The Greatest Rodeo Show On Earth Is From Oklahoma
If you've ever been to a rodeo, odds are you remember a little bit of action mixed with a little bit of showmanship. Most rodeos will hire a comedian clown to come out and offer comic relief to help the lull between moments of intensity. Sometimes it's a show, others it'll be just banter... but sometimes the rodeo features an entertainment act that is larger than life.
Meet the man that overcame extreme adversity by not letting tragedy kill his love for riding horses, and rose beyond all expectations to become one of the biggest names in Western sports entertainment. John Payne - AKA - The One Arm Bandit.
John makes his living traveling the rodeo circuit putting on a show. He has spent years training animals at his home in Shidler, Oklahoma, and his efforts provide a spectacle most humans should get the chance to see.
While each show is a little different, I've seen him chase bison and longhorn cattle onto the top of his stock trailer before. Riding at break-neck speeds across the arena, cracking a whip in his good arm, steering his horse with only his feet and weight, it's an amazing sight to behold. The odds he overcame are unimaginable, here's the story.
John had a particularly regular rural Oklahoma upbringing in his tiny little hometown of Shidler. Ranching is just as big in Osage County as farming and oil drilling. When he was a young man, just twenty years old, an accident changed his life forever.
He was helping his father tear down an old house at the time. Out with the old sort of thing. When he climbed the pole that fed electricity to the structure, everyone was under the impression there was no power coming to the house. When he tried to cut the wires, the electricity flowed through him.
He told the story time and time again, and it's similar to most electrocution stories. During his ten-second ordeal, he was vividly aware of what was happening. As hard as he tried he let go of the live wire, he couldn't. It wasn't until the power burned his fingers off that he fell twenty-five feet to his death.
Unlike stories you've heard, John came to with the sudden realization that his friend was beating on his chest.
Back to life, but in terrible condition.
The electricity had grounded to the pole through is body. One hand gone, his stomach burned through to his guts, one thigh exposed down to the bone. The outlook was bleak.
The doctors at the hospital were forced to amputate John's right arm below the elbow. With very little to save, it had to be done. While they patched up his abdomen, his leg looked like it was the next to go, but not without a fight.
I can't ride a horse with one leg, and if I can't ride a horse I don't want to live.
John spent the next five weeks in a Tulsa, OK burn unit. Trying to heal the wounds, but as the saying goes, you just can't keep a cowboy down. He checked himself out and went home to lick his wounds.
After years of trying and perfecting, John learned how to ride short-handed and he became known as the One Arm Bandit. With an idea to put together a traveling rodeo show, he put in the work and has built himself into a rodeo legend larger than life.
John started the show atop his trusty horse, chasing trained cattle up on top of his stock trailer.
John Payne's One Arm Bandit show has been named the PRCA Rodeo Act of the Year at least a dozen times now, but not without constantly pushing the envelope.
Over the years he's put on a show with horses, mules, zebra, hybrid watusi longhorns, and bison. In his interviews, he talked about how challenging it is in particular to work with bison. He's been gored, trampled, and even thrown off the top of his trailer before... horse and all.
Pain is just the other side of feeling good.
At nearly 70 years old, John is still offering a true spectacle for rodeo fans, but nothing can last forever.
If you're so inclined, follow The One Arm Bandit John Payne over on social media. When rodeo season kicks off next spring, the show is worth the drive to see him.