Our Heros and a World Champion Bronc Rider and an Academy Award Winner

Together in the most unlikely places--a roping arena on a small horse farm in western Oklahoma.

Photo credits given below plus yummy cinimon role recipe.

September 1945 was history, and World War II was over except for the physical and mental torture such tragedies leave in their path. Soldiers and Rosie Riviters were home to tears and hugs. The home war effort of families, farms, factories, salvaging firms, and the like were refocussing daily life. Wives, children, parents, and families of the thousands killed and many missing and never returning were

trying desperately to cope through tears of anguish and questions. Most often out of

guilt, no one talked much about those days of war. “Why did I survive and not the guy next to me?” Little things, though, like tatoos on some soldier arms, were reminders of the price of freedom. And, saddly, the Korean conflict was just over the hill and Vietnam not far behindl. ... Ike was correct!

We’ve learned the goal to be free is step-by-step and never ending. Sometimes progress is measured in decades if not centuries. In-grained colonial dictates, habits not good, and some history had to be overcome. And, freedom steps still had to be won when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. It's a valued work in progress, although the United States celebrates 'Freedom' on each July Fourth.

On the Western Great Plains, cowboy and cowgirl rodeos often coincided with July Fourth celebrations. Of course, smaller rodeo arenas materialized to polish one’s rodeo skills. A few were even built on small horse and cattle farms. The story below is of such a farm arena in western Oklahoma and the day when two mystery visitors were present with others. The year was about 1953

Campfire Story:

“More people than usual will be here this evening (for the roping),” Floyd “Fiddle” VanDeburgh reminded his wife and my mom, Mildred VanDeburgh. His VanDeburgh family and mom’s Spangler-Savoy families were long-time inhabitants of Beaver County Oklahoma. They now lived on a horse and cattle farm where Fiddle’s VanDeburgh parents had prior. It was twelve miles southwest of Beaver, straight north of Balko and, with the addition of share-cropper parsels, the total acreage was fairly large. It was a land and culture where neighbors and many county residents knew each other by first name. Fiddle and mom frequently played bridge with a few.

Fiddle was a master horseman; especially, quarter horses and regarding discipline, steer heading, and roping. Seldom any week went by without someone bringing a horse or several to him for training. It was probably where his son, my brother, Floyd VanDeburgh III got his horseman talent, but that is another story.

I know this about Fiddle for certain, as it usually was my job, even though I was not quite ten years old, to make sure each horse had the proper amount of feed, water, and often exercise. Horses are smart, and I’ve seen them do unbelievable things. I’ve been stepped on, swished with their tails, pushed purposely but gently against the fence corral, and even seen closed gates opened by them. Plus, I was jolted off enough of them over the years, but that's another story, too!

Fiddle owned one of the best and smartest quarter horses around for roping. I often heard an offer to buy him. The horse’s name was Sparky. I've seen him open gates, but he was a sucker for a bucket of grain. He was so quick, like he exploded from the starting shute when a steer was released into the arena. Many a cowboy was left on his behind when they insisted on being allowed to rope on him. Cowpokes, who knew about Sparky, would gather around to watch a new comer try him.

Yes, it was going to be a fun evening with the local cowpokes coming with their horse trailers. All the usual bunch within a few miles seemed to arrive about the same time: the Carters who had an arena of their own near the cool of Willow Creek, the Wilsons and Fiddle’s brother, Lem, Blacky and Ruby (Akridge) Williams, who Fiddle and mom frequently played bridge with, J.R. Akridge, who rodeoed often with Fiddle prior to his marriage to mom, Don and Mildred Venable, the Greggs, and even a couple of the Parker brothers. Going to be a large group this evening. 

Suddenly, more cowpokes pulled up: the Cates from over near Elmwood, Bert McGown and Leroy Hibbs from town and, even Sheriff Shook. What’s going on? While I was helping to do whatever a young kid was allowed, I looked up and noticed a couple of cowboy strangers. They seemed to be the center of lots of attention.

I soon learned one of the strangers (to me) was Eddy Akridge, the brother to J.R. Akridge and sisters, Ruby Williams and Jimmie. All three lived in Beaver County, and Eddy was visiting them. Seemed the other cowboy was with Eddy. Don’t remember either of them doing much during the evening, except talking with folks, and helping on borrowed horses to herd the roping steers back from the holding pen. The only other thing: the cowboy stranger had a couple rides on Sparky. Didn’t say much afterwards, just, “Best be ready when that horse breaks (from the starting shute)!” 

Learned later, both were on the pro rodeo circuit, and were World Champs in their event that year—bareback bronc riding for Eddy and steer roping for the other guy. However, I still didn’t have a name for the second stranger.

