One-arm cowboy in Oklahoma still entertains after 20 years
By JOHN KLEIN
Feb. 26, 2018
SHIDLER, Okla. (AP) — The 101 Ranch Rodeo in Ponca City needed someone to round up 24 "mean nasty bulls" in Osage County.
A group of ranch hands worked all day and only got one into a pen. John Payne said he could do it.
"I was a one-arm cowboy in 1983, and there wasn't a whole lot of work out there for a guy like me," he said.
Payne took three dogs, his favorite horse, a rope, one bullwhip and a bunch of determination.
"The dogs were herding," said Payne. "My horse was cutting. I was shooting a pistol. I had a rope in my mouth and the bullwhip in my hand. Before the day was done, I had all 24 of those bulls in a pen ready to be picked up by the rodeo cowboys.
"The rodeo manager told me it was the damnedest thing he'd ever seen. That got me to thinking."
What he was thinking was that a rodeo show, featuring him and his three dogs herding cattle, might actually be a job.
So Payne started working on the show. Every day he would go out in the pasture and herd cattle into a pen. That led to his herding cattle onto a trailer. Eventually, it led to herding cattle on top of the roof of his truck.
These days, John the "One Arm Bandit" herds all sorts of animals onto the truck during breaks in rodeo competitions.
"Cattle, buffaloes — heck, I even got a zebra I can herd up on top of the truck," said Payne. "It ain't easy to get a bunch of buffalo up on top of a truck and get them to stay there.
"Oh, when I get them all up there, I ride my horse up on top, too. It is a heckuva deal."
Payne, somewhat of a local legend in Osage County, has been named the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association entertainer of the year 15 times in the 30 years since he took his act on the road.
"I've had the best act out there on the rodeo circuit for 30 years, but they like to pass the award around, so they occasionally let someone else win it," said Payne.
The One Arm Bandit show has become the One Arm Bandit & Co. over the past 20 years as Payne's son Lynn and daughter Mandy have joined the show, the Tulsa World reported.
Dozens of rodeo entertainers do shows during the breaks in the rodeo competitions; however, the One Arm Bandit is the king of the rodeo arenas across the country. Payne has even taken his act overseas, once doing his show in Muscat, Oman.
Payne turns 65 this year. His first show on the circuit came at the 1987 Tulsa State Fair Rodeo.
"I got a bull to go on top of a Dodge truck," said Payne. "It has grown from there. I joined the PRCA that year and hit the road. I had $800 in my pocket."
That first year he did 90 performances all across the country. He's done as many as 100 in a year.
His daughter Mandy, who owns a popular cafe in Shidler, does perhaps 20 performances of the show around the country during the summer. Payne's son Lynn is nursing a bad back but often does 20 performances in a year.
All of the shows are similar: getting animals herded onto trailers and on top of trucks.
"We've been around it our entire lives," said Mandy Sellers. "We learned by watching and doing."
These days Payne tries to limit his schedule to about 40 events covering about 100 days a year. He opened this year with a bull riding event in Georgia and has an upcoming show at a bull riding event in Chicago.
Payne has collected about five trucks and trailers for the act over the years. He has 20 dogs, black mouth curs, and uses three to four dogs in his performance.
"The black mouth cur is the best dog out there," said Payne. "When it comes to farming and ranching, they're the best. They're so smart. They learn so quick."
He has about 35 horses, all paints bought from the Sioux tribe in South Dakota.
"Fabulous horses," said Payne. "Very smart. They're full of energy, but you can train them really well."
Among the animals he trains to be herded are 10 buffalo, 50 longhorn Watusi cross, eight mules, 10 donkeys and one zebra.
"I always wondered if you could get a zebra on top of a trailer," said Payne. "I found out the answer is yes."
He spends the winter, off season for rodeo, training animals. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.
"I spent about 10 years trying to train one old steer," said Payne. "He died of old age before I got him trained."
Payne figures he won't be retiring any time soon. His father worked until he died at age 90.
And Payne knows he got a second chance at life after being severely shocked by electricity when he was 20.
He was working on tearing down a house when he climbed up a power pole to disconnect the electricity to the house.
"The next thing I know I'm laying on the ground and someone is giving me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation," said Payne. "I lost my arm and nearly lost a leg. But I survived."
His new attitude was simple.
"Having just one arm gave all of the two-arm guys a better chance against me," he said. "Actually, it didn't make me sad. It just made me mad. I never felt sorry for myself.
"I was broke. I had lost all my money in the cattle market. And there wasn't much work for a guy like me. It all worked out."
Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com