It’s a scruffy, old-West honky-tonk in Billings, Montana; smoky, crowded, noisy, with a poker game crammed into a corner. There’s almost a nostalgic decadence to the joint, particularly with all the men wearing cowboy hats and spurs. One towering figure dominates the room. Jim Gladstone is in his element, moving from one cowboy to the next, shaking hands, laughing loudly, hugging the odd old friend like a ward politician. Those in the room he doesn’t get to, get to him. Until four in the morning he never stops.
But then, the world calf-roping champion doesn’t tend to stop, anytime. Singing, on the road; laughing, all the time, even in his sleep; talking constantly or when he isn’t doing one of the others—and sometimes during— playing again and again his tape from the musical Grease. This slap-happy, carpet-bagging cowboy from Cardston, Alberta, who’s the only Canadian ever to win a roping title at the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City and who’ll be defending it next week, is the
same guy who “gets turned on” by political science courses, reads legislature reports voraciously and critically, is considering an offer to run for the Social Credit party in the next provincial election, has a strong background in credit management, and speaks out quickly—and lucidly—about the “white man who prefers to see the Indian kept down. They need us,but on their terms.” This cowboy, the grandson of the first Indian in the Canadian Senate, is a Blood Indian.
This day, Gladstone will put in an extra 500 driving miles pulling a horse trailer to take in a rodeo in Browning, Montana, that he doesn’t really need. The prize money is light considering the distance, the points don’t count toward the professional rodeo cowboys’ qualification list, he has just driven 1,000 miles, and he has to be in Portland, Oregon, the next day. But it’s an Indian rodeo, and Gladstone takes his Indian responsibilities seriously. He’d sooner miss Portland than Browning, even at the risk of not qualifying for the na-
tional finals. “The Indian needs some incentive from within,” he’ll say a dozen times a dozen ways. “We need some pride. The white man is quite happy with the stereotype of the drunken Indian. If you can keep a man down and still get his money, he’s easy to control.”
Gladstone has taken one major step to help from inside—he has just begun a horse-trailer plant on his land in southwestern Alberta that he hopes will soon employ a “substantial” number of Indians from the Blood reserve. “It better . . . everything I have is riding on it. If the plant hits the skids, I won’t be far behind.” But anyone who has dealt with him cringes before Gladstone’s business acumen ... his happy-go-lucky disposition turns straight and serious when he’s looking at a balance sheet.
As a world champion, the 35-year-old Gladstone has hardly been a national hero. There have been no endorsements, unless you count a local saddlery and “a new style of jacket I helped design which is being made on the reserve.” The panel on Front Page Challenge was totally baffled about who he was or what he did. Even the major Alberta dailies ignore rodeo except during big local events such as the Stampede.
“I cut back about 40 rodeos (from 125 last year) this year because I just was never home. My wife and four kids are important to me, and it was putting a real strain on our marriage.” He doesn’t mention the fact—but his rodeoing friends gladly do—that he has occasionally been known as something of a heller around the circuit.
“Ah, I’ve tamed down some,” he says. A convert to the Mormon church, he quit smoking some years ago, drinks hardly at all and “I don’t romp and stomp like I guess I did when I was younger. Life’s too short.”
There’s not much big money in rodeo. Gladstone made close to $50,000 in prize money last year, although he won’t admit to a figure. The trailer plant may be Jim Gladstone’s security, but politics are his aim. “The country’s over-governed . . . too socialistic . . . too many laws that don’t make sense. I just about decided to run for the legislature this time and I may again.” Parliament? A grin and a shrug. Deep down, Gladstone wants to be a rock singer, but anyone who has heard him singing along with Grease, over and over again, can only pray, please God, send Jim Gladstone to Parliament. Dan'l LaRocque
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