In addition to 1953, Eddy also was the pro rodeo Bareback Bronc Rider World Champ in 1954, 1955, and 1961. Some of his other rodeo accomplishments included: All-Around Champion Cowboy in 1949 at both the Pendleton Roundup and the Calgary Stampede. He had other noteworthy rodeo related accomplishments, and the cowboy legend was inducted into the PRCA Rodeo Hall of Champions in 1979 and he is in the National Cowboy Museum Rodeo Hall of Fame.

As for the cowboy stranger with Eddy that day in western Oklahoma, I didn’t make the connection of who it was until one evening in 1971 while taking a break from my graduate studies and watching the Academy Awards on TV. The man receiving the Academy Award as Sam the Lion in the Last Picture Show was the stranger who was with Eddy that evening in 1953.

Said his name was Francis Benjamin Johnson Jr, and he had a long career in western movie and TV roles.

Career started in the late 1940s, but he had taken a break from helping at Big Fella, John enforce justice and 'the law west of the Pecos River' in 1953 to refresh his cowboy roots and compete on the rodeo circuit. Like Eddy, Johnson won a World Championship in his steer roping event that year.

Yes, the western Great Plains is a wonderful experience and fabulous place. It’s where the buffalo, Indian, cowboy, and pioneer spirit seems ever present. Eddy and Ben contributed to its lore. ... Both probably had one of the best times of their lives that evening with the local cowboys and cowgirls on that horse and cattle farm. ... I’m certain a ten-year old youngster and many locals did.

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I’ve never forgotten memories of the western Great Plains, its small towns, its culture and character. I find those admirable attributes often are woven into my writings. ... I should have expected this!


Thanks for stopping by my campfire, and sharing the memories and a little history.


I’ll keep the campfire burning,




PS: Feel free to share this Fourth of July Campfire Story with someone else. They also can receive future Campfire Stories by sending an email to Clifton at www.CFSavoy@Nettally.com or joining Clifton's Campfire on his author website: www.CliftonSavoy.com

 Photos: First, thanks to so many folks who offered use of their magnificint creations. Just couldn't use all, though.   Photos: (top down): #1 and #2 WWII vintage photos (famous Rosenthal pic of 2nd flag on Iwo Jima) Courtesy use by National Archives. #3 OK scene courtesy of J. Blackwell. #4 Horse herd Courtesy M. Roberts. #5 The Roper, painting by the super talented, but late Sally Kippenberger Gregory of Wyoming but grew up in western OK.

#6 and #7 Eddy Akridge, Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame Bio (see link below). #8 Ben Johnson, courtesy National Archives of public figures,

#4 Photo by MJR Photography. Contact at okieclicknsnap@gmail.com 

#s 6&7: National cowboy Museum Rodeo Hall of Fame.  https://nationalcowboymuseum.org/collections/awards/rodeo-hall-of-fame/inductees/5251/


 Part One of the uly Fourth Campfire Story: is available upon request to Clifton Savoy. Just reply and send the request. ... God bless! ... cs

© Clifton Savoy, Ph.D.

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 Mildred’s Cinnamon Rolls

In memory of Clifton's mom, Mildred (Spangler-Savoy).

Her birthday was July 4th, and thought when a child everyone was celebrating her birthday. When older, she said she pretended they were. Great cook and known for many yummy recipes. This is one of them.


For an 8 X 8 inch baking dish use 1 roll of dough

& use the following:

After first rising take dough & roll out flat on a floured counter top (using about 2 TBS flour leaving a thickness of about 1/2 inch.

Lavishly spread softened butter on dough, then sprinkle about 1/4 C. sugar & cover with about 1 1/2 TBS cinnamon.

Add raisins &/or pecan pieces if desired.

Roll up & cut & lay in pan to raise.

While these are rising, measure about 1 1/2 C brown sugar & about 1/3 C milk & simmer on stove for about 10 - 15 min. stirring frequently. Make sure this mixture is cool when pouring over raised dough just before baking at 350 degrees for 20 mins. or until done.

Let the cinnamon rolls cool before removing from the baking dish.


For a 9 X 12 baking dish use 1 1/2 rolls of dough & do the following: use the same directions as above:

Use a little more butter, sugar & cinnamon to rolled out dough.

Also use 2 C. brown sugar & at least 1/2 C. milk to simmer & cool & pour over raised cinnamon rolls just before baking.

Bake at same temp. & same amt. of time.

These measurements are what works best for me. Just like anything else, each time you make the cinnamon rolls you will figure out what works best for your desired results. Enjoy!!!