Booger Red

Booger Red was the nickname given to Samuel T. Privett (1864 – 1924). Privett was a well known bronc rider in his day. A newspaper clipping from the Whitewright Sun of September 26, 1946 refers to a five page article by Tom Mulvaney called “Booger Red’s Last Ride” in a 1944 issue of the Southwest Review about the old cowboy.

The newspaper article begins by describing a day 1924 at what was then known as the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show. The rodeo was under way and numerous riders had been had been thrown when someone in the crowd yelled “Give us Booger Red!” The old cowboy happened to be in the arena and was carried down to the chutes, after which he mounted and rode a bronc that had just thrown a rider earlier. According to the story, Booger Red rode the horse to the cheers of the crowd.

The newspaper article went on to give some background on the cowboy. He had been born on a ranch in Texas and began riding heifers when he was 10. He had red hair and got his other nickname from an incident a few years later. Around Christmas in 1877, Red and a pal had filled a hollow tree stump with gunpowder, planning to set it off. The powder ignited prematurely, injuring Red. Another boy remarked that Red was a “booger” referring to his being badly injured, “all boogered up,” but surviving the accident and the nickname stuck. He is said to have borne the facial scars from the accident for the rest of his life.

His parents were Samuel D. and Sarah Hill Privett. The article said that both his parents had passed away by the time he was fifteen. At this point, their dates of death and burial places are unknown, but Red began to support himself by working horses, exhibiting a talent for breaking wild broncs. The article added that he once got a job breaking horses for the Government. He was short in stature, standing only five feet four inches tall and the one who hired him offered him a choice between taking a monthly salary or getting one dollar for each horse he broke. His first day on the job, he broke 83 horses and was put on a salary the following day.

He was said to never have used alcohol nor gambled, except to wager on his own ability to ride a horse. The article said that he once won a $10 bet that he could sit backwards on a bronc and still ride it. His ability was described as sticking to the back of a horse “like a cuckleburr on a sheep” or “like a tick on a longhorn.”

He married the former Mollie Webb in 1895 in Bronte, Coke County, Texas. For a while, the couple lived in the San Angelo area where they owned and operated a wagon yard and horse trading post. During their married life the couple had a number of children, some of whom followed in their footsteps.

For many years, Red rode a horse named Montana Gyp, which he owned for over twenty years. Not surprisingly, Red acquired the horse after a wager. A man from Montana had brought a wild horse to where Red was appearing. The legend continues that not only did Red ride the horse, he used his winnings to buy the bronc from the man. The horse stayed wild to the end, but according to his family, Red was never thrown by Gyp.

During that period, he did some riding in Wild West shows and even started his own show called “Booger Red’s Wild West Show” in which Mollie and some of their children appeared. His show went on the road and a typical place they might set up and perform was the town’s baseball field. Mollie was known to be an expert rider on her own. Red was said to have allowed kids attend for free if they would promise to pay him back the next time the show came to town. They would travel from town to town and at its peak, the entourage included some thirty-two wagons, twenty-two bucking horses and a number of other performers in addition to the family. The show ran for roughly twenty years beginning around 1901.

Image credit: Baxter Daily Citizen, Baxter Springs, Kansas, October 20, 1919

Several of their children rode in the show. A daughter, Ella Privett Linton went on to be a performer on her own. Her husband Hank was once a performer in the show. He showed a great talent for the lariat and was said to be able to twirl as many as three ropes at a time. In true cowboy fashion, they were said to have been married on horseback outside a Baptist church in Texas. The couple went on to have a performance career of their own until they retired to live in Kansas.

Red continued to ride bucking broncs and win wagers on his ability to ride them. It was estimated in the article that he might have ridden as many as 25,000 broncs in his lifetime. Other accounts set the number as high as 40,000. After he sold his own show to the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch out of Oklahoma, he continued to appear in other shows and circuses including, the article said, the Al G. Barnes troupe, Hagenbeck-Wallace and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He and other family members also appeared in various fairs and exhibitions over the years.

Hearing or reading a story repeated many times is of course no guarantee that it is the gospel truth, but Red is mentioned as being the person who discovered bulldogger Bill Pickett.

Red and Mollie finally settled down to live on a ranch near Miami, Oklahoma in 1917 where they would live until Red’s death from Bright’s Disease, a kidney ailment, in 1924, the year of his appearance at the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show. Even though he may have been ill at the time, he still rode the bronc. He died soon after that event, at the age of fifty-nine. Red is buried in the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery in Miami, Ottawa County, Oklahoma. Mollie survived him another twenty-five years and is buried at Fairview Cemetery, San Angelo, Tom Green County, Texas.

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