By RAYMOND PARTSCH III
Written for the LSWA
There is toughness, and then there is rodeo cowboy toughness.
T. Barrett “T. Berry” Porter epitomized that vast difference throughout his storied and lengthy career as Louisiana’s first professional rodeo cowboy. Porter spent decades putting his body on the line as he saddled and rode his horses night after night while trying to lasso calf after calf in dusty rodeo arenas dotted across the American landscape.
That true grit of overcoming broken bones, torn ligaments and more nasty bruises than one can count, for the love of a sport, was apparent during an accident on his ranch seven years ago.
In 2012, the then-85-year-old was working on his massive ranch on the outskirts of Leesville. Porter was simply trying to move some dirt around on his property when the bulldozer jumped in reverse and threw him off.
The bulldozer ran over him, breaking his right arm above and below his elbow, breaking his right collarbone and shoulder blade, damaging the muscle between his shoulder and elbow, and pulling his right shoulder out of place. Doctors were forced to take his right arm. A few weeks later, Porter was back on his farm checking on his cows, bailing hay, mending fences, and doing other daily chores.
The man Shreveport Journal Sports Editor Jimmy Bullock called “the Pelican State’s Mr. Rodeo” brings that toughness to Natchitoches as the 2019 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame class is inducted Saturday, June 8. The ceremony, live on Cox Sports Television from the sold-out Natchitoches Events Center, culminates a three-day Induction Celebration June 6-8. Visit LaSportsHall.com for details.
Fittingly, Louisiana’s first pro rodeo cowboy is the first from his sport elected to the Hall.
“I am honored,” T. Berry said. “It is a very humbling honor. Not many people can be the very first anything nowadays. I always thought that somebody else was better than me or more deserving than me.”
T. Berry was born March 9, 1927, in Pineville. Porter’s parents, J.A. and Elsie Alton Porter, would move the family, in a truck without a cab, to Leesville in 1929. Porter’s father moved to run a Texaco filling station at the fork of U.S. Highway 171 North and Kurthwood Road. The elder Porter also traded horses and mules, put on the area’s first rodeo behind the old railroad depot in 1933, and even helped furnish the horses, as well as served as guide, for General Dwight Eisenhower to survey the wooded land that would become Fort Polk.
The family lived in the back of the filling station. On site was a small roping pen. It was there that Porter would perfect his skills that would one day lead him to become a world champion.
“I don’t remember when I started roping, I just always did it,” T. Berry said. “But there are still folks at the Lion’s Club here that call me the ‘goat roper.’ ”
Porter would keep it going through middle school and then high school, where he attended Leesville High and played center on the football team for head coach Bill Turner. At the age of 14, he took part in a competition against older teenagers and young adults, and that was the first time Porter knew that he could ride with the best of them.
“I thought I could beat them,” T. Berry said. “(Being) a cowboy is little bit different than athlete. You know you’re not going to win all of them, and you have to be a little lucky. I always felt that I could ride as good as they could.”
At the age of 15, Porter joined his first official rodeo organization, the Cowboy Turtles Association (CTA), at an event in Beaumont, because they would not allow him to rope without having dues paid. Porter would remain a member with CTA until it was rebranded the Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA) and finally the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).
Porter would graduate from LHS and tried his hand at college but realized that institutions of higher learning weren’t for him. He already knew what he was supposed to do with his life — rodeo.
Porter would cross the state and take part in competitions from Shreveport to Baton Rouge to Lafayette, all the while practicing his craft every day in between on his ranch. In 1949, all of that hard work would pay off as Porter would claim his sport’s highest honor — the World Champion Calf Roper title.
The 22-year-old rookie drove to New York City in his 1948 Pontiac, pulling his homemade horse trailer behind him for a competition that lasted nearly an entire month. Porter would take part in 42 performances in 28 days at Madison Square Garden.
“It took a lot longer in those days,” Tea Berry said. “My horses stayed underneath the Garden itself and I stayed for the month at the old Capitol Hotel on Broadway across from the Garden.”
He received his championship saddle from the singing cowboy himself, Gene Autry. Then, Porter rode his horse down Broadway.
In his lengthy career, Porter won or placed at all the major PRCA events — Dallas, Denver, Salinas, and Fort Smith). He was a member of the Wrangler Rodeo Team in the 1950s. For some time, his image adorned the sales pouch on the back pocket of each pair of Wrangler jeans.
Porter was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City in 2015.
“I did the best I could,” he said. “I was just hoping that I could win. As a rodeo cowboy you always got to feel like you are going to win.”