By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
“You think you’re a tough cowboy,
We’ll find out in the end
When that final whistle blows
And the stock’s all in the pen.”
– Chris LeDoux, “National Finals Rodeo”
He was Wyoming’s cowboy.
And Chris LeDoux is being forever memorialized at the “Daddy Of ‘Em All” this year with a bronze statue celebrating his career placed at Frontier Park in Cheyenne.
The massive bronze statue of LeDoux, made by Buffalo sculptor D. Michael Thomas and titled “Just LeDoux It,” was placed at its permanent home at Frontier Park in June and will be unveiled in a ceremony coinciding with the opening of Frontier Days on July 23.
The sculpture depicts the rodeo and music star on a bucking bronc, with a guitar nearby to honor both of LeDoux’s passions.
“When I read (the) book ‘Gold Buckle Dreams’ (detailing LeDoux’s life in the rodeo), I thought that was the pose,” said Thomas. “And he needs to be here, as part of his legacy.”
Chris LeDoux graduated from Cheyenne Central High School and went to Casper College on a rodeo scholarship before competing at both Cheyenne Frontier Days and the Cody Nite Rodeo. He was also a rancher in Kaycee.
But LeDoux wasn’t just any rodeo cowboy — he was a darned good one. In 1976 he was crowned the world bareback riding champion at the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City.
He retired from the circuit four years later – but by then he had caught the attention of the music industry.
To pay for his “rodeo habit,” LeDoux started selling homemade tapes of his rodeo-themed songs from the back of his pickup truck on the rodeo circuit in the 1970s. By the mid-1980s, he had already sold more than 250,000 albums, all of them self-released.
LeDoux became a national star when Garth Brooks dropped his name in his hit song “Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old.”
The two went on to collaborate on the top 10 hit “Whatcha Gonna Do With a Cowboy.”
LeDoux’s career was cut short when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2004 and the illness claimed his life in March of 2005.
A statue in memory of the star has been at the forefront of Thomas’ mind for the last few years — and placing the 12.5-foot tall, 17-foot long monument at Frontier Park is appropriate, according to the sculptor.
“You know, he went to high school there, he was a standout football player for Cheyenne Central,” Thomas explained. “He first rodeoed in Cheyenne at the ‘Daddy Of ‘Em All’ in 1968, and then they informed him that he was going to be a headline performer in 1993. And he famously said, ‘Whoa, Cheyenne? That’s like playing at the Grand Ole Opry to me.’”
Thomas’ statue portrays LeDoux wearing a Frontier Days contestant number 125 on his back to honor the event’s 125th anniversary. The life-and-a-half sized bronze was cast in Cody at Caleco Foundry.
Bob Goton, the general manager at the Foundry, said the large statue weighs over 3,500 pounds and it is made of around 100 small pieces that were individually sculpted, cast and welded together before the final process created the massive statue that balances on the horse’s front two legs.
“The man hours on that one, it had to be a little over 400 hours,” Goton recalled. “It was roughly around a two year project.”
Thomas pointed out that the tint of the bronze is unique and was selected carefully during the bronzing process.
“The gal that does the patinas at Caleco foundry, Trish, she just kind of came up with this that will last outside,” Thomas said. “So it should be good to go for hopefully 15-20 years.”
Thomas said his primary goal with the monument was to make sure LeDoux’s family approved.
“My biggest concern was that it looked like him,” Thomas told Cowboy State Daily.
“I’m just pleased that (Frontier Days Chief Executive Officer) Tom Hirsig got ahold of me about two and a half years ago and told me his plan, that he wanted to honor Chris Ledoux for the 125th,” he said. “And we were just all-in at that point. It’s been, of course, a challenge because there’s so many committees and so many people, but we’re getting her done, by God.”