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Meet Tucson’s Ranchers and Rodeo Elite

Visiting White Stallion and King’s Anvil ranches to find Arizona’s toughest cowboys

Rick, a ranch hand at King's Anvil Ranch, rides a horse after checking on cattle near a body of water the cattle use for drinking.

Daniel Hud for Rolling Stone

Many of the ranches that spawned Tucson’s rodeo community still operate in the vast stretches of Arizona desert. They’re just not as involved in rodeo life as they once were, explains Russell True, who hosts a small weekly rodeo for his guests who stay at the White Stallion Ranch. Ranchers today have more land to themselves, and that generally keeps them busy. And competing in rodeos is challenging: Rather than being a hobby for ranchers, it’s generally the purvey of trained athletes with arena-size ambitions.

“To be serious in rodeo, you’re going to be on the road the majority of your time,” True says. He recalls watching a rodeo where the winning bronco rider came out for a victory trot on a horse. “The rider nearly fell off, and of course the whole stands laughed,” he says. “He just wasn’t a cowboy in the sense of riding and roping on the ranch.” In other words, the guy could only ride if the horse was bucking.

Joe King and his wife Sarah run King’s Anvil Ranch, 55,000 acres handed down through generations. King’s grandfather competed in the very first Tucson rodeo 92 years ago, but today Joe’s more concerned with his 450 cows. If he’s involved in the rodeo at all, it’s only symbolically.

And for 20-year-old Rio Lee, a first-year pro rider from Tucson who’s currently in the running for rookie of the year, the rodeo lifestyle is still strong. “[My grandpa] grew up working on a ranch, so [rodeo skills] were more a part of his daily life,” says Lee. “I’m stepping into it as a sport, to make money as a professional athlete.”

Daniel Hud for Rolling Stone

Jumpin’ Joe

 Joe King jumps off of ranching equipment while fixing gear that the wind opened on King’s Anvil Ranch.

Daniel Hud for Rolling Stone

Retired Rodeo Clown

Chuck Henson in his home in Tucson, Arizona. Chuck was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame for his years of work as a rodeo clown and also worked for years as a stuntman in Hollywood.

Daniel Hud for Rolling Stone

Clown Collectibles

A painting and other rodeo memorabilia in legendary rodeo clown Chuck Henson’s Tucson home. Much of Chuck’s family competes in rodeo events and their home is filled with generations of awards.

Daniel Hud for Rolling Stone

Rope Practice

Russel True practices roping at the White Stallion Ranch. Guests stay and are taught a number of ranching skills at the White Stallion Ranch.

Daniel Hud for Rolling Stone

Working on the Ranch

Rick sits in a truck while working on the ranch. King’s Anvil Ranch has employed a number of cowboys to help the family with the herd. 

Daniel Hud for Rolling Stone

Bridles and Reins

Joe grips a handful of bridles and reins after riding out to check on the cattle at the King’s Anvil Ranch.

Daniel Hud for Rolling Stone

Not His First Rodeo

Rio Lee with some of his saddles at his home in Tucson, Arizona. Rio has traveled the country going from rodeo to rodeo and has a full ride-scholarship because of his rodeo abilities.