Ray Bagley – a pioneer of local rodeos

The summer season of fairs, exhibitions, rodeos and stampedes is well underway.

Once again, more than one million Albertans are flocking to these seasonal events and entertainments. Unfortunately, one of the real pioneers of rodeos, stampedes and chuckwagon racing, who was also from the Red Deer area, has largely been forgotten.

The man was Ray Bagley.

Raphael Venerarz ‘Ray’ Bagley was born in a log shack on a homestead near Sidney, Iowa, in January 1880.

In 1892, he moved with his family to the Lacombe area, settling on a new homestead just east of the town.

One of his fondest memories was being taken by his parents with his six siblings on an oxen-driven hayrack to the first Lacombe Fair in 1893.

Although Father Lacombe did not live in the community, he attended the Fair and helped distribute the prizes.

In 1897, Bagley moved to his own homestead in the Eureka Valley district, on the north side of the Red Deer River. He married Elizabeth (Danny) Swanson in 1901 and built a large log house on the east side of a large coulee.

A big setback came when a prairie fire swept across the ranch and claimed all of the logs that had been initially collected for the new home.

Ray and Danny were undaunted and continued to build up their ranch, which Ray named the Bob Tail Ranch. Over time, their hard work paid off and they were able to accumulate nearly 1.5 sections of land.

They also raised a large family of five boys and two girls.

Eventually, Ray had several hundred head of cattle as well as a number of horses. He was particularly fond of racehorses, and raised some notable champion racers including Yakima, King Fisher and Flying Dutchman.

Red Deer, not Lacombe, was the closest town.

Red Deer also became the home of Ray’s parents after they briefly moved back to Iowa, but then decided to return to Central Alberta in 1907. Moreover, Ray’s brother Claude operated the Arlington Livery Stable on Mann (49) St. in Red Deer.

However, for many years, the Bagleys had to ford the Red Deer River to get supplies, take the cattle and horses to market and/or visit family.

In wintertime, they used the frozen river as a road.

The situation greatly improved in 1922 when the East (Joffre) Bridge was finally built across the river.

Before the First World War, Ray was a participant in the Red Deer Fair. Not surprisingly, he was often the winner of the popular horse races.

After the War, he became very active with rodeo.

In 1922, he helped to organize Red Deer’s first Labour Day Stampede and the next year he helped to organize the first Veterans’ Stampede for the Great War Veterans Association in Red Deer.

Ray took a strong interest in the chuckwagon races, known as the Rangeland Derby, which were held for the first time in the summer of 1923 at the Calgary Stampede. In 1924, he teamed with the famous Tom Lauder.

They won the Rangeland Derby at the Calgary Stampede and then won the first running of the chuckwagons at the Red Deer Fair two weeks later.

Ray became so enthused by rodeos and stampedes that he hosted one on the Bob Tail Ranch at the end of August, 1924.

The event was a great success, drawing very large crowds. Similar stampedes were consequently organized on the Bob Tail Ranch in succeeding years.

Meanwhile, tragedy struck the Bagley family in June 1921 when Ray’s young son Fay (Patrick) was hit in the head by a baseball during a game and died of his injuries.

The family moved to Onion Lake, Saskatchewan, in the mid-1920s where they started a new ranch.

The family later moved to the Coleman, Alberta district in 1940 and established the Sleeping Giant Mountain Ranch (later known as the Crowsnest Ranch).

Ray Bagley passed away in 1973 and is buried in the Canmore cemetery.