April 06, 2015 - 2:32 PM
"THEY DON'T HEM AND HAW OR DO ANYTHING HALF WAY"
VERNON - They may be in their 70s and 80s, but the Louis brothers still head to a rodeo nearly every weekend, continuing a long standing tradition that now bridges five generations.
Born and raised on the Okanagan Indian Band Reserve near Vernon, the nine brothers spent much of their free time riding and rodeoing as kids, and in that regard, not much has changed. They often congregate in the evenings at brother Robert Louis’ place on Westside Road — just steps from where the old family home once stood — to practice team roping with each other, their kids and grandkids.
It’s impossible to count the number of individual rodeo trophies amassed by the large family, but the totality of their achievements was recently recognized with an induction — as the Ben Louis Family as a whole — into the B.C. Cowboy Hall of Fame, an honour typically reserved only for individuals.
“It was something I never expected, the last thing I even thought of,” Charlie Louis says, hands resting in his jeans pockets, black stetson hat riding over his eyes.
Between them, the nine brothers competed in all aspects of rodeo, including saddle bronc, bull riding, steer wrestling and calf roping, often riding only ‘grade horses’ with no real breeding.
“One you get hooked on it — you’re out there and thousands of people are screaming their lungs off — it really brings you to life. It’s a thrill, an adrenaline rush,” Charlie says.
Father Ben Louis, who was born in 1909 near Peachland and passed away in 1995, ranched and worked with horses all his life (the main form of transportation in his day), and it was in that lifestyle his nine sons and six daughters were raised.
“The old man couldn’t afford to get all 15 of us kids in (to the rodeo grounds) so he’d go and work behind the chutes, that’s how he got us in,” Mike Louis says. “He just loved going to the rodeo, that was part of his life.”
In the early 1970s, the Louis family established the Head of the Lake Rodeo, believed to be the first and only professional rodeo on reserve land, and was actively involved in the birth of the Western Indian Rodeo and Exhibition Association.
The family has witnessed many changes over the years, both to the area and the rodeo industry in general. There used to be several rodeos in the Vernon area, reduced now to just the Falkland Stampede. Cost has risen considerably from just $50 a year in rodeo membership fees back in the day to $300 or $400 per entry.
“The cowboys are more athletic these days, it’s a business to them. Not like when we were young, we’d work all week, then go rodeoing,” Charlie says, adding safety protocols have also changed dramatically. “There were no padded chaps back then, no guards. You got kicked, you got kicked hard, boy.”
Robert Louis, who still team ropes and trains horses, remembers being taught by his idol, Kenny McClean.
“He was a superman to me, he was something else. One of the best teachers I ever had,” Robert says.
Robert says riding horses was a lifestyle for the Louis family, both in and out of the arena. The boys often helped their dad log with the working horses.
“I think he would be proud (of the award). He better be, because I took time off work to go there,” Robert laughs. “He always wanted us to compete. None of his sons ever played ball (Ben’s other passion), we just rodeoed, that was the big thing for all the boys in our family. We went every weekend. It’s amazing we’re all still alive today.”
Nephew Jay Louis, whose father Oliver passed away some years ago, spends many evenings at Robert’s corral, riding with his uncles, and sometimes his kids.
“They’re all great men,” he says. “They don’t hem and haw or do anything halfway, and they’ll always help you out. They’d give you the shirt of their backs.”
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015