Butch Knowles became a rodeo cowboy like so many young kids because of an older brother's love for the sport. Knowles was born in Klamath Falls into a family with two different backgrounds. His mother came from a ranching life and his father had a lumber background.
Knowles' family left for Redmond after he completed the second grade and he soon fell in love with the area at both Tumalo and Terrebonne.
As he tells it, growing up 20 miles from the nearest large community, there wasn't a lot a kid could do but use his imagination and make up things to do. Through that process he developed a real closeness with his older siblings.
"I wouldn't have traded my upbringing that I had for anything," Knowles said. "It made me who I am today really."
Knowles said sports was important growing up.
"I was like any other kid," he said. "Football, basketball, baseball, track, whatever was going on I wanted to be a part of it. Mom and Dad sacrificed a lot to get to and from practice which was 20 to 25 minutes out before I could drive. They were great support, as I look back, I'm not sure how they did it but they were special."
Rodeo began for Knowles in the seventh grade at Redmond where previously the sports had all employed the use of a ball in the game for him. But when rodeo hit Knowles it was something that almost seemed to be his calling.
"It became an obsession," he said. "I loved it. I loved the challenge of riding something that wanted to buck me off and it just consumed me from then on.
"My brother Brian got me hooked and I guess I've never looked back. I remember at home we had these stalls in our barn, we didn't have an arena or bucking chutes and we'd get about 12 head of cattle and we'd run them in these stalls and get 'em in there as tight as we could. We'd all crawl on one with a rope or bareback riggin', just whatever we had and three or four of us would all jump on a cow as the door would be kicked open, and that was our practice pen. It was crazy, but what fun."
Knowles expressed that love in the rough stock events and for a lot of years as a professional cowboy was entered in all three events for some crazy reason.
"I don't think anyone can say when they get on a rank bull there isn't a bit of fear involved," he said. "Ty Murray and I had this conversation and he said the same thing, that you always have a bit of fear, but a competitive fear or you won't make it in the world of rodeo. It's a fear that drives you."
Knowles' ability came to the forefront in high school where he won the national high school all-around title in 1973, and with it a brand new car. He elected to stay in the Northwest and rodeoed at Walla Walla Community College for Tim Corfied, a former Pendleton athlete.
In 1974, Knowles got his PRCA card and things really fell into place. His success came early in the bull riding, but came a bit slower in the bareback and saddle bronc events. As his career progressed the bareback riding would take a back seat to his other two events.
Knowles, not one to like to talk about himself much, had early good runs at both Ellensburg, Wash., and Pendleton and his first big win in the saddle bronc riding came in Salinas, Calif., back in 1974.
The peaks and valleys of rodeo culminated years later, when he won at Pendleton, winning the average at the NFR in 1987, a win at St. Paul and one at Calgary.
"It's the ride along through the years and the great memories and people that come along," he said. "Awards are great, the money was OK, but the lifestyle and tradition of the sport is what made cowboy life for me and my family so very special."
Knowles is now 47 with the body of a 30-year-old and looks to me like he could ride tomorrow.
Knowles has made a name for himself now doing TV commentary with ESPN and the Outdoor Life Network. As Knowles was as an athlete, he is very good at what he does. The Butch I knew in 1980 is still that same kid years later; it must be something about those Oregon cowboys. Either that, or those good old Heppner folks keep him in line.
Tom Melton is the sports director at Pendleton radio stations KTIX and KUMA.