Retired rodeo clown reflects on 30-year career
Cherokee Nation citizen Bobby Clark, a 92-year-old former rodeo clown, stands in his home in Warner. He started in the rodeo business at roping. GRANT NEUGIN/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen Bobby Clark wrestles a bull at a rodeo during his active days as a rodeo clown. He started the profession around 1948 with his brother Gene. COURTESY
WARNER – Cherokee Nation citizen Bobby Clark was a professional rodeo clown for 30 years.
He started the profession in the 1940s with his brother, Gene. Bobby was born in Seminole and in 1936 moved to Bakersfield, California, with his family.
“We ended up moving from Oklahoma to California due to the Depression. It ended up taking us two weeks to get up there because my dad kept getting lost,” Bobby said.
Bobby and Gene started roping at rodeos. However, Gene got into bull fighting and got Bobby to join him. After graduating high school, Bobby traveled as a bull rider and calf roper with Gene. Three years later, the brothers worked the biggest rodeo at the time in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
In 1948, Bobby started working as a rodeo clown. He received his break in Phoenix when rodeo clown George Mills lost an eye because of a bull. Bobby, who was roping calves, was asked to take Mills’ place. Everett Colburn, a stock producer, was impressed with Bobby’s performance and hired him for the rest of his rodeos. Bobby got Gene to join him as a clown to protect cowboys by fighting and distracting the bulls.
During their journeys, the Clark brothers clowned with Slim Pickens before his movie career. Pickens would be the only clown without make-up and would tell jokes while the Clark brothers took care of the bulls. This was the routine until they went to Little Rock, Arkansas, where Pickens worked his last rodeo before leaving to make movies.
“He told us that he had an acting tryout in California and if it worked out we would never see him clowning again,” Bobby said. “That Little Rock rodeo was the last one, and Slim Pickens ended up becoming a western movie star.”
After Pickens left, the Clark brothers kept clowning. They worked rodeos all over the United States, including in California, Texas, New York, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
Bobby said the crowd loved watching him because of his athletic ability. Standing only 5-feet, 5-inches tall, he said he jumped over bulls going full charge and did acrobatic stunts while riding mules. He said he credits being Cherokee for his athletic abilities.
“I knew I was Cherokee since I was a little kid,” he said. “I always looked a little different than everybody else because of my Cherokee blood, but I always took pride in being Cherokee.”
The Clark brothers clowned for 30 years before retiring in 1978.
“Gene and I ended up retiring 30 years after we started rodeo clowning. Most rodeo clowns only last about 15 years in the rodeo business,” Bobby said. “I knew it was time to retire after I saved a cowboy from my last rodeo, and he gave me a hug because I saved his father back in his day, too.”
In 1987, the Clark brothers were inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame at Colorado Springs, Colorado.