Harry Charters (1925-1981)

                Harry Charters, of Melba, Idaho, was a 250 lb. mountain of a man who gained regional and national fame as a bulldogger, calf and steer roper, and wild cow milking “mugger” from 1958-1968. Charters is one of the most accomplished and respected timed-event competitors in the long history of the Ellensburg Rodeo.

            Born to central Idaho potato farmers in 1925, Harry Charters did not become a professional rodeo cowboy until 1958, at the (relatively) old age of thirty-three. “If he would have started back as a young as a young guy, he probably would have won more than anyone else in (the history of) bulldogging,” Idaho friend and fellow World Champion Dean Oliver noted. Charters grew up on a small farm surrounded by horses and livestock. He always had a horse and rode bareback to school; on the farm he “rode ditch” (irrigating), developing the unusual habit of dismounting his horse on the right hand side. In high school, Harry lettered in three sports and turned down college athletic scholarships. In the 1940s and 50s, Harry Charters married, farmed, raised six children, and competed only in amateur and local rodeos.

Originally a bronc rider, Harry competed in the Idaho Cowboys Association (which he had helped to form) from l948-1958. Yet Harry’s huge 6’ 6” 250-pound frame made him a natural for calf roping and bulldogging and it was in rodeo’s timed events that Harry Charters achieved greatness. He joined the RCA (Rodeo Cowboys Association) in 1958, and in his first appearance won the Jerome (Idaho) Rodeo All-Around title. From that point on, there was no stopping Harry Charters.

            Astride “Buddy Bill” (a registered quarter horse Charters trained himself), Harry Charters cut a wide swath through the 1958-1968 world of professional rodeo. He roped and ‘dogged at all the big rodeos---Cheyenne, Fort Worth, Pendleton, Calgary, the Cow Palace, and the premier Boston and Madison Square Garden rodeos. Despite his age and size, Harry was “dazzlingly fast and fleat of foot” and created unique and (often) unbeatable timed event styles.

In calf roping, Charters revolutionized the profession by dismounting from the right hand side of the horse, something no other competitor had ever tried. In bulldogging, he also used a unique dismount, described by fellow Idahoan Oliver: “He landed on his feet alongside the steer…with his left foot out behind him for leverage he would get his hold on the steer, twist, lift him off the ground, and flatten him fast.”  ProRodeo Sports News agreed: “Those steers actually look like they are picked up, spun around in the air and flung to the ground.” Charters’ style puzzled and initially amused the top ropers and doggers’ of his era. Yet, as Western Horseman wrote, “they were still wearing those same puzzled expressions at the conclusion of the rodeo, as they were standing behind this big hunk of man in the payoff line.”

From 1959 through 1964, Harry Charters qualified for every National Finals Rodeo in either calf roping or steer wrestling, or both. Charters’ Pendleton Roundup steer wrestling arena record of 5.0 seconds stood for eleven years. Charters won the World Steer Wrestling title in 1959 and was simultaneously named the RCA’s “Rookie of the Year.” He fell $700 short of winning the 1962 World Steer Wrestling title.

            Charters won the Ellensburg Rodeo Steer Wrestling championship in his rookie ’58 season, the same year he won the Ellensburg All-Around buckle. In 1965, he won the Ellensburg Calf Roping championship. “Harry Charters revolutionized Wild Cow Milking in Ellensburg,” notes Hall of Fame Board Member Jack Wallace. Charters’ size and skill as a wild cow “mugger” (the cowboy who wrestles the roped cow to a standstill while his roper partner dismounts and milks her) made him so dominant that his ropers enjoyed a significant advantage. Charters won the Ellensburg Wild Cow Milking ’60 as a mugger for Smokey Kayser (ERHOF ’98) and in ’61 for Jerry Anderson (ERHOF Board ‘97-2001). Harry Charters also broke his leg in Ellensburg, a bad memory and career setback that he (typically) shrugged off with a smile on his face.

            One night in 1968, exactly ten years after he had first gone down the rodeo road, Harry Charters suddenly decided to retire. At the Caldwell (Idaho) Night Rodeo, stock contractor Hank Christensen (ERHOF 1999) walked up to Harry and predicted he would “win the All-Around.” Harry replied, “If I do, I’m gonna quit.” He won, left the arena that night, and never looked back.

Alongside his wife Jackie and six children, Harry Charters became a successful rancher, running over 1000 head of cattle on Idaho land near where he was born and raised. Harry Charters died from cancer in 1981, at age 56. He left behind him a rodeo life and record that will never be forgotten.