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Guide to the Reba Perry Blakely Papers
Reba Perry Blakely (1908-2002) Papers, 1903-1997
1.5 cubic feet (3 document boxes)
Collection #: 074
Papers and photographs of rodeo performer and researcher Reba Perry Blakely, which include extensive correspondence with the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and fragmentary correspondence with several rodeo personalities, subject files connected with various writing and research projects, some of Perry’s articles in manuscript and printed form, and over 60 photographic images, mostly copy prints associated with her writing projects. Some correspondence connected with her research and writing activities and very sparse and fragmentary financial records are also included in this small collection.
Rodeo performer and writer Reba Perry Blakely was born on April 3, 1908 near Puyallup, Washington. Her father was a rancher and former railroad surveyor who married late in life, and her mother grew up around horses in Minnesota. Reba was the last of nine children. Her mother had typhoid fever while she was pregnant with Reba and, probably as a result of her mother’s illness, Reba had to wear leg braces during her first 13 years. She took to horses early and by age nine was delivering more than 200 daily and Sunday newspapers on horseback. The Perry ranch overlooked the Puyallup Fairgrounds and the rodeo performances she witnessed there, especially the horse riding of the Drumheller family of Walla Walla, Washington, inspired her dreams. By 1926 Reba Perry had become a rodeo performer.
Perry sought out specialists to teach her what she needed to know to be successful in rodeo. Vera McGinnis taught her trick riding, Gordon Jones taught her trick roping, and Ollie Osborn taught her relay racing. Between 1928 and 1935 Reba Perry relay raced against the best and had her share of success. She also trick roped and trick rode with her horse Buddy. By 1936 she was out of rodeo, although she did make a brief comeback between 1940 and 1943. She settled in California and started writing, primarily about horse subjects.
Perry began a relationship with the Yuba/Sutter 13th District Agricultural Fair in Yuba City, California and was a fair and horse show manager at the facility off-and-on between 1942 and 1954. During World War II she took a 5-year lease on the Yuba City Fairgrounds to start a horse boarding business, but the facility reverted to the city after World War II and she ended up losing money on the venture. Also during World War II, she was married to William E. Blakely, a sheep rancher from Redmond, Oregon. The marriage ended, but it is not clear how or when.
Over the years Reba Perry Blakely worked at a variety of occupations including postal and government employee, grant funded researcher, practical nurse, and writer. In 1979, she was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame primarily for her rodeo writing and research, but also for her rodeo career. In 1985, she was awarded a historian/journalist award by the Rodeo Historical Society. As the 1980s and 1990s wore on, she continued to write, but failing eyesight and mental acuity began to take their toll. She died in a nursing facility in Alturas, California on September 13, 2002.
The Reba Perry Blakely Papers have been arranged in five series: Correspondence, Financial, Subject Files, Writing, and Photographs. The bulk of this material came to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (now the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Center) in envelopes mailed over a period of many years. This material had no discernable arrangement; the arrangement here was created during processing to aid researcher access.
Series 1: Correspondence (1972-1997)
The largest series in the collection; the bulk of the series consists of letters between Blakely and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (NCHF). The NCHF correspondence concerns articles she is writing for NCHF rodeo publications, potential articles she is pitching, her research and rodeo photography collections, and recommendations for inductees to the Rodeo Hall of Fame at the NCHF. During the tenure of former NCHF Executive Director Byron Price, Blakely apparently looked on him as a confidante to whom she could write about her health, money, and other personal problems; some of the correspondence reflects this. Many of Blakely’s later handwritten letters are very hard to decipher. Failing eyesight led to her deteriorating handwriting. Towards the end of her life Blakely apparently suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and some of the later correspondence seems to betray a lack of cognitive function.
Correspondence with rodeo people is another focus of the collection. Correspondents include Rodeo Historical Society honorees Buff Brady, Jr., Polly Burson, Ray Bell, and Sam Garrett. Garrett, especially, was a good correspondent. The letters discuss his life and answer Blakely’s questions about the 101 Ranch and the early days of rodeo. An interesting letter from E. Roland Harriman, honorary board chairman of the Union Pacific Corporation, concerns Harriman’s memories of rodeo entrepreneur C. B. Irwin. Other letters concern article research and sales as well as general business correspondence.
Series 2: Financial (1980-1984)
The smallest series is primarily comprised of payment vouchers for Blakely articles and research that appeared in the NCHF rodeo publication, The Wild Bunch.
Series 3: Subject Files (1903-1994)
Includes autobiographical and research material Blakely collected for her articles on rodeo and other subjects. Blakely and her life is documented in several photocopied clippings and her self-penned Outline for an Autobiography, which focuses mostly on her parents. Other rodeo subjects, primarily documented through photocopied clippings and Blakely’s notes, include the 1912 Calgary Stampede, Sam Garrett, Bonnie Jean Gray, Harry and Pete Knight, and Lucyle Richards. Additional subjects include President Theodore Roosevelt, performers Tom Mix and Will Rogers, and the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, which inducted Blakely in 1979. One of the most interesting items in the Subject Files is a reminiscence of the 1939 cross-country horse race from Fort Worth, Texas to San Francisco, California sponsored by Nocona Boot Company founder Enid Justin, which was written by race participant George Cates.
Series 4: Writing (1962-1994)
Includes 14 Reba Perry Blakely articles, in both printed and manuscript form. The majority of these articles deal with rodeo, and article subjects include Sam Garrett, Fox Hastings, Hippy Burmeister, and Pete and Harry Knight. Other article subjects include sculptor A. Phimister Proctor and actor Tom Mix. The remainder of the Writing series consists of notes, mostly directed to NCHF Executive Director Byron Price, written by Blakely on envelopes, clippings, and slips of paper.
