KARTAR VALLEY – Larry “Little Beaver” Condon and friends were shooting the breeze when someone asked the famous bullrider how the heck he got to Madison Square Garden for competition in the 1960s.
“On a wing and a prayer,” Condon reportedly said.
Condon, 81, died in a vehicle crash Wednesday in Nespelem.
A Professional Bull Riders magazine photo later showed a Rodeo Cowboys Association (precursor of Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) meeting following competition in New York, said a good friend of Condon’s, Bruce Marcellay.
“There was a bunch of guys at the banquet, I think it was in the ‘50s or ‘60s,” Marcellay, now 65, said. “There was only one dark skin amongst the group. It was Larry.”
Condon, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, was a legend among his bullriding peers, as well as the Okanogan Valley community.
He was a gold card PRCA holder with many, many of the greats, mostly gone now, knowing him and his unique and successful riding style.
“My dad knew him real well,” said current Omak Stampede President George Dunckel Jr., 73, of his dad, George, who in his lifetime ran a dairy farm, beef ranch and tavern. “He lived out in the Kartar. He was his own person.”
His name appears on one of the horseshoes on the Walk of Fame along the dike near the Stampede Arena.
“We worked together up at Keystone, about the time he went to Calgary and won at Calgary,” said former Stampede President Ed Thiele, 79. “I knew he was Native American and a pretty good bullrider. There are so doggone few around that lived in Larry’s era.”
Condon was the first Indian cowboy to qualify for the RCA finals, that being in 1962 in Los Angeles, California.
His best-remembered victory was taking the bullriding title in 1967 at the Calgary Stampede with a score that stood for years.
“He was a top cowboy,” his youngest sister, Margie Hutchinson, said. “You know Larry could not walk five feet without someone stopping him, that’s how popular he was. He was a really well respected person, he was a very, very good friend to people. People really, really liked him.”
“I was in high school and working with Larry’s nephew, Francis Condon, at the sawmill in Brewster,” Marcellay said. “When we got a break we went to the office and asked Larry’s sister, Kathy Sirois, if she could find out how Larry was doing in the rodeo in Calgary. She said he made it into the final round.”
On his final ride, Larry Condon took on Joe Kelsey’s notorious bull “53.”
“It was a National Finals bull, meaner than hell and hurt a lot of guys,” said Marcellay, who said later he, Larry and Francis were pallbearers for a White Swan cowboy killed by the bull.
“That bull hardly ever got rode,” Marcellay said. “When he got off the judge said he could make his own score. I don’t know what he scored, but it must have been pretty good.”
“One of the judges in Calgary, Gid Garstead, handed Larry the judge’s sheet and kidded him, ‘Write your own score.’
“He said, ‘I might cheat myself.’ In other words, it was a perfect score.”
The family got letters from Larry Condon from all over, including Little Rock, Arkansas, and San Antonio, Texas.
Larry Condon traveled with some top cowboys – eight-time champion Donnie Gay (sent word that Larry was his hero), PRCA Hall of Famer Marty Wood (called with condolences) and Canadian pro Rodeo Hall of Famer Winston Bruce, said Hutchinson.
“I can actually remember the first time I met him,” Marcellay said. “He shook my hand. I remember him riding a half hour earlier, spurring the hell out of a bull. He was not very big, about the same height as me, and I was like 8 years old.
“(The handshake) changed my life. I was not particularly interested in going into rodeo until I met Larry.”
Author and songwriter Dave Redboy Schildt of Los Angeles, Calif., posted online at the Bull Riding Hall of Fame more than a year before Larry Condon’s death that the cowboy should be considered for the hall.
“Larry was the first, to my estimation, RCA-level Indian bull rider,” Schildt wrote. “He qualified to the NFR alongside Jim Shoulder and George Paul in 1961 and 1964. He was still riding bulls in 1988. He qualified to the Indian National Finals in the ‘70s in Albuquerque, N.M.”
Schildt also wrote a song, “Little Wolf,” about Condon.
“You know, one of the amazing things about Larry, he was in his 50s and riding with his nephews and stuff,” Marcellay said. “They were in their 20s. He was one hell of a bullrider. You couldn’t tell looking at him.”
An entry at Indian Rodeo News on Facebook told of Larry Condon’s passing: “Always and forever and legendary champion Indian bull rider. RIP Larry. We’ll all miss you and know your foundation you built for our young Native bull riders will grow and live on to make you proud.”
As for his nickname, Little Beaver, few seem to remember how that started.
“There was a Little Beaver cartoon character in the early ‘60s or somewhere in there,” Marcellay said. “He was a little Indian character, I think that’s where he got the nickname.
“He was maybe 5-4,” Marcellay said with a laugh. “He was real little. He could have been a jockey.
“He was my friend.”
Larry Condon’s immediate family included Edward Condon, Alice Best, Leonard Condon, Theresa Sam, Henry Condon, Kathy Sirois and Margie Hutchinson.
Family Rosary was Saturday at the Alice Best residence in Kartar Valley.
Rosary will be today at 7 p.m. at the Omak Longhouse, 7 Mission Road. A funeral is planned for 9 a.m. Monday at the Omak Longhouse.