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PRIVETT, SAMUEL THOMAS, JR. [BOOGER RED]

PRIVETT, SAMUEL THOMAS, JR. [BOOGER RED] (1864–1924). Samuel Thomas Privett, Jr., famous bronc rider, was born in Williamson County, Texas, on December 29, 1864. His family moved to Erath County when he was six years old. His father established the SP Ranch and Brand. By the age of twelve, Privett, already known as that Redheaded Kid Bronc Rider, had begun his career breaking horses.

At the age of thirteen, Privett and a friend decided to pack a hole bored into a tree stump with gunpowder to create a firework display for Christmas. The gunpowder ignited prematurely, killing his friend. Privett's face was severely injured. His brother put him in the back of a farm wagon to carry him to the local doctor. A small boy looked at Privett's mangled face and said, "Gee, but Red is sure a booger now, ain't he?" It took six months for Privett's injuries to heal. His eyes, lips and nostrils were burnt so badly that they had to be cut open many times during the six months it took him to recover. He lost the majority of sight in one of his eyes. His brother would repeat the remark made by the small boy concerning Privett's face when he was laying in the wagon. It always brought a smile to Privett's disfigured face. This remark gave birth to the nickname "Booger Red" which stayed with Privett the remainder of his life.

By the time Privett was fifteen both his parents had passed away, his father of Bright's disease. Over the next few years Booger improved his bronc riding skills and bought a small ranch near Sabinal, Texas. Around 1888 he decided to sell his ranch and stock and travel to West Texas with his uncle. Booger went to work breaking horses on a ranch twelve miles south of Sonora. His reputation as a top-notch bronc rider was growing, and ranchmen for miles around brought their wild horses for him to ride. Many stories tell of his keen instincts regarding horses and their training. On numerous occasions Booger Red defied the odds and amazed audiences with his ability to ride horses that were thought to be unridable, and he won many wagers along the way. Privett was proud of his reputation as a horseman. He moved to San Angelo and purchased a wagon yard with the money he had saved from bronc riding. At the wagon yard ranchers would bring their horses for Booger Red to ride. He had become a successful businessman, but self-conscious about his facial deformities and scarring from the burns, he made fun of himself at public events, introducing himself as Booger Red—ugliest man living or dead. At a local preacher's house he met Mary (Mollie) Frances Webb. They were married on December 29, 1895, in Bronte, Texas, when Mollie was fifteen years old and Booger was thirty-three.

Booger and Mollie settled in San Angelo. Booger continued riding and breaking wild horses, and Mollie was an accomplished horsewoman. They decided to start their own traveling Wild West show, The Booger Red Wild West Wagon Show, in which both of them performed with Booger Red as the chief attraction. They had seven children; six lived to adulthood and participated in the family Wild West show. His children entertained with their trick roping and riding, but Booger had to ride at each performance. He was never thrown from a horse and never got off a horse until the ride was over. Once a horse fell on him and broke his leg, but he refused to get off, waiting for the horse to right itself and calm down before he got off. He maintained a standing offer of $100 to anyone who brought a horse he could not ride, but he never had to pay it. He won twenty-three first prizes at various rodeo competitions, and his appearances included a performance at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis.

By 1920 Booger Red had sold his ranch and livestock and moved to Oklahoma. He knew that the family-owned Wild West show was a thing of the past as larger companies forced them out of business. Privett and his family were offered the chance to do acts for other Wild West shows and circuses operated by Al G. Barnes, Buffalo Bill, Hagenbeck-Wallace, and others. In 1924 Booger Red retired from performing. That year he was in the stands as a spectator at the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show (see SOUTHWESTERN EXPOSITION AND LIVESTOCK SHOW). Booger had not been well, and Mollie knew this would be his last rodeo. As he watched the bronc riding, the rider was thrown from the horse and lay motionless on his back, carried out of the arena by the handlers. The crown began chanting, "Give us Booger Red," and a little old woman sitting beside Booger began screaming, "Here he is!" The crowd broke into a roar, shouting "Booger Red." Privett began slowly walking down the aisle when a group of sturdy young cowboys lifted him on their shoulders and carried him to the arena. The wild horse was brought into the arena, and Booger Red, with an ease that belied his years, leapt onto the horse's back. The horse leapt high into the air and landed on all fours and pitched sideways, but Booger Red was riding with an ease that was a sight to see. Many of the spectators realized they were watching the legend that their daddies had told stories about and broke out into cheers. No one would have disagreed that they had just watched one of the best bronc riders in history.

Two weeks after his last ride, Samuel Thomas Privett, Jr., "Booger Red," was on his deathbed. He was a victim of Bright's disease, inherited from his father. He died in March 1924 with his family by his side. He left his children with these words, "Always be honest for it pays in the long run. Have all the fun you can while you live for when you are dead, you are a long time dead." Booger Red is buried near his home in Miami, Oklahoma. His wife Mollie claimed that bronc busting was Booger's life. She estimated he rode between 25,000 to 40,000 broncs in his lifetime. In 1975, fifty years after his death, Booger Red was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City. Booger Red's Saloon, located in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards, is so named in honor of the famous rider.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Thomas Mulvany, "Booger Red's Last Ride," Reader's Digest, June 1946. Charlsie Poe, Booger Red: World Champion Cowboy (Texas: Quality Publications, 1991). Mrs. Mollie Privett Interview, February 8, 1938, transcript from American Memory Collection, U. S. Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers's Project (Folklore Project, Life Histories, 1936–39). Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (http://ftp.rootsweb.ancestry.com/pub/usgenweb/tx/bios/booger1.txt), accessed May 6, 2008. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Cindy Jones

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Cindy Jones, "PRIVETT, SAMUEL THOMAS, JR. [BOOGER RED]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpr29), accessed December 19, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.