Series 5: Photographs (1920-1989)
Includes over sixty photographic prints and negatives. The majority of the photographs are copy prints Blakely obtained from a variety of sources to illustrate articles on topics such as the Calgary Stampede, Sam Garrett, Hamley & Co., Tom Mix, Will Rogers, and Theodore Roosevelt. Also included are eight photographs of Blakely herself including a publicity photograph, copy prints and copy negatives of Blakely as a rodeo performer, and an image of Blakely and her fellow inductees at the 1979 National Cowgirl Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
Blakely, Reba Perry.
Gray, Bonnie Jean.
Irwin, Charles Burton.
Mix, Tom, 1880-1940.
Price, B. Byron.
Rogers, Will, 1879-1935.
Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919.
Cowgirl Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Center.
National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center.
Rodeo Historical Society.
Women authors, American—California.
The Reba Perry Blakely Papers primarily consist of letters, photographs, and other materials mailed to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (now the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Center) by Blakely over a period of many years. The collection also includes some deaccessioned records of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame concerning Blakely, mostly copies of letters mailed to her. Fifty audio cassettes mailed by Blakely to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, which include research notes, interviews, biographical material, and oral correspondence, have been separated to the stacks of the Dickinson Research Center.
The Reba Perry Blakely Papers is the property of the Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Literary right, including copyright, belongs to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, with the exception of copyrighted artwork images and published literary works, which are the property of the respective copyright holders. It is the responsibility of the researcher, and his/her publisher, to obtain publishing permission from individuals pictured, relevant copyright holders, and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
The collection is open for research. It is advisable for researchers to discuss their proposed research with staff prior to visiting the Center.
Reba Perry Blakely Papers, Box ##, Folder ##, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Related Collections, Exhibits, & Links
Doubleday's Cowgirls: Women in the Rodeo: An exhibit on the cowgirls of rodeo, as portrayed by prolific photographer Ralph R. Doubleday.
| Series 1: Correspondence, 1972-1997
||Ray Bell, 1972
||Buff Brady, 1976-1977, undated
||Ruth Brown, 1990
||Polly Burson, 1990
||Ida Church, 1986
||Glenn DeMoss, 1990
||East Oregonian newspaper, 1989
||Sam Garrett, 1977-1989
||E. Roland Harriman, 1974
||John Kaufman, 1988
||Bertha Klausner International Literary Agency, 1987
||Montie Montana, 1988
||National Cowboy Hall of Fame, 1975-1989
||National Cowboy Hall of Fame, 1990-1997, undated
||National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, 1979-1987
||National Retired Teachers Association, 1979
||P-W, 1982-1986, undated
| Series 2: Financial, 1980-1984
||Financial, Writing payments, 1980-1984, undated
| Series 3: Subject Files, 1903-1994
||Reba Perry Blakely, 1978-1986
||Ben & Bev Boone, undated
||Calgary Stampede, 1972, undated
||George Cates, undated
||Drumheller Family, 1984, undated
||Sam Garrett, 1979, undated
||Bonnie Jean Gray, 1956-1986
||Hamley & Co., 1983
||Harry & Pete Knight, 1989, undated
||Tom Mix, 1967-1968, undated
||Montie Montana, undated
||Lucille Mulhall, 1967, undated
||National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, 1979-1994, undated
||Lucyle Richards, undated
||Rodeo, 1979-1991, undated
||Will Rogers, 1934-1984, undated
||Theodore Roosevelt, 1903-1981, undated
||Western History, 1989, undated
| Series 4: Writing, 1962-1994
||Articles, "Allen Drumheller, Sr., The Walla Wall Cowboy," 1978-1979
||Articles, "Buff Brady, Junior: The Last of the Cowboy Trick Riding Greats," 1978
||Articles, "Buff Brady, Senior: Five Times World Champion," undated
||Articles, "Hippy Burmeister Recalls Confrontation With Steamboat at Alliance, Nebraska," 1981
||Articles, "Howard Thomas, Ellensburg Cowboy Who Named 'Five Minutes to Midnight,' 1927," 1988
||Articles, "Parade Marshal Famous in Heyday," 1967
||Articles, "Paris and George Williams Story," undated
||Articles, "Real Life Study, A. Phimister Proctor, Sculptor, 1860-1949," 1979
||Articles, "The Rodeo Fox," 1986
||Articles, "Rodeo's Finest Hours," 1974
||Articles, "Samuel J. Garrett: Last of the Real Pioneer Champion Trick Ropers," 1980-1990
||Articles, "Tom Mix Story," 1982
||Articles, "William Jackson Palmer, 1836-1909: Soldier; Railroad Builder," 1962
||Articles, "Yank Versus Cannuck: Pete and Harry Knight, 1903-1937," 1982
||Notes, 1989-1994, undated
| Series 5: Photographs, 1920-1989
||Reba Perry Blakely, 1984, undated 
||Ben & Bev Boone, undated 
||Calgary Stampede, undated 
||Drumheller Family, undated 
||Sam Garrett, undated 
||Hamley & Co., undated 
||C. B. Irwin Family, 1989, undated 
||Tom Mix, undated 
||101 Ranch, undated 
||Rodeo, 1920, undated 
||Will Rogers, undated 
||Theodore Roosevelt, undated 
||Western History, undated