Colonel Jim Eskew and his Wild West Show in Waverly, NY

JE Rodeo Official ProgramNot far from Ballentine’s Horse Heaven, housed in a small building along a back road, stands a tack and saddle repair shop. The shop is run by a kind, elderly gentleman who knows the past and can make it come alive with local stories of horses, cowboys, western singers and rodeos. That is where I first heard of Colonel Jim Eskew and his Wild West Show in Waverly, NY.

Jim Eskew was an accomplished horseman and cowboy. Originally from Tennessee, he worked on ranches, Mulhall’s Wild West Show, Sparks Circus, and eventually, managed small rodeos. By 1933 Jim had formed his own Wild, West Show, which toured New England and Mid-Atlantic states. Several years passed and his rodeo grew prompting him to seek a permanent winter home for the traveling show.

JE Rodeo ProgramIn Waverly NY, two brothers, restaurateur and inn owners Ed and Bill O’Brian, felt Eskew’s Wild West Show would be good for local business. They brought their idea to the Waverly Board of Trade and Jim Eskew. After a year of negotiations, in July of 1939, Eskew accepted the boards offer; a 300 acre farm four miles outside of Waverly. In exchange for the property, Colonel Jim Eskew would remain there for at least 3 years and annually stage a Wild, West Show for the town.

Before long, Colonel Eskew, his troupe of performers and crew took up residency at the old Ralph Shock farm also known as the Loomis farm located between Talmadge Hill road and Lockwood. They renovated and enlarged the existing barn on the property and purchased an additional 300 acres from the adjoining Jenkins farm.

The Colonel brought to the ranch 150 head of livestock including brahma bulls, buffalo, cattle, bucking broncos and riding horses. He had a weekly payroll of $1,200; in today’s dollars that would be approximately $20,264. Colonel Eskew built cabins, bunkhouses, an Indian village, tack shop, livestock barns, areas to train animals, showgrounds and grandstands. During summers the JE Ranch hosted a camp for girls and boys. His Wild, West Show was the biggest performing rodeo East of the Mississippi. Cars clogged the narrow road leading to the showgrounds as hundreds of people flocked to view the show. Waverly became the ‘Rodeo Capital of the East’; business in the small town was booming.

Eskew Family, Colonel Jim Eskew, his wife Dolly, Tom and Jim Jr. little girl unknownEveryone in the Eskew family performed in the rodeo; the Colonel and his wife Dolly, as well as his sons Jim Jr. and Tom. The stars lined up to perform read like a who’s who in Hollywood. Top cowboy singing star Roy Rogers was a regular; other famous performers included Dale Evans, Sons of the Pioneers, The Cisco Kid and Pancho, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash LaRue, Andy Devine, Gene Autry, Tom Mix and Hoot Gibson.

Jim Jr. Eskew World Champion Trick and Fancy RoperColonel Eskew’s son, Jim Jr., was a star roper. He performed rope tricks on horseback including skipping rope while standing on top of his saddled horse. He became the Worlds Champion Trick and Fancy Roper when he competed and won the title at the Madison Square Garden Rodeo in NYC.

The advent of World War II triggered the end of the rodeo; the Colonel’s sons left for war and his wife, Dolly, died. After the war a new type of entertainment took hold; television. The JE Ranch and Rodeo fell on hard times as crowds dwindled. Colonel Jim Eskew sold the ranch in 1957 and retired. He moved to Ardmore Oklahoma and passing away on February 23, 1965.

In Waverly the memory of the JE Ranch faded. There isn’t much to tell that it ever existed. The only remaining buildings are the main house and a single cabin. If you ask Waverly old-timers about the Rodeo chances are you’ll get a smile and a story; otherwise, Colonel Jim Eskew’s Wild West Show is pretty much forgotten.

