THE RODEO pen is now empty, but still intact in his back pasture. A tractor and bush mower can be found where his working mules were once kept and a slow easy smile crosses his face as he rerecalls days gone by, of mastering the trade of blacksmith and the shoeing horses and mules for cowboys all across the countryside.
Pete Polk was born and raised in Cushing. He learned his trade from his father John I. Polk and a neighbor by the name of Joe Blackman. They also had their own team of mules and worked them to help clear timber from the land. His father had also used the mules to help build U.S. Highway 84.
“I had horses, too,” said Pete, “but, I have had the mules my whole life and it is the mules I love the most. When the timber started to run out around Cushing in the early '50s, a white fellow by the name of Doug Boyd moved me up here (to the outskirts of Kilgore) and I went into blacksmithing for myself and others, too,” he said.
“I worked for Mr. Dick Jones, a logger and worked for him for thirty years. He had his own mules and we used them in the field. You didn’t have the equipment then that you have now. No chain saws; crosscuts were used and the timber was loaded on wagons pulled by mules and horses.”
Pete had learned to rope by attending rodeos with his father, watching and learning from those like Billy Lucas and Billy Leach. When working the fields, often times Dick Jones would call upon him to help “wrangle” the cows.
“Eddie Holley would help, too,” said Pete. “He was good at getting wild cows back in.”
“One of the funniest things I recall happening with Pete is the time we were called out to Liberty City to get a wild cow that no one could pen,” said Eddie. “There were four of us including Pete on horseback chasing that cow when I heard Pete holler ‘I got ‘er!’ and about that time the girth on his saddle broke and he hit the ground. The last I saw of that cow it had jumped about four barbed wire fences and to my knowledge never did get caught,” he laughed. “But, Pete’s ‘I got er’ got him alright!”
After hours the cowboys lined up in Pete’s backyard to rope and ride in his rodeo arena. His wife, Floradean, would set-up the rodeos and loved to help organize. If the kids couldn’t help run the clocks for the bull rides, she would.
“She was good at keeping things organized,” said Pete. “She would even help those in politics organize their campaign right here off our front porch,” he said. “She helped King Russell with his campaign and kept the ball running and she loved every minute of it,” he said fondly. Floradean passed away in 1992 and her granddaughter Kitina seemingly inherited the trait, stepping in to help Pete whenever possible.
Besides hosting rodeos, Pete and his mules could be found in parades and trail rides and he continues to participate in two trail rides per year. The New Hope Trail Ride is always on the agenda.
“One time I was on a trail ride in Fairview and the trailer was filled with big women,” laughed Pete. “I mean they were big. We came to this steep hill and the mules could not get up the hill and I had to ask the women to get out of the wagon. They didn’t want to get off the wagon and walk up that hill,” he laughed. “One of them even told me to get some Clydesdales next time, but they did get out of the wagon.”
Pete is now eighty-seven years of age and, though retired a few years back, he still owns two mules. His keeps his anvil under lock and chain to prevent theft.
“I got that anvil from George Clark in Cushing when I asked him to sell it to me years back,” said Pete. “He told me he didn’t want to sell it and he wouldn’t give it, but he would loan it. George passed away a few years ago. As far as I am concerned that anvil is still on loan.”
“I sure wish I had the money made from that anvil,” continued Pete. “It cost a person $7 to shoe a horse and the shoes were 25 cents apiece. A foot wrap was $3 and $7 for all four (hooves) to be clipped. Yes’m, I sure wish I had the money made from that anvil.”
“Pete shod my mules and horses close to 35-40 years,” said Billy Vernon. “I never had a mule lose a shoe that Pete had shod. In my books, he is the best shoer in this area and in my lifetime.”
“He had a way with mules,” continued Billy. “If one was nervous or acted up when he was over trying to shoe them, he knew how to handle them without jerking, hollering or whipping the animal. He would calm them down with light and soft words. It was almost as if the mules could comprehend what Pete was doing. When I got hold of a difficult one, Pete would tell me how to handle it and I always listened. I saw what he could do.”
Pete has five children, 13 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren and 9 great-great-grandchildren. All of them have learned some aspect of the trade but he had one son that liked to rodeo and he has taught farrier skills to two of his great-grandchildren, Rodney and Anthony.
“Many of those old cowboys have passed,” said Pete. “The young ones that belong to them still stop by for advice,” said Pete. “And that is good. There has been a many sitting on this ole porch.”
It is not for sale, nor for give a way, but it might be for loan - when the time is right. The time, according to Pete is still not yet right. George Clark knew what he was doing when it came to that anvil and so does Pete. Blacksmithing is a trade almost forgotten. As for Pete, he, too, has earned the reputation of being one of the best in the world of rodeo, cowboys, horses and mules.
May His Love and Laughter Fill Your Hearts and Your Homes Throughout the Week. In the meantime, we may be reached at 903-984-2593 or firstname.lastname@example.org.