BOW, Wash. — When Wick Peth woke up on Christmas morning sometime in the late 1940s, he was disappointed.
The teen, who grew up on a family farm near Bow, had told his father all he wanted for Christmas that year was a bull.
“We always had plenty of calves to rope,” Peth said.
But as he looked under the Christmas tree that morning, there was no bull — instead, the bulls arrived by train in early January.
Thus started Peth’s illustrious career first as a bull rider, then as a bullfighter. Peth, 86, will be inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, reported the Skagit Valley Herald (http://bit.ly/2dpdc1S).
“He was one of the pioneers of rodeo bullfighting,” Wick Peth’s son Dan Peth said. “He had lots of speed and agility.”
As a bullfighter, Wick Peth’s signature move was to grab the bull by his tail — just out of striking distance — and swing around so the bull would run in circles. Then, he would somersault out of the way, he said.
“I could turn bulls that nobody else could,” Wick Peth said on a warm, sunny day on that same family farm where he was disappointed so many Christmases ago. “The ornerier they were, the better I liked it.”
For Wick Peth, neither steer wrestling nor bucking broncos had the same appeal as the bulls.
“Bulls were closer to the ground,” he said. “You got more attention. You made more money.”
Wick Peth’s rodeo career took him around the country: from California to Wyoming; Idaho to Texas. He even fought and rode bulls at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
On the professional circuit, Wick Peth said he rode bulls for about eight years, beginning in the 1950s. The next 35 years of his career were spent bullfighting, which he did until 1985 when he retired from the sport — at the age of 55.
“There’s lots of guys that set out to fight bulls,” he said. “There’s very, very few that ever got” to the level he did.
Wick Peth has already been inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, as well as the Cheyenne Frontier Days, Ellensburg Rodeo and St. Paul Rodeo halls of fame.
Last year he was inducted into the inaugural class of the Bull Riding Hall of Fame in San Antonio’s Bull Fighter category.
“I was pretty surprised,” Wick Peth said. “There’s a bullfighter behind every bush in Texas.”
It wasn’t all fun and games, however. He did take his fair share of bumps and bruises.
“If you don’t have close calls, you’re not doing enough,” Wick Peth said.
“He had a lot of E.R. visits,” Dan Peth said. “You had to be fearless.”
But even in the face of an angry, 1,600-pound animal with horns, Wick Peth said he was never afraid.
“Ninety-nine percent of bullfighters, (fear) was on their mind,” he said. “And you could see it.”
While Wick Peth might not have been afraid, his family sometimes was, Dan Peth said.
Dan Peth recalled a rodeo in Mount Vernon where his dad was thrown to the ground and knocked unconscious.
“I think that was the first time I’d ever seen him knocked out,” Dan Peth said. “It was kind of scary. Of course, after a while you get immune to the danger.”
For Wick Peth, it’s not the close calls or the accolades that have made his career. It’s not even the spotlight at places such as Madison Square Garden.
“The highlight of my career is having people look up to me,” he said.
Information from: Skagit Valley Herald, http://www.skagitvalleyherald.com