La Fiesta de los Vaqueros: Bumps, bruises, blood 'part of game'

2013-02-22T00:00:00Z 2013-02-22T10:29:33Z La Fiesta de los Vaqueros: Bumps, bruises, blood 'part of game'Zack Rosenblatt Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Chuck Henson has a lot of stories to tell.

For 43 years, Henson worked 50 rodeos a year around the country as the resident clown, and he was good. A Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer, in fact.

He retired in 2000 but still attends La Fiesta de los Vaqueros every year, including this one.

Dusty Tuckness, a Meeteetse, Wyo., product, is in Tucson for the first time, but he's very familiar with his clowning counterpart, having grown up a rodeo fanatic.

Now 82, Henson still has a knack for humor. He's been retired for 13 years, but the bubbly, happy-go-lucky personality that comes with being a rodeo clown still shines through.

The two are generations apart but share a mutual respect for each other's work, past and present.

Henson and Tuckness, 26, sat alongside each other in a trailer at the rodeo Thursday, with Tuckness in his clown get-up - cut-off baggy pants going from his hips to his knees, a bright red shirt and clown make-up on his face.

Tuckness isn't a rodeo clown, though. Rather, he's an award-winning bullfighter and just two hours later he showed why.

After the final bull-riding event ended, Tuckness removed his gear and walked away from the arena, a piece of skin hanging lose just below the right side of his chin, and he was holding a paper towel up against it to stop the bleeding.

"It's a part of the game, Tuckness said. "You're gonna get some bumps and brusies, and broken bones."

The latest hit, coming as Tuckness dived between a fallen bull rider and an attacking stock named Top Gun, didn't prevent Tuckness from finishing out the last two bull rides, despite a prevalent need for stitches.

"He's awesome," bull rider Steve Woolsey said of Tuckness. "Bullfighters take the bull away from us so we're not getting hooked. They take the hooking for us. We wouldn't be able to do what we do as long as we do without guys like him."

Henson knows all too well about the dangers of being a bullfighter. A profession that has evolved from do-everything rodeo clowns in Henson's day to separate jobs for entertainment (clowns) and bull-riders protection (bullfighters).

"When I started," Henson said, "they only hired one clown and sometimes a barrel man depending on the rodeo. I was usually just the bullfighter and then they wanted you to have an act in between each event."

He recalled how, in May of 1973 in Vernon, Texas, a bull crushed his left leg.

"When they carried me out, my leg was hanging down on the edge just dangling," said Henson, laughing despite the gruesome nature of the story. "I was like, 'yeah, that's broken.'"

He was back out there, fighting bulls and clowning by October.

"We're basically going in there," Tuckness said. "We're waiting on a street corner, waiting for a wreck to happen and then jumping in. Whether that's getting run over, getting hooked or getting thrown in the air or whatever it be."

Henson added: "It's one of those things, you don't want to think about getting hurt; if you do, you better not walk into the arena.

So, in pulling double duty as a rodeo clown and bullfighter, Henson had to entertain the crowd while simultaneously protecting the bull riders from the wild stock's they were riding.

It helped that Henson was as good an entertainer as he was a bullfighter.

As he reminisced about one of his signature acts as a rodeo clown, a wide smile lit across his face. Tuckness intently listened, laughing throughout.

"I used to have a beer box that was the regular old flip top type, carried 24 bottles of beer," Henson said. "I put a bottle of water at the bottom of it and had it stick out through the side and I'd put a puppy in there."

Then, he'd walk across the arena and tell fans that he found it out in the parking lot, and that he was going to drink it.

"Then," he said, laughing, "I'd have somebody say 'I'm not gonna drink that, there's no telling what's in there. I say, 'No, I'm gonna drink it.'"

He would then purposefully trip, fall and say, "I think I broke something."

"The other clown would roll up, take a drink, spit it out and say, 'boy, that's warm beer. You better check and see what kind of beer that is."

Then, the clowns would open the box up and the puppy would jump out and chase them around.

That type of humor is lost in modern clowns, Tuckness said.

"A true rodeo clown," Tuckness said, "it's a dying art."

On StarNet: See more photos from Thursday's Tucson Rodeo at azstarnet.com/gallery

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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