On Sunday, June 19 at noon, young and old riders got into the saddle at the Center culturel de la Rive-Sud. Hundreds of spectators watched as riders raced around the arena, their horses kicking up dust, deafening the harsh summer light. It was the Broken Arrow Riding Club’s Speed and Action Rodeo Horse Show, an annual event that has been held for 32 years.
“This is my first rodeo,” said Daniel Adams Johnson, 13, as he and a friend prepared his horse, Django, for a day of competition. “It’s something I’ve been doing for almost a year and a half. I think I have good riding skills… Well, yeah, I’m pretty good. I feel pretty good.”
Daniel, a Chatham resident, is a student of cowboy Murdock, who founded the Broken Arrow Riding Club in 1989. In addition to teaching western riding, Murdock has an ambitious goal for cowboy culture in Chicago. ; he wants to build an equestrian center that “offers inner-city youth a new outlet for recreation and education.”
Murdock, like many South Side cowboys, was introduced to horses and cowboy culture as a kid in Washington Park.
“I still remember the first day I saw horses and their riders galloping in Washington Park,” Murdock wrote on The Broken Arrow website. “I was only 8 years old when the excitement of seeing these giant horses and skillful riders in the middle of town marked the beginning of my relationship and respect for these magnificent creatures.”
Murdock wrote that he devoted his adult life to “cutting edge pursuits that would help others find enjoyment in involvement with horses”, bringing together groups of cowboys, cowgirls and buckaroos for rodeos, parties, school and hospital visits. The club also hosts an annual event in Washington Park called “Highnoon Ride and Picnic”.
In addition to the families of the riders, many new and old spectators gathered around the arena track on the lawn of the Center culturel de la Rive-Sud. Retired Chicago police officer Kimberly Marshall got into position as the rodeo DJ switched from House music to Country Western music
“I was born into a black cowboy family,” Marshall said. “In 1953 or 1954, when my parents were dating, my dad bought my mom a horse named Big Sid.”
Growing up, Marshall and his big brother, Cowboy Mike (Mosby), who now rodeos regularly, were also taken by their parents to the stables in Washington Park.
“I grew up there,” Marshall said. “I like hats, I like clothes, I like music…I really, really, really like being a part of cowboy culture.”
Marshall said she became familiar with the Broken Arrow Riding Club and Murdock about 30 years ago when the police department assigned her to cover the Highnoon Ride and Picnic.
Along with a love of culture, Marshall said, “history is everything to me.”
“My dad gave us a book called ‘Great Negroes, Past and Present,’ and it had all this information about the accomplishments of African Americans, or Negroes at the time, in this nation… But, I always known about black cowboys,” she said. “I’ve always heard of Bill Pickett. I’ve always heard of Bass Reeves, who was the baddest U.S. Marshal.”
Bill Pickett, born in Texas in 1870, was a cowboy, rodeo competitor and Wild West Show performer. In 1989 Pickett was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame. Bass Reeves, born in Arkansas in 1838, would be one of the first black deputy U.S. marshals to serve west of the Mississippi, according to Oklahoma Historical Society.
As Daniel and fellow student Korey Flowers saddled up Django, an American Paint they would both ride, he was quiet and observant, learning clearly.
His mother, RaMeka Johnson, said the family signed Daniel up for riding lessons during the pandemic when he was cooped up at home with no social outlet.
“Daniel has always expressed an interest in horseback riding, he’s actually an animal lover, and we thought it would be great to enroll him in riding lessons,” Johnson said. She added that her son took 18 months of English. riding lessons before switching to Western riding and joining Murdock at the Broken Arrow Riding Club.
“It’s his first rodeo…His first experience riding in an official rodeo,” Johnson said. “When my son walks into the arena, he lights up every time. And as a mom watching him, I light up. It really is a joy to watch.”
Daniel’s first event was a junior flag race. This involved removing a flag from a bucket onto a barrel, rounding a second barrel, and dropping the flag into a bucket onto a third barrel.
As the race started, Django rushed out of the gate and headed for the first barrel. His hat flew off, but he rode steadily and well. Daniel gave Django when she needed it and pulled her back for turns and control.
By the end of the day, Daniel had won three trophies, including one for second place in the flag event.
After his races, Daniel said of the rodeo, “the speed, the speed was really unexpected. It was like as soon as I took off, I was back at the start.”
“My adrenaline was rising, it was crazy,” he added. “But I feel good now because it’s my first rodeo. So I’m not so scared anymore.”
Murdock, who had watched Daniel’s run, said: “I couldn’t have given him a better vote of confidence. He did what he was supposed to do and stayed in control. So, yeah, I I was really impressed.”
And Daniel’s mother said, “I think we called him Daniel for a reason.”