Carroll, John Ellison (1862–1942)

By: Mary Lou LeCompte

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: September 11, 2019

John Ellison Carroll, champion steer roper and rodeo pioneer, son of J. E. and Mary Carroll, was born in San Patricio County, Texas, on September 14, 1862. As a young man he began working as a cowboy and trail driver in the Panhandle. He later ranched in Oklahoma and in Tarrant and Crockett counties, Texas, before he and Jim Todd established the 07 Ranch in Reagan County. In 1912 Carroll sold his shares in the ranch and moved to Big Lake, where he lived for the remainder of his life. He won his first major professional contest as a steer roper at Canadian, Texas, in 1888 and was soon classed among the best single-steer ropers in the state. He would challenge anybody, any time, primarily in matched contests where earnings from side bets far exceeded contest prizes. His chief opponent in matched roping from 1900 through 1913 was fellow Texan Henry Clay McGonagil, whom he defeated for the unofficial world's championship in a legendary three-day, ten-steer match in San Antonio. Carroll set a record that still stands by roping and tying a steer in seventeen seconds; he won $2,000. Thereafter, until he retired from competition around 1913, he proclaimed himself the "world's champion steer roper." He issued postcards bearing this title and his picture alongside a "busted" steer. Thanks to his reputation as a roper Carroll also became a Wild West-show star and performed with such notables as Lucille Mulhall, Tom Mix, and Will Rogers between 1900 and 1910.

Carroll married Marie Wiegand Van Wert on October 16, 1916. She died when their son, J. E. Carroll Jr., was born in 1919, and in 1926 Carroll married Frances Wiegand McClour. He was a Methodist and a Democrat. He served as sheriff of Reagan County from 1931 to 1933 and was county commissioner from 1937 until his death. Carroll remained interested in rodeo throughout his life. During the 1930s he judged the Stamford Cowboy Reunion Rodeo and competed in its Oldtimers' Rodeo. He was also president of the Texas Cowboy Reunion Oldtimers Association in 1941. He died on April 20, 1942, and is buried in Big Lake Cemetery. He was elected to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Rodeo Division in Oklahoma City in 1976.

Foghorn Clancy, My Fifty Years in Rodeo (San Antonio: Naylor, 1952). Beth Day, America's First Cowgirl: Lucille Mulhall (New York: Messner, 1955). Willard H. Porter, Who's Who in Rodeo (Oklahoma City: Powder River, 1982). Hooper Shelton, 50 Years of a Living Legend: Texas Cowboy Reunion and Old-Timers Association (Stamford, Texas: Shelton, 1979). Carl L. Studer, "First Rodeo in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 48 (January 1945). J. L. Werst, Jr., ed., The Reagan County Story (Big Lake, Texas: Reagan County Historical Survey Committee, 1974).

  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Rodeo)

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

Mary Lou LeCompte, “Carroll, John Ellison,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 02, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
September 11, 2019