“I don’t have a cell phone. I don’t know anything about computers and that stuff. I’m a cowboy.”
While that’s contrasting to most modern ways, Bud Sankey, 78, is a true businessman at his profession: cowboy.
And, certainly the Rose Hill cowboy isn’t ever a bit shy in saying what he believes. But, he can readily back it up with a lifetime of entrepreneur cowboy success.
“That $1.95 the people put in the tin can at the Sankey Arena gate is what always helped pay the bills,” verified Sankey as key to his successful professional cowboy lifestyle.
“I can make a damn sight more money with my head than with my hands,” Sankey contended.
“When I came to Kansas in an old beat up pickup from Fort Morgan, Colorado, in the ’60s, to train horses, I didn’t have but a dollar and ninety eight cents in my jeans’ pocket. I met Paul Mann at the bank, sat in his fancy new car, and he said ‘I can pay you $500 a month.’ I said, ‘you get some other guy out here. I’m a long ways from home, and I’ve enjoyed about all this I can stand. I’m going back West,’ and started toward the door,” reflected Sankey, nearly six decades later, after answering the first ring on his ranch home landline phone.
“I ended up getting $1,500 a month in advance,” Sankey verified.
“When those horses started winning and selling for high prices, the owner thought he’d just keep taking home the loot. I knew differently, even though my wages were actually pretty good for those days. I said I’d work for the same a while longer, but I had to have 10 percent commission on all of the horses that were sold. Again, grudgingly, Paul had to give in, or lose me,” Sankey continued.
That’s just the way it is with this cowboy, always has been and always will be, but don’t get the impression it’s been that easy. “Starting out here, I lived in a box stall with a folding cot, had a hot plate, and used the outhouse, but things got better,” Sankey admitted.
Recognized as a cowboy whatever the endeavor, Bud Sankey is known for the most varied aspects of his professional life.
He’s a horse trainer, champion horseshow exhibitor, saddle and tack designer-merchandizer, producer of weekly Saturday night jackpot rough stocks competitions, inventor of a mechanical bull, world championship bucking bull and bronc developer, the father of world champion cowboys Lyle and Ike Sankey, and today “has a few black cows, and diverse real estate investments.”
With that said, Bud Sankey would seem a “shoo in” for the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame. Yet, there was a dilemma: “What category does he really fit.”
Orin Friesen, operations manager at the Prairie Rose Chuck Wagon Supper near Benton, nominated Sankey for the honor. “If anyone deserved to be in the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame, it’s Bud Sankey. But, the toughest part was deciding which category to put him in. He could fit into any of them. Since, I had to choose one category, I picked Rodeo Cowboy.”
Selection committee agreed, and Bud Sankey was inducted into the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame at Dodge City with the class of 2014 in the Rodeo Cowboy category.
During ceremonies earlier this fall at Dodge City, Bud Sankey with world champion son Lyle Sankey, now of Branson, Missouri, and other family at side, accepted his accolades and additional tokens verification thereof to further stuff his overflowing horse and rodeo trophy case.
Not often short on words, Sankey kept his acceptance remarks concise, “I feel honored,” Sankey said. “I don’t feel I deserve it, because I’ve had a lot of help from people through the years. You know customers who bought the Sankey Saddles and took our rodeo classes, contestants and spectators at our weekly jackpot bull ridings, and many more.
“I tell you, at first, when they called from the Hall of Fame, I mostly made a lot of excuses why I couldn’t do it. And, this woman, I’m not sure who I was talking with, said, ‘Bud, get your butt out here.’ And I said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’”
Sankey then called upon son Lyle who emphatically acknowledged the senior cowboy’s abilities foremost in developing careers of future cowboys on all levels.
“Of everything Dad has done with horses, bucking stock and rodeos in his full cowboy life, the valuable assistance he provided me and Ike, our children, and literally thousands of other cowboys who achieved success with horses and rodeo is what really stands out and is truly the most important of it all,” Lyle Sankey credited.
“Lyle is the national cowboy, Ike is the one that takes the stock to the national finals, and I am the one that stays here and cleans the stalls,” Bud Sankey added. “All I’ve got is the pitchfork.”
There’s some truth to that evidently. The National Finals Rodeo was underway with Sankey Rodeo Company stock prevalent, and Lyle was preparing for another rodeo school, this one at Arkansas City, right after Christmas. Bud Sankey was feeding his black cows at Rose Hill.
“I’ve been to the finals, but I have so much to do around here. I haven’t been for several years. Ike’s not even there, now; his son Wade has the bucking stock at Vegas.
“Lyle has a rodeo school about every week somewhere, but I’ll probably be around to help some at the one he’ll have in a couple of weeks,” clarified Sankey, who keeps a couple dozen stock cows at the 40-acre Butler County tract he’s developed to world renown recognition.
