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Buckaroo Museum, Winnemucca Nevada


Cliff Gunderson

Cliff Gunderson (1924--)

Cliff Gunderson was born in 1924 in the southwestern corner of North Dakota near Mary. Cliff’s father died when he was just two and the family, Cliff, his three brothers, sister and mother, moved to South Dakota near his mother’s parents. His grandparents ran around 1,700 head of cattle along the Missouri River. In the summers he stayed with his grandparents and aunt and uncle on the Standing Rock Reservation and would row Indians across the Missouri River, his only pay being “praise for being a good boy.” While there on the ranch, he was given a two year old colt to break. Cliff broke the colt and traded it for a half Shetland. He thought his pony was pretty fast so he and his Uncle Hank, who was riding a paint horse, headed to the fair in Selby, South Dakota. Cliff entered his pony in the race and won it! The prize being three dollars. He then rode Hank’s horse and won five dollars. He said, “We were rich!” Cliff’s grandfather endured several years of drought and grasshoppers and was not able to hold on to the ranch. Cliff, and eventually the whole family, moved to Oregon after Cliff graduated from 8th grade.

At the age of thirteen, Cliff was on his own and landed in Harney County. He went to work on a ranch that had thirty head of mares and colts and six geldings that were three and four years old. He helped break them to ride. The ranch was leased by Fred Abraham. While he was working there, Fred traded a four year old gelding to George Riley up river above Drewsey for a shire stud and sent Cliff after him. Cliff rode the gelding and led the buckskin mare to George’s. He stayed all night and George got him started home on the stud horse, which had never been ridden. Cliff made it back to Harney and said it was a long trip.

From Fred’s he went to Sod House in the fall of 1938 and rode up to Big Sage Brush Field every day and pumped water for 300 head of cattle owned by BB Clark. “In December we moved cattle to Silver Creek where I fed all winter, then moved cattle to Buck Creek, the old Bill Brown headquarters.” He spent the summer of 39 haying at the Island Ranch and then moved on to the P Ranch in the fall of 1939 where he rode colts and buckarooed until the fall of 1942. The P Ranch was used by the Roaring Springs ranch in the winter time. Roaring Springs was owned by Eastern Oregon Livestock Company. It turns out they would not raise his wages, so he went to the MC where he received $50 more and after a month another $25.

In the fall of 1942 Cliff went to enter the bronc riding in Lakeview, Oregon and they wanted his mother to sign a release. Well Cliff had been on his own since he was 13 years old and had ridden his share of broncs. Even if his mother had been there, he wouldn’t have had her sign it. Not to be deterred he went and changed his hat but they recognized him, so he changed his shirt. Persistence paid off and they let him in and he won the first go round. Cliff broke colts and followed the MC chuck wagon to the desert and back to the meadows for the winter.


Cliff with the MC Chuckwagon

Cliff rode colts for the ZX and followed the rodeo trail and then back to the MC. He then spent 18 months in the Navy during World War II. After his time in the Navy, Cliff hit the rodeo trail again with much success. He spent the winter of 1947 in Poso Ranch near Wasco, California riding colts and checking weaner calves shipped from Paisley, Oregon. When spring hit it was back to the rodeo trail. In the winter of 49 and 50, Cliff and his brother, Casper, started 24 colts and when spring rolled around it was back to the rodeos again. Cliff’s years of breaking horses made him an excellent saddle bronc rider. From his first Rodeo in Burns, Oregon in 1941 through the early 1950’s, he won many rodeos including Cedarville, Angles Camp, California, Grants Pass, Roseburg, Sheridan, Paso Robles, Nyssa, Joseph and many more plus placing at several. He went back and forth between rodeoing and the MC. In February of 1953 he married Alyce Carroll. He rodeoed for a few years more and then settled down to raise a family. They had two girls, Terry and Mary, who both ranch now. Cliff worked for various ranches and other jobs.

In 1972 he became the manager of the Flying G Ranch near Burns Junction, Oregon and ran it for 22 years. When the Flying G Ranch was sold, he moved on to the Zimmerman ranch owned by the same man and ran it for an additional16 years.

Cliff retired in 2010 at the age of 87. At the time of this writing, Cliff is now 90 years old and still rides, ropes and shoes his own horse. Although retired, he still stays busy by helping his daughters and their husbands move cows and brand. He rides a Jordan Valley Big Loop saddle that he won in 1985.

Cliff is usually a serious natured man but when telling stories from his past, he gets a mischievous twinkle in his eyes and a grin on his face, as he chuckles about all that he has seen and done. He is a man of few words, hard working and fair. Cliff is the real deal, a true cowboy and deserving of this great honor.

Cliff Gunderson was inducted into the Buckaroo Hall of Fame in 2014.


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