J. W. Stoker 2013 Grand Marshall of Nebraska's Big Rodeo
J.W. Stoker performed as a stunt rider for Roy Rogers and has been inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. Renowned for his trick riding, JW has performed throughout the United States and Canada and toured extensively in Europe and Japan.
J.W. Stoker was born on the Stoker Ranch in September 1927 near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Four years later, the family moved to Overland Park, Kansas. He had two younger sisters, Frankie Louise and Bessie Mae. The three Stoker children's interest in trick riding and roping was sparked by the Tom Mix Circus performance in Kansas City, Missouri their grandfather took them to see.
As a nine year old boy, J.W. belonged to a riding club and would get together on Sundays with kids who ranged in age from 6 to 18. "We'd do musical chairs and drills and things on our ponies," he recalls, "and we'd spin a rope and try to do tricks." That winter a cowboy named Pinky Barnes who traveled to Kansas City in the winter of 1938 to teach kids how to rope. "He'd done some movies and worked in circuses and Wild West Shows and rodeos," J.W. explains.
Pinky was a wild west show and rodeo hand who frequently worked in the movies. From that point on J.W. knew he wanted to be a trick rider and roper and practiced everyday for hours.
He even took his rope to school to practice during lunch. "I practiced every day. I only lived two blocks from school, so I'd come home at noon to eat lunch--and I'd practice. I even practiced at recess." J.W. adds, with a hearty laugh, "And when I got home, I'd practice some more!'
When Pinky's boss at the Wild West Show and Rodeo (Clyde S. Miller) showed up in Kansas one day, Pinky was bragging about his young student. Clyde had to see for himself! Then immediately wanted to talk with J.W.'s parents to sign up the kid.
In the Spring of 1939, J.W. was hired by the Clyde S. Miller Rodeo Show as a young trick roper and rider. In addition to hiring J.W., Miller also hired both of J.W.'s parents to help with the show.
At the age of 10, J.W. and the Stoker family went on the road. J.W.'s father drove a truck and hauled and set up chutes. His mother worked in the cook tent and was the “wardrobe mistress”. By that July, Frankie joined J.W.'s act. It was truly a family affair. At the age of 12, he appeared on the Wheaties box as juvenile champion trick rider. J.W. turned pro in 1942. He rodeoed steadily except during World War II when tires and gas were not available for travel. He also missed rodeoing during his military service in the Korean conflict.While in the service, J.W. was with the Soldier Show Section of Special Forces where he entertained troops along with a young hollywood singer named Eddie Fisher.
Upon his discharge from the service in 1953, he went on the road performing with black lights. This use of invisible ultraviolet lights was the first such use in professional rodeo.
His talents of trick riding, blacklight rope spinning and fancy horse catches have been witnessed in many other countries including, Japan, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Korea, Finland, France, Australia, and Venezuela. J.W. has even performed for the Queen of England.
He was a stunt double in the motion picture Bronco Billy for Sam Bottoms, began his 1988 season performing at the Calgary Olympics Rodeo , and was a featured guest on The Today Show and the Charlie Rose Show in 1990. J.W. broke tradition by being honored two consecutive years (1985 & 1986) by the prestigious Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association as entertainer of the year.
He was also inducted into the National Cowboys Hall of Fame in 1999. As quoted in “Paint Horse Journal” (March 1980), J.W. said, “It's a dying art... I predicted it in the 1940s and people told me I was crazy, but I've seen it come true.”
Stoker lives near Weatherford, Texas where he spends his off season training his show horses for his acts. So, how did this globe-hopping Kansas fella wind up calling Texas home? "I was going with a girl that lived in Abbott, Texas--a trick rider," J.W. recalls. "I was trying to practice to be in shape for the Ft. Worth Stock Show, but it was about 10 degrees above zero in Kansas. She said, 'Why don't you come down here and practice'--and I did. It was 65 or 70 degrees, and I thought, 'Boy, I'm going to move down here!'"
This transplanted Texan (still a bachelor) hasn't let time slow him down. He still does all the fancy riding and roping, still standing on the horse and jumping through the loop and then onto the ground. And he still breaks out his own horses.
His wardrobe includes more than 50 fancy fringed-rhinestone shirts, 25 pairs of handmade boots and 25 western hats. As recent as December 2003, J.W. entertained at The Great American Wild West show in Las Vegas and appeared in American Cowboy.
J W Stoker Grand Marshall at 2013 Nebraska's Big Rodeo
J.W. Stoker's nearly 60-year career as a trick rider and roper earned him induction into the Cowboy and Estern Heritage Hall of Fame.