Sankey has a lifetime of stories and jokes. “I worked for Bill Ross, owner of Ross Western Wear here, and trained lots of horses, for all events really at some time or another,” he said.
With a number of state cutting horse championships to his credit, Sankey bought and trained a two-year-old Appaloosa called Hoddy Doc to become a national champion. More than 150 horseshow trophies verify Sankey’s many cowboy and horse recognitions.
As with most fathers, Sankey sought assistance from his sons in starting colts. “Then, I started seeing spur marks on some of those young horses. The boys were trying to practice for rodeos on my riding horses. That’s when I actually got into the rodeo stock business,” Sankey said.
Bulls and broncs were purchased for practice that paid off. Sankey’s sons went on to collect many professional rodeo championships.
Lyle Sankey is one of just four men to have qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in all three rough stock events: bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding.
Ike Sankey is also a four-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier and in 1978 qualified for the NFR in both bareback and saddle bronc riding.
“We had the practice stock, and the indoor Sankey Arena, so we just started having weekly jackpots. Beginners came; cowboys of all levels came for practice between rodeos, and to win some travel money. The spectators liked it, too. Our Saturday night bull ridings became a tradition every week for 30 years,” Sankey reflected.
Sankey Rodeo Schools with his sons and other rodeo champions as instructors were hosted several times annually for most of the time.
While he hasn’t had the competitions or personally operated schools for more than five years, a number of prominent rodeo riders credit Bud Sankey for their start in the sport; John Luthi, Milburn and Mike Ouither, Doug Shipe and Spud Whitman to name just a few.
“Of course, Lyle has continued our tradition of Sankey Rodeo Schools,” Dad Bud noted.
Bud Sankey’s rodeo rough stock gained prestige throughout the country. “When a bull or bronc became too rank for the contestants who came here, I sold them to contractors around the country. Cowboys want to be able to ride sometimes, and the crowd doesn’t want everybody to get bucked off every time, either.
“Sometimes, I’d just put an old Holstein or a sale barn bull in the draw, so there’d be qualified rides, then take the bulls back to the auction the next week,” Sankey said.
“Of course, Ike is in the breeding business of both broncs and bulls, and we did a lot of trading over the years. I really didn’t keep track, probably couldn’t count them all, but there were a number of broncs and bulls that came through our arena year that ended up in the national finals,” Sankey verified.
Further verification of his most diversified abilities, Sankey invented “The Sankey Twister,” an electronic bucking machine that became in very high demand and has now been similarly-copied and merchandized.by many manufacturers.
Developing his own line of saddles that sold throughout the world, Sankey has always merchandized tack as part of his entrepreneurship, and today has a considerable collection of horse equipment and memorabilia.
It’s gentler livestock around the Sankey Ranch today. “I have some retired geldings and a three-year-old I can ride to check my cows, but I don’t really deal in any rough stock anymore,” he said.
Looking to the Sankey Rodeo School later this month in Cowley County, Sankey said, “Matt Williams will supply the stock there.”
With apparent pleasure, Sankey noted that Lyle in addition to the rodeo schools sells rodeo equipment, has a shooting range, offers personal defense training, and presents inspirational programs throughout the country.
“Everything we’ve always done has been a Christian run operation,” Sankey inserted.
Under Ike’s proprietorship, Sankey Rodeo Company, now in Joliet, Montana, has been in operation 35 years, and now Wade, a rodeo champion as well, even has his own next generation rodeo company called “New West Rodeo Productions.”
“All of my grandchildren, Wade, Ike’s daughter, and Lyle’s daughter have continued our Sankey family rodeo tradition I guess you’d say,” grandpa Bud Sankey proclaimed.
Never pulling any punches in what he believes and says, Sankey has reservations about the general horse market. “We’re never going to see the demand for horses like we used to. It’s just too expensive, not so much the horse, but the feed, facilities, everything involved with horse ownership. No way that the common people can afford horses now a days ,” Sankey contended.
However contrasting, the mature, obviously-wise , cowboy insisted: “Professional rodeo and big time horse shows will continue to grow. They have the money, and that’s it takes in this day and age.
“I’ve had the life most everybody dreams about. Looking back, it’s been a good one for me. If I was to do it over again, I’d do it the same,” Sankey conclusively summarized.
Others 2014 Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame Inductees: two brothers from Council Grove, Bob and Wayne Alexander, cattlemen and ranchers; Dusty Anderson, a working cowboy from Skiddy, located in Morris County; Fredric Young, Dodge City, cowboy historian; and Barry Ward, Dodge City, cowboy entertainer and artist.