A Little Bit of History: Clayton Danks-Bronc Rider and Sheriff

Above: Clayton Danks riding Steamboat, the horse believed to be the model for Wyoming’s iconic Bucking horse and rider image. (collection of Jean Mathisen Haugen) 

(Lander, Wyo.) – Clayton Danks, one of the few men who rode Steamboat, the raunchy bronc that many believe to be the horse portrayed on the Wyoming license plate, lived a long life and experienced many aspects of Wyoming’s rodeo history.

Clarence Clayton Danks was born on July 21, 1879 in O’Neill, Nebraska–the son of John Danks and Sarah Gregg.  He and his family grew up in Long Pine Canyon in Cherry County at a stage station their father operated. Clayton had several brothers and sisters including a twin, John.  When Clayton was about 5 years old the family moved to a ranch near Chadron, Nebraska and it was there he rode his first broncs.  In his early years he worked with cattle and horses. He moved to Wyoming in 1896 but did not start taking part in rodeos until 1899

In 1904, at the age of 25, he won the Cheyenne Frontier Days competition in steer roping.  He then decided to try out saddle bronc riding and made the finals.  By a draw he drew Millbrook, considered an easier horse than Steamboat.  In those days there were no 8-second rides.  The riders were to stay on until the horse was “broke”–which could take as long as 20 minutes.  Millbrook quit bucking after 9 minutes. Steamboat’s name came from the fact he bucked so hard he once broke his nose and “whistled”  like a steamboat when he bucked.  Clayton later mentioned that at the big Elk’s Convention held in Denver in 1906, “Steamboat put $500 gold in my pockets.”

Danks was also one of the first cowboys, besides the black rodeo champ  Bill Pickett (who originated bulldogging a steer by biting his ear) to take part in the new rodeo competition of bulldogging.  Early on the cowboys bit the ear or lip of the steer to get it to go down, but later turned to the modern form of twisting the neck to get them to the ground..  Clayton also won two saddle bronc riding championships in 1906 riding Millbrook and in 1907 riding Steamboat.

Danks, ClaytonHe married Marie Fitzer Danks on April 27, 1905 in Casper.  Marie was a well-known cowgirl and a world champion relay race rider.  The couple became regular performers with the C.B. Irwin Wild West Show,

After taking leave of the strenuous life of rodeo, Danks worked on several ranches including the Iron Mountain Ranch Company, the Dumbell,  the H.A. Chapman ranch on Sweetwater and the Reverse Four Cattle Company.    Later he turned to law enforcement and was chief of police at Parco (now Sinclair), Wyoming for 7 years.   In 1936 Sheriff Ansell at Lander was re-elected to office but died suddenly shortly after the election. Clayton Danks was appointed sheriff of Fremont County, a position he held and was re-elected to for  the next 16 years..

Clayton Danks passed away in June of 1970 at Thermoplis, Wyoming.  He and his wife are buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Lander. He once remarked, “When Steamboat’s day was over, I think a part of rodeo ended for me too.  I missed that black horse beneath me the way you miss a partner who has grubstaked you for years.”

–Written by Lander Historian Jean Mathisen Haugen

Danks early in his career wearing wooly chaps. (Collection of Jean Mathisen Haugen)
Danks early in his career wearing wooly chaps. (Collection of Jean Mathisen Haugen)