Sources:; Elmira Star-Gazette, Thursday, July 13, 1939;;;;;;;

Note: Colonel Eskew brought the first quarter horses to the Eastern states; breeding the horses on his ranch. The sales from the horses totaled over $150,000 which would be in today’s dollars approximately $1,354,165.

Copyright © 2015 Patricia Miran All Rights Reserved

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38 Responses to Colonel Jim Eskew and his Wild West Show in Waverly, NY

  1. Thomas C Horner says:

    My dad, Tommy Horner worked for Jim Eskew and rode in and performed in the rodeo. After the war, he went back into rodeo and later formed and managed his own shows. Colonel Jim Eskew had a positive influence on my father and he spoke of him often.

    • Pat Miran says:

      Colonel Jim Eskew seems to have had a positive effect on others. Its amazing how one person can influence so many people. It sounds like your father too had an interesting life. Did your father’s rodeo stay in New York or relocate? Thanks for the comment, Pat

  2. Miles Johnston says:

    my grandmother was Dolley’s sister

  3. Romeyn Kipp says:

    I am in my 80’s and I remember the J.E. Ranch rodeos. We used to go every year. One of the fun thing was the Hoover family and their “special” car. What fun. It is a shame the rodeo no longer exists. It would be quite a job to get it going again – probably can’t because of the cost – but if it ever starts up again, and if I am still alive, I will be one of the first ones to make the trip to see it.

    • Pat Miran says:

      It would be wonderful if the rodeo would start up again! If it ever does I’m differently going too. Thanks for the comment –

    • Romeyn Kipp says:

      One of the things that really added to the excitement, during “half time”, was the Hoover Family and their special car. Apparently the car was weighted down behind the rear wheels so that the when the driver jerked the car forward, it would rear up on two wheels. Apparently the car was fixed with a brake for each rear wheel so it could be “steered” with the brakes. A “rumble seat” in the back made it possible for several of the Hoovers to ride there. By “goosing” it, the car would rear up on its back wheels. When the car came back down from being reared up, those in the back would “fly” out. There was also a water tank somewhere in the car so that the driver could drive toward the grandstand and give a little “squirt” of water to those seated in the front rows. We used to go every year – never got tired of any part of the rodeo. Too bad it doesn’t exist any more – we need some of that wholesome family entertainment.

  4. Kathleen Michaelis Friel says:

    Dolly and Jim were my aunt and uncle. I live in Pennsylvania and remember them very well. I am in my 70’s. Dolly was a special person.

  5. Patricia Rosensteel says:

    My Mom was Maureen Murphy. Jackie Eskew was her cousin. My Mom stated Jackie taught her how to dance. We grew up hearing all about the Colonel, the rodeo and Roy Rogers stories.

  6. Shannon says:

    I was told my great Uncle Robert Leonard worked for this rodeo. Have you ever heard his name related to this?

    • Pat Miran says:

      Hi Shannon, I don’t have information on all the people who worked at the rodeo; however, you might want to contact the Waverly Historical Society at 435 Chemung St. in Waverly. They have more information about the rodeo. Thanks for the comment

  7. doreen says:

    My dads cousin Claire Thompson worked a few times for the Eskews! She was a bronc rider and trick rider, she also bull dogged a few times!

  8. Jim Clark says:

    My grandfather, Ronald West, owned the livestock market in Horseheads. He was a financial backer of some sort for the rodeo and Jim Eskew would periodically sell some of his stock at my grandfather’s market. I have a picture of my mother and aunt on Trigger with Roy and Dale standing beside them. Good memories!

