Home News Vision Cowboy Hall of Famer Buff Douthitt was one of our own

Cowboy Hall of Famer Buff Douthitt was one of our own

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Buff Douthitt performing one of his famous rodeo tricks. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

We have some great visitors, researchers, authors and students who walk through our doors at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico archives from time to time. This week we were both surprised and honored to have Jane Douthitt (widow of Buff Douthitt, who was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame) and her friend Mr. Anderson.

Buff was featured in this 1959 Lee jeans advertisement. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)

Jane is writing a book on Buff’s life and was here to research some of the ranches he worked on.

As I’ve stated before, this area has presented many greats, and Cowboy Hall of Famer Buff Douthitt is among those numbers. Buff died in 2016 at age 89. We are so proud to be able to call him one of our own.

Buff was born in 1924 in Hagerman. He knew early on what he was good at, because he grew up on a 60,000-acre ranch surrounded by cowboys and cattle. His inquisitive nature led him to discover he had talents that set him apart from other cowboys.

“There were two windmills on the ranch about 150 feet apart, and one day I connected a rope between them and walked across without falling,” he said. “Later, I began to do rope tricks while walking across and found that I had a knack for acrobatics.”

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It wasn’t long before others noticed Douthitt’s unique abilities, and by the time he was 15 he had a national career as a cowboy.

Buff created an amazing trick roping act. He walked a slack rope (in cowboy boots) while trick roping, as well as placing a ladder on the slack rope and climbed the ladder while trick roping. He appeared in television programs, state fairs and Las Vegas show rooms.

From 1940 to 1954, Douthitt was featured in New York City at Madison Square Garden’s Cowboy Hall of Fame show, where he performed his wire act, along with cattle roping and other cowboy tricks. In between, Buff was a Marine, serving in the South Pacific in Word War II.

In 1946, he won first place at cattle roping and caught the attention of Madison Avenue’s advertising community. His image not only graced the Wheaties cereal box, he also became Lee Rider, the official spokesperson/model for Lee jeans.

“In the mid-1950s my 6-foot image was placed on a billboard at the entrance of 132 retail outlets around the country for Lee jeans,” he said.

Buff was a versatile cowboy who lived an amazing life and was an accomplished professional rodeo cowboy.

He was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2001.

Buff also began team roping and won the New Mexico State Championships in 1996 at the age of 74.

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An undated publicity photo. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)

After a 30-year career as a professional cowboy and his induction into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Douthitt retired, but not for long. He and Jane began manufacturing prefabricated homes.

In the early 1970s, Buff created a trailer that included a compartment to transport his horses.

“One day we were at an ice cream parlor in Dallas, and a man approached me to compliment my house trailer. The man was D.J. Williams of William’s Craft Manufacturing, and he asked me to create house-horse trailers for his company.” Buff said.

Eventually, the Douthitts started their own business, MBM International Inc., in the Fort Worth area, to manufacture mobile homes. The U.S. government was their biggest client, Buff said.

“We employed 3,500 people and built housing units that were shipped to countries like Korea, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Africa. Sometimes when I’m watching the news, they’ll show a shot of the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea, and I’ll recognize some of our housing units.”

After two successful careers, Buff retired again, and he and Jane moved to Santa Fe. The

Buff waves to his fans. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)

couple, lived on a small ranch off State Road 14. The Douthett’s lost a son in 2006, but they have a daughter and two grandchildren.

In addition to providing livestock for Western films, Buff worked as a movie consultant and had cameo roles as an actor.

In talking about his movie career, Buff said, “Working with Hollywood people has been special, and I’ve made some friends along the way,” he said. “In 1994, I acted with Mickey Rooney in “Outlaws: The Legend of O.B. Taggart,” and every year he sends me a Christmas card.” He also had consulting roles in “Young Guns” I and “Young Guns II.”

Buff had a scare when a spooked horse kicked him in the head and broke his neck in three places. He was 89 years old when that happened. By a miracle, or perhaps just plain ol’ cowboy toughness, he survived, proving what he always said, “You just can’t keep a good cowboy down!”

He had been trying to untangle his horse, named Spook, who had gotten caught in a fence. As Buff worked to free the horse, it became agitated and kicked him. Despite his life-threatening injury, Buff managed to drag himself home.

His wife Jane stated that she thought he had been attacked by someone.

He was bleeding and had a huge bump on head. By the time the ambulance arrived, he was unconscious and remained in that state for the next 10 days. He wasn’t expected to live.

Buff was injured on Jan. 26, the 7th anniversary of the death of the couple’s son, Jason, who had been killed in a car accident. “Every year on his anniversary, we go to place a rose on his grave,” Jane said. “I was waiting for Buff so that we could go to the cemetery.”

Buff underwent an eight-hour operation at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, where doctors placed two metal rods and nine screws in his neck.

Buff was one of 10 veteran cowboys, ranging in age from 85 to 102, who were honored at the National Finals Cowboy Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada. After his near-death experience, Buff looked back on that honor in a new light. What a life he lived!

Buff passed away on Sept. 4, 2016, two years after that near-fatal accident.

“All any of us can do is be the best at what we do in life because it goes so fast,” he said. “We’re just shadows on this Earth.”

Editor’s note: Jane would love to have any information that anyone might have on Buff for the book she is writing. If you have any stories, memories, recollections of Buff and the ranches he worked on, please contact Janice Dunnahoo at the archives. 

Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or by email at jdunna@hotmail.com.