This report references one or more of the enduring lies that the inept horse thief and train robber Thomas Vernon told about himself:
that he was "Buffalo" Tom, the rodeo star; and that he was Thomas Averill, the fantasy love child of Jim Averill and Cattle Kate.
He was neither.
Recalling the old days rodeo, Tom "Buffalo" Vernon, above, looks over one of his most treasured possessions, a picture of Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill Cody
presented to him by the famed westerners. Vernon, whose real name is Tom Averill, rode in famed western shows headed by both of those men,
and was noted as one of the top hands in the rodeo world. He will visit the War Bonnet Roundup this year for the first time in 30 years. (Post-Register staff photo.)
The one little omission from this "old timer looks back" story is just what kept Old Tom away for the last 20-plus years. He was doing life in Folsom Prison for robbing a Southern Pacific passenger train in Saugus in 1929 until he was paroled.
Tom Vernon lied to this reporter and many others about being the famous rodeo bulldogger Buffalo Vernon. He certainly cowboyed, and he probably even rodeoed, but he was not Buffalo Vernon.
In a 1929 interview, he said western showman Pawnee Bill gave him the nickname "Buffalo." Here, in 1953, Tom says the Indians who supposedly raised him gave him the name when they saw him riding a saddled bison. Also, in 1929 Tom said he was the first to throw a single lariat around three horses; here, three have become "eight to 10."
One anachronism, at best: Tom says he joined Buffalo Bill's show at age 13 and toured Europe for three years. Trouble is, Tom would have been 13 in 1897-98, and Cody wasn't in Europe then. The show toured Europe from 1887-1892 and 1903-1906.
Now Tom adds that while in Europe, he was a ward of Annie Oakley. You'd think he might have mentioned it in 1929, but he didn't. In fact, in 1929 Tom said he was with Cody's show in the U.S., and he describes how he was "billed all over the country" (not the world).
Finally, we have no evidence of Tom Vernon working in the film business under any name, credited or otherwise.
One must wonder how a journalist could fail to ask Tom why he waited 30 years to return to Idaho (or if asked, why his answer wasn't reported). Then again, one must assume the reporter didn't predict, in his or her wildest imagination, that this cute little feature story would be treated as history one day, to be dissected by folks reading it with gizmos straight out of Buck Rogers.
A "granddaddy" of the rodeo world is scheduled to be on hand for the annual War Bonnet Roundup to compare notes on the rodeo as it is now and as it was in his heyday.
Tom Averill, who gained fame as a rider under the name of Tom "Buffalo" Vernon, will come back to the Roundup for the first time in 30 years. He took part in the rodeo here in 1923, and at that time was known over the nation as one of the foremost rodeo riders. This year, 30 years later, he is anxious to see the show to see how it compares with the one in which he was a contestant.
Averill, or Vernon, has a western background that would make any writer of western epics jump at the chance to write his story. Still in top shape and still riding at the age of 69, Averill has a spring in his step and sparkle in his eyes that belie his age. In a Post-Register interview here this week, Averill told some of the highlights of his life.
During his lifetime, Averill has been a performer in the famed W.F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody Wild West Show and the Pawnee Bill's western show. He has been a soldier, a movie actor, rodeo performer and ranch foreman.
He was the first man to "bulldog" a steer, and once performed his bulldogging act before President Theodore Roosevelt in Cheyenne, Wyo. His act was taken up by other rodeo performers, and has since become a featured event in ever rodeo.
The grand old man of rodeo said he has no particular home, and that he has lived at various places over the country. He is currently working on the ranch at Wayne Boam, about 10 miles north of here. In the 1923 edition of the War Bonnet Roundup, Averill rode with Wayne Boam's rather, R.G. Boam, who now lives in Grant, Idaho.
Raised by Indians
Averill was born in 1884. In 1889 his parents were murdered by cattle barons for homesteading on land that was wanted by the cattle interests, and the boy was shot through the neck. He was found later by a band of Sioux Indians and taken to the Pine Ridge Reservation where he was raised by Chief Iron Tail.
At the age of 13, Averill joined the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and for three years toured Europe with the organization. He again returned for a season of the show in 1908. Due to his young age, a New York court named the famed Annie Oakley as his guardian while the show performed abroad. Averill also performed with the Pawnee Bill western show.
He later enlisted in the Army Infantry and served in the Far East. After his discharge from the Infantry, he enlisted in the famed 5th Cavalry. He took another military stint during World War I as a railroad engineer for the Army in Europe.
When not performing in rodeos over the country or appearing in western shows, Averill appeared in movies with such famous western stars of yesteryear as the late Tom Mix, Harry Carey and Bill Hart.
"I once made $9,000 in 10 days in a rodeo in Long Island, N.Y.," said Averill in recalling the old days. He said there have been many changes in the rodeo, and "they are not what they used to be." The old rodeo trouper said the shows of today are not as lively as they used to be and not as spontaneous.
Where did he get the nickname Buffalo? Averill said the name came to him from Indians who watched him ride a buffalo with a saddle. It is believed that he is the first man ever to accomplish the feat. Other of his famous stunts included roping eight to 10 horses abreast.
Averill proudly produced documents yellowing with age from such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody and Pawnee Bill, whose name was Major Lillie. Cody said Averill was one of the best riders, ropers and steer bulldoggers of his wild west show. He also has a picture of Cody and Pawnee Bill which was presented to him many years ago and one of his most cherished possessions.
The rodeo old timer appeared a number of times in shows at Madison Square Garden, and has competed in such famous rodeos as the Calgary Stampede in Canada, and the famed rodeos at Pendleton and Cheyenne.
He said he wants to attend the last night of the War Bonnet Roundup especially to see the results of the show. A history of Averill is being written by Mr. Allen Dale, Idaho Falls, and it will be printed in the Roundup program. Mrs. Dale is a sister of Wayne Boam.
Courtesy of Donna Roth Phipps |
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