There wasn’t a bull he couldn’t ride, a bronc he couldn’t handle or a steer he couldn’t bring to the ground. Benny Reynolds was an all-around cowboy. But he wasn’t pretending to be a cowboy to put on a show, he was the real deal.
When he passed away on Feb. 14, 2014, from a heart attack, he was doing what he loved – driving his tractor on his ranch outside of Twin Bridges. People from across the United States remember Benny Reynolds as one of rodeo’s greats, but he was much more than that. In Madison County he was a rancher, father and friend.
“He instilled work ethic in you,” Benny’s youngest son Louis Reynolds said. “But he did like to play. Still, it was work first, play later.”
On the evening of Aug. 16 at the Madison County Fair, rodeo competitors and spectators paid tribute to Benny with a slideshow and memorial, tracing Benny’s career and family life. The slideshow included film clips of Benny’s introduction to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, his stint on the popular show “Name that Tune” and photographs.
Benny was born in Twin Bridges in 1936 – the little clinic where he was delivered was turned into a liquor store shortly thereafter and Louis said people later liked to joke Benny was born in a liquor store.
Rodeo was in Benny’s blood. He grew up in Melrose and competed in his first rodeo in Butte at only six years old. His passion for the sport grew from there. He was the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association’s (PRCA) Rookie of the Year in 1958. In 1961, he was the all-around world champion and was later inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. He qualified for the National Finals Rodeo 11 times over a seven-year span and won more than 360 championship buckles throughout a rodeo career that lasted more than four decades – in 1981 he graduated to the old timer’s rodeo circuit and continued competing for years.
Benny was also the winner of the 1966 inaugural Linderman Award, which is given to a cowboy who earns at least $1,000 in prize money in three separate events in one year.
That success was made possible by his wife, Mary, Louis said. Mary and Benny met in Dallas at a rodeo. She had a son, Skip, and after Benny and Mary wed, they moved to Dillon where they had three children – Rooster, Jenny and Louis. While Benny was on the road, Mary managed the homestead. The family moved closer to Twin Bridges, purchasing a ranch in 1971 and keeping a herd of cattle.
“He [arrived on the ranch] with a herd of angus, but got longhorns pretty quickly,” Louis remembered.
Longhorn cattle are used for sport and the Reynolds’ ranch regularly hosted ropings and other rodeo events – Benny initially built a small arena on the land but soon had to add to it because of the demand for events, he even added bucking chutes to the structure.
College students in particular enjoyed spending time on the ranch, Louis said. Though Louis only “dabbled” in rodeo events, his older brother, Rooster, took to the sport and pursued it for much of his life, even qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo in 1995 and winning the average in steer wrestling.
Like many fathers and sons, Louis said Rooster and his father butted heads sometimes.
“Rooster wanted to be good like Benny and Benny wanted to be young like Rooster,” he said as explanation.
Benny was a fan of all rodeo events – steer wrestling, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding and more – and was known for refusing to answer the question of which was his favorite.
“He team roped until the day he died,” Louis said with a chuckle.
There were always travelers rolling through the ranch, Louis said. Benny was truly a legend, and though his children didn’t necessarily understand it at the time, Louis said perspective came as he grew up.
“For us it was normal,” Louis said. “But he was a rock star. People would travel to rodeos to see just him.”
Even if rodeo brought him fame, Benny was a doting husband and committed father – Louis said he was always good for a joke or willing to play because he loved to have fun.
“He was so unique,” Louis said. “He could make you happy or mad, he could make you laugh or cry. He was his own guy. You weren’t going to tell him what to do.”