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  • Paul Cooley


GERRY – It was 75 years ago in 1945 when a young girl named Madonna Eskew traveled to the first rodeo in Gerry, New York, with her grandfather Col. Jim Eskew, who was the stock contractor for that first rodeo. Little did anyone imagine that this little girl would become a rodeo legend and that Gerry would play a small part in launching her career.

A year later at age five, she performed for the Gerry fans as a trick rider, a skill she learned from her grandmother on an old paint horse named Boy. She fast became a favorite of the Gerry fans and by age nine had added trick roping to her act and continued to be a part of the Gerry Rodeo for the first fourteen years of its existence until her grandfather retired and a new stock contractor was hired in Gerry.

She remembers coming to Gerry by train with the stock which were then unloaded and herded down Route 60 to the rodeo grounds. Col. Eskew made his headquarters in Waverly, New York, where four railroads came together, making for easy transportation of his animals. He built a home there and produced rodeos all over the eastern seaboard and became one of the legends of rodeo.

It was only natural that Madonna should follow the rodeo circuit as her father Jim Eskew, Jr. was also a rodeo producer as well as a trick roper while her mother was a trick rider and roper and bronc rider. After her grandfather retired, Madonna graduated from high school in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and went to college for a year, but her father needed her in his act so she came home and went on the road with him. Together they performed across the country for the next 15 years.

After her dad’s retirement due to poor health, Madonna and her husband Jim Pumphrey raised quarter horses, and she spent 15 years volunteering with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), speaking up for children’s best interests and mentoring them.

Today, Madonna still lives in Oklahoma where her husband died a year. At nearly 78 years old, she says she still loves rodeo and all the friends she made. She adds, “I have had a pretty exciting life. If I go tomorrow, I can’t say I haven’t tried a lot of stuff”.

In 2003 she received the Tad Lucas Award, given by the Cowgirls’ Hall of Fame to the woman “who displays not only great talent, but spirit, courage, compassion while upholding and promoting our great Western heritage”. Tad Lucas was one of the all-time great women performers and competitors in rodeo history.

In another connection with the Gerry Rodeo, Donita Barnes, wife, mother, and rodeo secretary of the Barnes family, who were the stock contractors for 24 years here, was honored with that award in 2010. Also, in 2011 the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association honored Donita with its Lifetime Achievement Award and the next year renamed the award as the Donita Barnes Lifetime Achievement Award.

It leaves us, the Gerry rodeo fans, wondering if we are watching someone among the present-day rodeo performers and contestants who could become the next legend in the sport of rodeo. It has happened before and could happen again.

Madonna Eskew performed trick roping as a young girl at the early Gerry Rodeos with her grandfather, Col. Jim Eskew watching.

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