  9. Pat, my name is Johnny Williams and I was born and raised in Ardmore Oklahoma. In 1964, at age 16 I drove Col Eskew to Pennsylvania and New York where he was booking rodeos for Foy Reynolds Rocking R Rodeo CompanyCompany,

  10. Gwen (Dove) Crandell says:

    When I was 4 or 5, my Dad didn’t have a car, so Mom fixed a pillow on the cross bar of Dad’s bike. We lived on Barker Place in Waverly. Dad rode that bike with me on it up to the J.E. Ranch for their annual rodeo. The road was not paved and very dusty with all the cars traveling on it. The road was steep, so Dad got off the bike and pushed it up the hill. Years later, Mom and Dad bought property on the Ranch Rd. and built their home. Col. Jim’s granddaughter and I were about the same age. Her name I believe was Madonna. I used to go up to the ranch and we would go riding horses. I’m 80 now and have a good memory of those times. Wish we could go back in time once more.

    • Pat Miran says:

      Hi Gwen, That is a beautiful memory, Thanks for sharing. I have heard of Madonna from other people. It must have been wonderful riding horses with her and visiting the J.E. Ranch. I agree, it would be great if we could go back to those days.

  11. Michelle Kissinger says:

    Hello! I’m trying to track down information on my mother who spent June and July of 1957 in Waverly. She was a horsewoman and I imagine (but don’t know for sure) that the rodeo was an attraction. According to a local newspaper article, she was 16 and ran away from her Pottstown, PA home and stayed at the home of Rev. Leah Manuel while in Waverly. I don’t know how my teenage mother made it to Waverly or how she became associated with Rev. Manuel. If anyone has any information, no matter how seemingly insignificant, please email me at Thank you!

    • Pat Miran says:

      Hi Michelle,

      The Rodeo in Waverly seemed to a big draw for young people. I don’t have any information on your Mom. If I do hear anything about the time she spent in Waverly, I’ll let you know. Thanks, Pat

  12. Pat Miran says:

    Hi Michelle, At that time, the Rodeo in Waverly was a huge attraction and your teenage mother was not the only runaway to come to town. I will ask around. If I come across any information; I’ll get back to you. Thanks for the comment.

  13. THAYER MILLER says:

    I met Colonel Eskew in 1958 when I was riding broncs.

  14. Sheryl (Potts)Bell says:

    My Dad &mother Howard & Joan Potts traveled with this rodeo. My Dad was known as Fuzzy Potts. My mom is still living and often recalls those days! According to her the Vol. Was a wonderful man! We have several pictures of my Dad trick riding!

  15. Mike Korgan says:

    My uncle at one time worked with that rodeo, their last name was Kennedy, and I enjoyed watching it

  16. Dave says:

    Hello all,
    Going through my parents belongings I found a JE Ranch Rodeo program from 1949, if you wish to have it please send me an address and I will put it in the mail and send it your way. The program is in decent shape although it has tears in from being folded length wise.

  17. Jarrett Flickinger says:

    Seeking any information on John North born in Riverton Wyoming in 1912 and rode for Jim Eskew’s shows . Also lived in Waverly New York

  18. Pat Miran says:

    Hi Jarrett,

    I don’t have any information on John North, but if I come across anything about him I’ll let you know.

  19. Becky Taylor says:

    I knew Jim Eskew as a child while he was living in Ardmore, Ok. I have been trying to find where he is buried but have not been able to find the location. I know he passed away while he lived here in Ardmore. He was such a nice man and I have very fond memories of him and my grandfather. I would like to keep flowers on his grave if he is near here when I do my families. I’m hoping you can help me.
    Thank you- Becky Taylor

  20. Barbara G. Rathbone says:

    I know Col Jim, Brahma Rogers, his son Jimmy Rogers Betty Elite one of the trick rider back in 1953 . Infant I was going with Jimmy Rogers for awhile. I thought Col Jim had A great show I sure whish I knew where Jimmy was now. Barbara G.

    • Pat Miran says:

      Hi Barbara G., I’m sorry that I don’t have any information about Jimmy. I would have really liked to have seen Colonel Jim’s rodeo. Thank you for the comment, Pat

  21. Betty Johnsom says:

    I’m very interested in getting a Empire Rodeo Museum. I’m looking for a few people interested in being on a committee. I’m also looking for any info to help to make this happen–thank you

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