For those who think my only outstanding family members were those who lived during the 19th century, I want to let you read the story of my cousin George Paul, who may have been the greatest bull rider that ever lived.
George was killed in a plane crash in 1970, and since that time his brother, Bobby, has sponsored a special rodeo just for bull riders, in Del Rio, Texas, the town where George was raised. Out of all my mother's siblings, she was closest to George's father Bob. My mother said that when she and her brother would slip off to the farm to ride the horses, he could stay on the horse's back "like a flea." I guess Bob's son George inherited his father's gift.
Anyway, my wife and I are going down to the George Paul Memorial Bull Riding next week. It's May 7 and 8, in Del Rio. You couldn't find a better place to see bull riding. The best in the world go there to compete.
The following is George's story, from the write-up in the George Paul Museum in Del Rio:
Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano never had a punch like Cowtown, the Howard Harris bull, and Cowtown ended a never equaled record established in 1968. Oklahoma City, Oklanoma was the setting for the tenth Annual National Finals Rodeo and George Paul could have won the Rodeo Cowboys Association Bull Riding Championship sitting in the stands, George had such a commanding lead for the World Championship that he didn’t even need to go to the World Series of professional rodeo, the 1968 NFR.
Born March 5, 1947, George Paul grew up on the San Miguel Ranch riding and living the life of a ranch kid. From an early age, if it bucked, George would try to ride it. Perhaps destiny brought Stoney Burke, a fictional rodeo world champion cowboy based on the life of Casey Tibbs, into George's life through the medium of television, but that meeting between George and Stoney changed his life forever. From that meeting over the airways, George never wanted to be anything other than a World Champion Cowboy, and at the age of 14 began his quest, joining the American Junior Rodeo Association. George would go on to win their bareback bronc riding, bull riding, and all around championships.
Jim Shoulders, the sixteen-time World Champion Cowboy, held a rodeo school and George attended. George counted the experience as one of the most beneficial in his rodeo career and in 1966 he joined the Rodeo Cowboys Association. 1966 was a year that George got his feet wet in the professional business of rodeo and learned the ropes. How to enter, which rodeos to enter and the fine balance of scheduling three rodeos in one day in three different states. 1967 became a revelation for George as he rodeoed hard. Ground travel took time but eagles rode the airwaves. Being a pilot, George knew if he flew he could enter and ride in more rodeos. 1967 was the year rodeo veterans realized that "the kid from Del Rio" was no flash in the pan. His first full year as a professional rodeo cowboy George went to the Ninth Annual Finals Rodeo, rode seven of nine bulls, was the fourth best bull rider in the world, and the thirteenth best all-around cowboy in professional rodeo, all at the age of twenty.
Traveling in his twin engine Bonanza, George stormed across the United States and Canada entering 150 rodeos and travelling 125,000 miles. No rodeo was too big or too small to enter if he could get "drawn up right" (entered) into his two events, bareback bronc riding and bull riding. Something began to happen about mid-season 1968, and no matter what he drew in the bull riding, no matter how hard they bucked, no matter what rank they were, the bulls could just not get rid of George Paul. It was as if he had super glue on his wranglers. No bull could dislodge George.
Winning and placing at the greatest percentage of rodeos he entered, George went to the 1968 NFR with the RCA Bull Riding World Championship guaranteed. That was not good enough for George because entering the NFR, he had done what no other bull rider in history had done. George had ridden 79 bulls in a row. That was not like completing 79 passes in a row. That was not like throwing 79 strike outs in a row. That was not like getting 79 hits at bat or kicking 79 extra points in a row. It was like getting 79 knockouts in a row. Bulls will hurt you, throw you into the hard packed arena and then come back and try to stomp on you, hook you, and gore you. They are not just an animal, they are combatants, and George Paul conquered 79 of the toughest bulls in professional rodeo in a row. That feat has never been duplicated.
The first bull of the 1968 NFR, Cowtown, ended George's string of successful fides at 79 but he went on to ride the next 8 bulls and not only won the 1968 World Championship Bull Riding title, but won the NFR Bull Riding Average as well. Bull riders will tell you that the World Championship is the most prestigious title you can win. The next most prestigious title is the average at the NFR. The third most prestigious is the George Paul Memorial Bull Riding Championship.
In 1969 George elected to stay close to home in order to manage his family's ranching business, but in 1970 the lure of the road called and George answered that call and hit the rodeo trail again. On August 2, 1970, near Kemmerer, Wyoming, a rancher found the wreckage of George Paul's air plane, and the body of the 1968 World Champion Bull Rider.
The airplane accident that took the life of George Paul ended what could have been the greatest bull riding career of all time in professional rodeo. Don Gay, eight-time World Champion Bull Rider said that the greatest natural bull rider ever was George Paul. George is gone now but the things he stood for…the things he is remembered for…death could never kill. This narrative was reconstructed from the memorabilia of Georgia, Bobby, Lee, and Betty Paul, George's mother, brothers, and sister.