The feared six horsemen of California Polytechnic and Casper College of Wyoming were the favorites for the team title at St. George, but dark horse Tarleton State upset both. A little college in the central Texas town of Stephenville, Tarleton won with only one well-known cowboy, no saddle bronc riders, its best roper grounded because of a car accident and a faculty advisor whose area of expertise is drainage and irrigation.
Two untypically intense cowboys from Utah and Southwest Texas, respectively, A. C. Ekker and Phil Lyne, dominated the all-round competition. Ekker, walnut brown, black haired, mean looking but soft speaking, won with a first in ribbon roping, thirds in calf roping and bull riding and a fourth in steer wrestling. Lyne will be back as leading cowboy at this year's finals in Sacramento, July 3-7, and Tarleton, Cal Poly and Casper will again be the top teams.
But breakneck rustling and rassling are only part of the attraction of a collegiate rodeo championship. A visitor riding into St. George last year dipped down out of parched countryside into a valley verdant with fruit trees, red with Mexican fire bush and scarlet with Hibiscus. There were pieces of covered wagon along the Spanish Trail, souvenirs of an especially savage massacre, and an alabaster Mormon temple under maroon, lavender and vermilion cliffs. The holidaying parade crowd waiting in the shade of the tabernacle lawn at St. George saw bright floats, colts, Stars & Bars and color everywhere amid constant reminders of the friendliness and informality of another day. At the nightly street dances in Dixie, where once the early Saints in their ward amusement halls danced the schottische, the six-nation and the polygamy waltz—a waltz with two female partners for each man, not much seen recently—rock was nowhere and the cowboy one-step prevailed. Watching the bobbing high-crowned hats, girls sat on hay bales along the curb waiting to be asked to dance. In the desert's 2% humidity the sky was as black and the stars as glaring as on the moon. And down by the Big Hand Cafe, a Greyhound waited, Chicago on its destination sign, a vehicle as otherworldly as a spaceship.
There was, too, the sage-spiced talk: "That'll raise hob with your boot budget...." "This grass makes the broncs buck better, but it's sure hard to get a whip on a steer...." "She walks kinda prissy, but she's got nice hindquarters...." "One year a bull come over the fence right into the crowd. Nobody was hurt, but we had a cleaning bill for 400 people." This year, an albino bull kept going straight out the gangway and down the street, leading an impromptu lariat-twirling posse on a tour of downtown St. George.
June 30, 1968
And if the fun generated by the collegiate cowpokes wasn't contagious enough, they did their best to draw in the strangers. An Eastern visitor, hot and dusty, trudged into his motel one evening and was pinioned by six poker-faced young toughies. They took off his belt and shoes, removed his wallet, swung him over the pool and threw him in. "We had to throw you in," one apologized solemnly, "we'd thrown everyone else in. Including the manager." The visitor observed that if they had thrown an Eastern motel manager into his own pool, he'd have called out the entire state police force. "Oh, this one called in the highway patrolman all right," the cowboy replied. "He asked to see the trooper's gun, and the cop gave it to him. So we threw the trooper in, too."