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Wyoming Rodeo Hero Chris LeDoux Celebrated With Statue At Cheyenne Frontier Days

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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.”

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Bill Sniffin: Today Brings Back Memories of the Great Wyoming Native Son Chris LeDoux

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher of Cowboy State Daily

“Take me back to old Wyoming, I’ve been away too long. I want to hear the meadowlark singing this cowboy’s favorite song. I want to saddle up old paint and just ride him out across the hills. I belong in old Wyoming and I reckon that I always will.” – Lyrics by the late Chris LeDoux.

       On March 9, 2005, Wyoming lost one of its favorite sons when singer and rodeo star Chris LeDoux died from complications of liver cancer at the age of 56.

         Gov. Dave Freudenthal proclaimed the next Saturday as “Chris LeDoux Day,” as a way for Wyomingites to celebrate his life and honor his achievements. “Chris LeDoux has meant a lot to Wyoming, from his earliest days of riding bareback to his later days of making music,” Gov. Freudenthal said. “Cheyenne Frontier Days, when fans of both would gather, seems like an appropriate time to honor his memory.” His proclamation also contains the line: “Whereas, Chris LeDoux was a cowboy in the truest and best sense of the word.” Couldn’t say it much better than that.

         LeDoux had a love of Wyoming that came through his singing and his actions.  A champion rodeo cowboy, he worked just as hard becoming an entertainer as he did to be a champion rodeo athlete.

       Former Wyoming Tourism Director Gene Bryan has fond memories of Chris from his many years of involvement with Cheyenne Frontier Days:

       “I first remember Chris when he played defensive end for the

Cheyenne Central football teams, coached by former coach Jim McLeod. I first met Chris when I was exec for the Cheyenne Frontier Days Committee and he was pedaling his 8-track tapes out of a booth at Frontier Park. 

       “He would call me and the question was always the same, ‘Gene, what do I have to do to perform at the Night Show?’ and my response was always the same: ‘Get famous.’ Well, he did (boy, howdy, did he!). I think another Acts Chairman John Tabor, who was a close friend of Chris’, would echo the statement that he was the most popular entertainer to perform at the CFD concerts, even more than the star who helped launch him, Garth Brooks.

       “He was a cowboy’s cowboy–always polite, always a gentleman.  He never forgot his roots.  He’s gone, but I can guarantee he won’t be forgotten. Terrible loss to the Cowboy State without question.”

        LeDoux personified the “Wyoming way,” in both his actions and his lifestyle.  He lived by a handshake and felt a commitment was a commitment.

      Bill Lewkowitz of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort recalls the late singer fondly.  “Many people at our resort learned what many cowboys across the country and many people in Wyoming already knew — that Chris was a great musician, performer and just a really nice guy!  We invited him back to play a concert to help celebrate our 30th anniversary of the resort and he played to a very enthusiastic audience. 

       “Chris played both of these concerts for much less money than he was being paid at the time, but did the concerts for less to help a Wyoming neighbor with their events.  Chris brought his family back to ski several times.  He never wore a fancy ski suit, just a Carhartt one-piece work suit, that as he told me was suited for any winter chore from birthing calves to skiing in Jackson Hole.

       “After struggling along with his record label in Nashville to get permission to use Chris’s music for a promotional video, we finally got hold of him directly and he granted us permission to several of his songs.  As long as we were working on a project that helped promote the great state of Wyoming, using his music was fine by him.

       “I also worked with Chris at the Teton County Fair.  A concert that Chris was scheduled to perform one July was rained out due to a powerful thunderstorm, but Chris did everything in his power to get the show complete. The weather never did cooperate, but Chris let us know he wanted to come back to play again.  Our entire local rodeo crowd, of course, loves his music and people travel from all over the state to listen to him.  Interestingly, Chris’ band played the Rancher Bar in Jackson back in the early 1980s.”

       Chris LeDoux loved Wyoming and had a great way of writing about and singing about his home state. Here are some lyrics from one of his songs:

 “You ain’t lived until you’ve watched those Northern Lights, sat around the campfire and hear the coyotes call at night. Makes you feel alright, so guess I’ll stay right where I’m at, wear my boots and my cowboy hat. But I’ll come and see ya once in a while. I gotta be where I can see those Rocky Mountains, ride my horse and watch an eagle fly. I gotta live my life and write my songs beneath these Western Skies. When I die you can bury me beneath these Western Skies, Yippee.”

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