Cool Things - Rodeo Chaps
A member of Kansas' rodeo royalty made these chaps for the Flint Hills Rodeo.
Famed rodeo cowboy Gerald Roberts is one of only 16 competitors to win multiple professional titles as All-Around World Champion. Gerald is a rodeo legend, particularly in Kansas where the Roberts family is synonymous with the sport.
Rodeo carries on the traditions of a ranching way of life, and all rodeo events have their origins in ranching tasks. Thus, it seemed natural that the children of Emmett and Clara Roberts developed a passion for rodeo growing up on Kansas ranches. Marge, the eldest, began performing with the Clyde Miller Wild West Show at the tender age of 13. Younger brothers Ken and Gerald quickly followed her lead. Having three children obsessed with rodeo presented father Emmett with an interesting opportunity. He organized Chase County's first professional rodeo on the family ranch in 1937. Embracing the tradition of pasture rodeos--creating an arena in a pasture by parking vehicles in a tight circle--Emmett opened his own ranch to spectators and competitors.
The rest, as they say, is history. The nearby town of Strong City picked up the Flint Hills Rodeo as an annual event, and the Roberts children went on to fame and glory. Marge became one of the best female bronc riders of her time, and the first Roberts to win a national title. Ken (who claimed Marge was his toughest competition) was World Champion Bull Rider three consecutive years in the 1940s.
Younger brother Gerald had a 30-year career in bronc riding, bareback riding, and bull riding. His prizes are too numerous to list, but the most significant are the all-around competitions, including two World All-Around Champion Cowboy titles. Gerald considered his most important feat to be the North American Calgary All-Around Championship which he won in 1950.
Unlike other sports figures, successful rodeo cowboys do not sign lucrative team contracts. Instead, their income derives largely from winning purses and endorsements. Gerald endorsed Wrangler Jeans in the late 1940s. He also worked as a stunt man in Hollywood westerns during the mid-'50s.
Gerald's rodeo career was winding down by the 1960s, when he turned his attention to the creation of quality rodeo gear. His specialty became the design and manufacture of chaps. In 1963 he made the pair pictured here for a Flint Hills Rodeo pick-up man (one who helps riders to the ground after their ride is finished).
Chaps are important cowboy gear because they protect a rider's legs and clothing from brushes with gear, fences, livestock, and the like. In rodeo competition, though, they have an additional function--showmanship. Riders want to be seen and admired from the stands. This explains the rather gaudy colors and designs of rodeo chaps such as this set, made of green- and cream-colored naugahyde and decorated with metal conchos. The appliqued letters "FHR" stand for "Flint Hills Rodeo." The legs are padded with foam rubber.
As Gerald's workmanship became fashionable among the rodeo crowd, he and wife Pat started a company called Chap-Parel. Operating out of their Abilene home beginning in 1964, Gerald and Pat sold custom-made rodeo and working chaps and other riding accessories for a number of years.
These chaps are in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History. They were purchased at an estate sale for Emmett Roberts, Gerald's father and founder of the Flint Hills Rodeo. Emmett passed away in 1992, and his son Gerald died in 2004, however, the Flint Hills Rodeo is still going strong. Kansas' oldest consecutive annual rodeo marked its 70th anniversary in 2007.
Entry: Cool Things - Rodeo Chaps
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: June 2007
Date Modified: July 2014
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.