By T.M. (Mike) Dossey
My great-grandfather Matthew Jackson Dossey was orphaned in the Civil War in Georgia, and left there after marriage to farm in Bluffdale (near Stephenville) Texas around 1883. He had twelve children, including eight sons. Around the turn of the century, about half the sons went off to Arizona to work on ranches, and others went north into Oklahoma. The ones who went to Arizona ultimately owned a ranch at what would now be the intersection of 40th St. and Thomas Road in Phoenix. One grandson of MJ (Jack) Dossey was Carl Hayden Dossey (presumably named after the sheriff of Maricopa County, Carl Hayden, who would later serve more than 50 years as Arizona’s senator). Carl Dossey was the world champion bare back bronco rider in 1940. He is credited with originating the “flashy style” feet high riding style that is the norm even until today. He also invented the electric eye system used in calf roping.
photo to come
Carl Dossey was killed in a rodeo parade in 1955 when he intentionally rode into the path of a runaway team of horses to save his five-year old son who was in their path. A story of that day appeared in 2007 in the Arizona Republic on the occasion of Carl’s initiation into the Chandler, AZ Hall of Fame:
Hall of Famer a true Western hero
Special to the Republic
Jun. 15, 2007 12:42 PM
You never know what you’re going to stumble across sometimes, like a search of the Chandler Sports Hall of Fame Web site, which turned up a real cowboy hero named Carl Dossey.
His credentials were solid enough to also earn Dossey a spot in the 2006 class of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame where he joined his wife, Berenice, a trick rider enshrined in 1991.
However, it was a split-second decision he made more than a half-century ago that showed the truest mettle of the man. A decision that cost him his life but saved his 5-year-old son, Eddie, and countless others.
Dossey took professional rodeo to another level while winning the 1940 bareback world championship. Known for wearing colorful silk shirts and using a stylish spurring technique, he became one of the first competitors to pick up a national sponsor.
“Camel cigarettes,” said his brother, Mac, who has lived in Chandler the past 60 years. “But he didn’t smoke.”
After a career-ending injury (he suffered a broken ankle riding a bull in Tucson), Dossey spent 12 years building a reputation as one of the fairest judges on the circuit. He was chosen to work “The Rodeo of Rodeos” at New York’s Madison Square Garden seven straight years.
Dossey was 37 when, in the best tradition of any John Wayne Western movie you’ve ever seen, he put himself in harm’s way during the 1955 Chandler Rodeo Parade along Arizona Avenue.
“I was leading three burros with pack saddles from the ranch,” Mac said. “Then there was Carl on a horse, then his son was behind on a pony and we had a buggy with all the nephews and nieces behind that.”
Mac still isn’t sure what caused it but something like a balloon popped and spooked a team of horses about two blocks behind them.
“They bolted away from the buggy they were pulling and jerked the man holding them out of his seat. And being (dragged) on the ground, he had to let go of them,” Mac said. “Carl turned back to try to stop them when he saw they were coming directly over his son and he and the team all ran together.”
Carl took the brunt of the hit and suffered a head injury and a broken arm as the mass of man and beast crumpled onto the pavement. Eddie came out with only a broken leg but his dad never regained consciousness and died 18 hours later.
“Mac probably didn’t tell you, but he held my dad in his arms as he was gasping for breath,” said Eddie, who now lives in Laguna Niguel, Calif. “I still have flashbacks about that day. You never know how you’re going to react in a situation like that, but him being the man he was he just did what he had to do. My dad saved my life. He was a real hero.”
Mac’s wife agreed, adding: “Most people don’t realize the Chandler High School band was right in front of our float and those horses were headed toward those kids. He was a very special man.”
There were more than 500 people at Dossey’s funeral. Pallbearers included many of Dossey’s future companions in Rodeo Halls of Fame, as well as country singer Gene Autry.
As for Bernice, she was obviously something to behold. She emerged as the premier rodeo trick rider of her day. She rode standing atop her horse, and then would slide around and ride under it. The Topps Chewing Gum company, which later specialized in baseball cards, started with a set in 1948 with a variety of stars from various walks of life—movie stars, baseball players, etc. Amongst the original card issue that year was one of Bernice Dossey. An excerpt from “Man, Beast, Dust: The Story of Rodeo” by Clifford P. Westermeier, shows the impact she had on rodeo audiences:
Bernice (Taylor) Dossey Bolen
“A lovelier lady than Bernice Taylor will certainly not be seen in the rodeo arena in many a day. It is perhaps the exquisite, fragile beauty of this magnificent horsewoman that dazzles one at first, for if one should never witness her skill of riding, this characteristic is the only thing that impresses one, upon seeing her for the first time. With the added qualities of freshness and femininity, which are ever-present, even under adverse conditions, she offers to the follower of rodeo a new thrill which is more exciting, because this gentle beauty and charm are combined with a rare and unusual ability. No matter how many riders, both male and female, may enter the arena, if the lovely Mrs. Carl Dossey (Bernice Taylor) is present, one is conscious of a riding sensation—an optical thrill.”