The late, great Jim Shoulders – long ago dubbed “The Babe Ruth of Rodeo” – once harkened back to a day in Memphis, Tenn., when he first paid attention to his 1,600-pound bull, Tornado. Shoulders, then still riding bulls competitively, watched with mild interest.
“I thought I’d sure like to draw him,” Shoulders remembered. “He always turned back to the right and I liked that. After I saw him a few more times, though, I wasn’t sure if he was such a good draw after all.”
Shoulders’ doubts only increased with time.
From Tornado’s first rodeo in Mesquite, Texas, in 1960 through December 1967, the rank bovine remained unridden. Time after time he flung the grittiest cowboys from his hulking back, leaving a trail of fractured skulls, cracked ribs, concussions, broken bones and shattered championship dreams in his wake.
Tornado’s reputation grew like an F5 twister.
Four times Tornado was named the National Finals Rodeo’s “meanest bull alive.”
“Tornado had such a reputation that most cowboys were thrown before they even got on him,” once recalled former state senator and Oklahoma Congressman Clem McSpadden, who served as the general manager of the National Finals Rodeo for nearly two decades.
“Several times before he had been voted bull-of-the-year, which, for a bull, ain’t a bad award,” eulogized The Oklahoman’s witty Frank Boggs after Tornado’s death in 1972. “His reputation had not been gained smelling flowers. He was rodeo’s orneriest critter, a massive assembly of muscle and guts and powerful old bones.”
The sign outside Tornado’s pen at Shoulders’ J Lazy S Ranch in Henryetta said the rest: “Warning: Enter at Your Own Risk.”
Shoulders fondly referred to Tornado as “a pet,” extolling his bull’s gentle nature around children who visited his ranch. He often walked up to Tornado in the pasture to pet him or feed him grass. But in the arena Tornado transformed into a holy terror – explosive, violent and unbeaten.