The evening began with a very nice attendance of members and visitors to honor and support Mitzi Lucas Riley as she shared so many interesting things about her famous mother Tad Lucas. She then told about her and mom Tad, as they became a famous 20 year, 'mother & daughter' trick riding team. She brought a wonderful picture collection and some treasured medals that had been won by her famous family. We were so captivated by her memories.
Around the Town with Jo Ann Dennis
Mitzi Lucas Riley Speaks at the ROARS Meeting
March 29, 2001
Mitzi Lucas Riley spoke for the River Oaks/Sansom Park Area Chamber of Commerce in December of last year and I was so mesmerized by her talk that I sat there with my camera in my purse and forgot to take her picture. I really wanted to have a picture of her with my article but because of sickness, bad weather and other conflicts, we were never able to get together. Then I heard she was going to speak for our River Oaks Area Historical Society and I thought that would be the perfect time to get her picture and to complete my story.
Well, as it turned out, I had to be on a business trip for my ‘other job’ as a mortgage officer, (Writing for the newspaper is my fun job) so I missed our March Historical meeting but I knew I could count on my friend, program chairman Linda Claridge, to tape Mitzi’s talk for me and to get a great picture. So once again, many thanks to Linda for some good information. I also used my notes from the Chamber meeting because Mitzi shared some other very interesting stories which she did not tell at the ROAHS meeting so this is a composite of the two meetings.
Mitzi is an amazing woman from an amazing family that was a very real part of River Oaks while also attaining world celebrity status. Mitzi was born to Buck and Tad Lucas, both Nebraska transplants who met on the rodeo circuit in Fort Worth. In the ‘20s, Fort Worth was a huh for rodeo people and for trains so it was inevitable that the rodeo would become big here because most of the performers and participants traveled by train with their horses. Buck was a bull dogger and bronc rider and Tad was a trick rider who sometimes rode steers and often beat her male counterparts. She was a free spirit who joined a wild west show at an early age. She once dressed up like a clown and got in the barrel for a well known clown who had been badly hurt. It was her job to divert the bull from any rider who had been bucked off. The other clowns didn’t cut her any slack because she was a woman, but tried to entice the bulls to go to Tad’s barrel.
In 1926, Buck and Tad bought seven acres with a pear orchard and a two-story home at 909 Roberts Cut-Off. At that time, Roberts-Cut-Off was definitely in the country but it was the road that led to many places such as the lake and even downtown Fort Worth, although people in the River Oaks area called the North Side “downtown”, They sold one acre of the seven to the Tyndall family next door, who trained horses, and each built a big barn on their property. (I have previously done an article about Garlene Tindall Parris who grew up next door to Mitzi and also became a trick rider.) The Lucas family built a large practice arena just the size of the North Side Rodeo Arena, between the two barns and both families had gates to get into the arena to practice. Buck Lucas also made one end of his barn into what Mitzi called a 1920s style gym and training room where he and Tad worked out every day because they were in every way professional athletes and had to keep their bodies in shape. The trick riders won points for their horses running faster and for doing a trick that was harder or more original than the other riders. Tad would practice her tricks by moonlight in order to keep them a secret. She was famous for going under the belly of a horse while it was running at full speed. This trick was rarely done by anyone else. She also stood on her head on the saddle horn while the horse was running. Besides the rodeos and shows all over the world, Tad did a lot of riding for Gene Autrey.
In 1931, there was a fire which burned their home to the ground. Snow was on the ground and it was near Christmas and also during the depression. The family moved into the barn for living quarters while Buck Lucas began to pick up brownstone rock from a riverbed and Mitzi as a young child would accompany him. Many men were out of work so Tad Lucas, who was barely five feet tall would cook for them and her husband would contract for the men to rebuild the house which was finally covered with the brownstone rock. Later, Mitzi found a receipt that showed that the money actually spent for other materials and for rebuilding was $1200. They moved into the home in 1932, but a sad memory was the loss in the fire of many of Tad’s beautiful trophies from winning numerous trick riding contests all over the world. However, a number of her trophies were preserved and are in the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. She was an eight-time world champion. Mitzi and her mother are both in the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame’ which is relocating with a beautiful new building in Fort Worth. They are the only mother-daughter team recognized in the Halls of Fame.
In 1933, Tad Lucas, at the height of her career, was riding in Chicago at the World’s Fair when she took a terrible fall and the horse fell on her, shattering her arm. She wore a cast for three years and never had full strength in her arm again but she would not give up riding for she had many contracts to fulfill. She decided that Mitzi, who was quite familiar with riding could help her (Mitzi said a horses’ saddle was her playpen when she was a toddler) so the two formed a team. Mitzi was six years old at the time when she began her working career. The two were a team for twenty years. There were not any specialty shops that made western clothing for women so Tad made all their costumes. Mitzi went to Mrs. Irma Marsh’s three room school and she remembers when she got home from school, instead of playing dolls or even playing team sports at school, she went right to the arena and began to practice. However her mother made sure she stayed in school and did her lessons but when summer came, they were off on the rodeo circuit.
When Mitzi was in the third grade, her mother went to Australia to perform and Mitzi lived with her aunt in the Arlington Heights area for awhile and went to school there.
When Mitzi was age fifteen, she rode at Madison Square Garden and represented Texas in a rodeo. She said she enjoyed her life very much. She married a roper and had five children who all ride. After raising the children. she went back to riding and traveling and retired in 1995. When asked what her thoughts were when performing all those years, she said it didn’t matter how sore or tired you were, when the band started playing and the applause started, you forgot your aches and pains and your goal was to please the crowd.
She and her husband have turned their Aledo ranch over to one of their sans, Tad Riley. named after his grandmother, and he manages the property and also trains horses.
Tad Lucas, long one of River Oaks heroes, passed away in 1990, at the age of 88. The Riley Family now owns the home on Roberts Cut-Off and has a mutual interest with the River Oaks Area Historical Society in making the home a historical site. Mitzi has joined our Society and she and the organization are talking about different possibilities to make this dream come true. What a wonderful thing it would be to have this property which is so rich in wonderful western history, become a historical haven in our city. Also, what a pleasure it has been to have such a vivacious lady as Mitzi Lucas Riley share some of her family’s exciting experiences. We will he anxiously awaiting news of the Lucas/Riley home in the near future.