s families are doing without things and I didn’t want mine to do that.”
It’s been a bumpy ride for this cowboy, even as he made a name for himself in rodeo.
“In 1960, my first wife got sick with MS,” Porter said. “When she got sick I would go to the maybe spring rodeo over in ft worth and then drive back home.”
Back at the ranch, things continued to get worse. Dorothy Porter’s multiple sclerosis robbed her, of the use of her legs. With four children still at home, Porter said, he did what he had to do.
“Well, when she started getting down, and couldn’t walk, and then she got in a wheelchair,” he said. “That’s when I put the western store in, so she could go there and have a place to work.”
Porter worked closer to home, to make life a little easier for Dorothy.
“We were living in town when I built this house,” Porter said. “When she was getting sick, we’d come up here to rope, so I built this house, so it wouldn't be far for her to drive out to be close to the roping pen.
“There by the roping pen, she’d watch the kids rope,” he remembered fondly. “Every one of my kids rodeo-ed high school. “It’s been good to me; they had help going to school through the rodeo.”
Life on the ranch taught Porter dedication he said.
“If a person wants something, they’ve got to commit themselves and work,” he said. “I worked seven days a week, lots of days, and a lot 24 hours a day, and I think it’s paid off.
That work ethic would be challenged, both by tragedy and by personal setbacks.
“It was kind of a slow go for me,” Porter said. “After my first wife died, I didn’t try to do much.”
A bulldozer accident would cause Porter to lose his right arm.
“The bulldozer ran all the way up my side and broke my arm in about 10 places,” he said. “I was over here by myself and my son was over there about 100 yards so I called him on the telephone and he didn’t hear me so I got in the pickup rode over there and told him come on we’ve got to go to the hospital.”
In the following years, he would have to retrain himself to do everything with his left hand. Driving himself those 100 yards with a shattered body was the start of a new life for Porter, built on toughness from the years of rodeo and country living.
Porter’s neighbor and life-long friend, Rusty Bails, lends aid when he can to help, but said he doesn’t have to do as much as one might think.
“He has never complained to me, he adapts and goes on with it.”
Bails said Porter’s devotion to his family and his wife couldn’t be duplicated.
“He was totally devoted to her, totally devoted, and anything that he would do, or could do, to make life better for her, he did it, he absolutely did it, and I admire him for that.”
Porter, now remarried, still puts family first.
“I always had respect for my wives, and I think they respected me, and it’s a give and take,” he said. “Everything I do, you don’t like. Everything you do, I don’t like, but we’ve got to get a happy medium and help one another. I’ve had two wives, and you know a lot of people don’t have one. I’ve had two good ones. If I didn’t have this one I don’t know what I’d do.”
Now in his golden years on the ranch, he’s still roping, still herding cows and mending fences. As he looks forward, what he really hopes to have is a legacy that will be carried on not just by his family, but by anyone who’s ever heard the call of the cowboy.
“I’ve had people help me, and I appreciate it and I hope that when I leave here, I leave something that will benefit somebody,” Porter said. “When I’m gone, the kids have something they can be proud of.”