Burnet's Bulldogger a Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer



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Tommy Puryear, local rodeo champion, sits down for interviews after learning of his induction into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

By Savanna Gregg

The Highlander

December brings many different thoughts to mind — cold weather, Christmas, snow (for some), hot chocolate, lounging by the fireplace on Christmas Eve anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus.

But for over 100,000 people every year, December also means National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada.

This week sees the kickoff of yet another NFR experience for cowboys and fans worldwide. The NFR has been a source of entertainment for rodeo fans since it was established in 1958. This year is no different. With this popular event just around the corner, Burnet County residents are reminded of the accomplishments of a local celebrity — steer-wrestling champion Tommy Puryear.

Puryear, a Burnet resident, grew up on a ranch in Dripping Springs owned by his family since the 1860s and was familiar with the goings-on in the rodeo world, attending a few rodeos as a child. When Puryear was 19 years old, he realized he wanted to get involved in the rodeo and experience it himself.

“It was the hot thing at that time, and it was always something really involved for young people,” Puryear said. “Rodeo was getting really popular all of a sudden and I had friends that were interested, so I got into it with them.”

What might have just been a pastime many people grew out of, Puryear realized was his calling. He began his rodeo career in 1970 at the age of 20.

“When I started going, my friend Leon Bauerle scooped me up out of the practice pen and said I needed to get involved in the bigger competitions,” Puryear said.

Puryear competed in steer wrestling, also known as “bulldogging,” in which the rider drops from his horse to wrestle a steer to the ground by its horns. As with other rodeo competitions, this sport poses a threat to the safety of the bulldogger, but he did not let this phase him. Despite the danger he repeatedly faced throughout his 20-year rodeo career, Puryear ended up qualifying for the Finals nine times.

“It's a rush,” Puryear said. “It all happens really quick, so you can't do a lot of thinking.”

A pro bulldogger has the opportunity to win a significant amount of money for his accomplishments, but Puryear says that wasn't his reason for getting involved.

“It never was about the money,” Puryear said. “That was nice, but it was, you know, just the competition. It doesn't matter what you're doing, you just want to win.”

And win, he did. Puryear achieved the coveted gold buckle at the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma in 1974, and throughout the rest of the decade, placed second three times and third and fourth once each.

Puryear grew up and went to school in the Austin area, but when he first began rodeoing, he coincidentally befriended a man well-known in Burnet — the late Pat Riddell, a former city councilman, creator of the Burnet Bluebonnet Festival, and son of Burnet's longest-serving sheriff, Wallace Riddell — who boasted a 14-year rodeo career

“I used to go to a lot of rodeos with him the first year that I started,” Puryear said. “So I had a little tie to Burnet before I moved up here in the 1980s.”

Puryear has called Burnet home for nearly 40 years, raising a family with his wife Peggy, who frequently competes in barrel racing. In 2009, Puryear was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.

“That was neat, since it's my home state,” Puryear said.

In March 2017, he received a phone call he was not expecting. Forty-seven years after starting his rodeo career, Puryear was informed that he was being inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in recognition of his accomplishments and dedication to the sport.

On Aug. 5, 2017, Puryear was honored at the induction ceremony at the Hall of Fame Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame has honored more than 250 men and women who have shown great dedication to the sport, including some well-known names like Chris LeDoux, Tuff Hedeman, and Lane Frost.

Cowboys are a special group of people and deserve the recognition they receive and more. They play a significant roll in keeping history alive and staying true to tradition, and leave their mark on the world while doing so.

Tommy Puryear's name will forever be displayed among rodeo royalty and the community of Burnet is proud to be home to someone with that level of talent and determination.

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