Veteran Texas cowboy is back in the saddle again

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by JIM DOUGLAS

WFAA

Posted on February 18, 2011 at 2:31 PM

ERATH COUNTY — A 91-year-old former rodeo star is sitting tall in the saddle again.

The prize saddle he won in New York City 65 years ago was stolen by a burglar in Stephenville four months ago.  

The strange story of how he got it back is no bull.  

"That was 1939 when that was taken," said G.K. Lewallen, pointing at a black-and-white photo of himself hanging on to a bull that has all four hooves off the ground...  way off the ground.  

"He bucked me off right before the whistle."

The bull was named Sky High.  Lewallen shook his head. "I took a lot of hard knocks, I guess."

He started riding bulls back before they sawed off the horns.  The horn tips pointed at his face like bayonets. 

He turned the page in his scrapbook and pointed to another ride.   At 91, Lewallen can still remember the best ones.  

"That was called Doodler, I believe, that longhorn.  He was pretty hard to ride. He spun."

Lewallen is still sharp as a spur, and proud of the career that landed him in the Rodeo Hall of Fame.  He especially recalls the World Champion Rodeo of 1945 at New York's Madison Square Garden.   A photo from the time shows him standing in a row of other cowboys.   

Lewallen is next to Roy Rogers, and holding the fancy saddle he won as world champion bull rider.  

In February, a thief stole that saddle out of Lewallen's Erath County home.

"Oh yeah, it broke my heart,"he says.  "It means a lot to me. It sure does mean a lot to me."

But G.K. Lewallen says he's been lucky all his life.   And so he was again, nearly four months later, when another Stephenville cowboy wandered into a pawn shop 112 miles away in Garland.

"It had just come out of hock," said Josh Allen.  "They just put it on the shelf before I got there."

Allen just happens to be a saddle repairman.  He knew he was looking at hand-tooled leather history, and he was determined to get it back to the man who won it.

"Yeah, I tried to buy it," Allen said.  "They wanted $500. I talked them down to $380. Know how much they gave for it? $100."

One-hundred dollars.   G.K. Lewallen paid for that saddle with a lifetime of blood and broken bones.

"I looked down and I had a right angle here in my thigh," Lewallen said. "It was. It was that bad."  

It was so bad they had to remove a window from his train car and load him in like cargo for the trip back to Texas.   

Then there was the bucking horse that pinned him against an arena wall.   "I had about a five-inch tear in my liver from that," Lewallen said.

So the stolen saddle is priceless.   

Josh Allen says no real cowboy would have stolen it.   "I heard a guy make a comment one time. His house actually burned down. He lost almost everything he had. He wasn't too worried about it, because he still had his saddle."

Josh Allen called investigators, who returned the saddle within hours.    

Despite his years, G.K. Lewallen easily swung his leg over the saddle on a bench in his living room.   He smiled and kicked his legs in the stirrups.   

"I'm just real proud I won it," he said. "It is a good saddle. I've had it for 65 years."

Lewallen is still missing some championship buckles and his Hall of Fame medallion. 

His wife's jewelry was taken, too.   It might all be melted down by now for a few dollars.    

But to an old rodeo cowboy like G.K. Lewallen, his prize saddle is the real gem. 

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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