History column: Manatee County's rodeo sweethearts

Their rodeo romance began in the Midwest ended in a small Florida orange grove.

A boy, one of thirteen children in a Texas family, left home at age 13 to become a ranch hand for a cattle operation; a little girl from a family of farmers and ranchers in Nebraska started riding horses at age 3.

The boy became an expert at breaking horses and joined the professional rodeo circuit at age 17; the girl, encouraged by an uncle, taught herself riding tricks and groundwork, and by the time she graduated from high school, was an accomplished horsewoman. The boy, now a young man, was competing in rodeos across the country; the girl, now a young woman, entered local and state rodeos to try out her skills.

In 1937 at a rodeo in Dorchester, Neb., the two met and fell in love during a whirlwind romance. They were married on horseback in the rodeo ring in August of that year and the rest of the story becomes Manatee County history.

Vick and Faye Blackstone traveled the country from coast to coast, working the rodeo circuit full-time.

Vick was known as a "Five Event Man" -- the events being bull riding, calf roping, riding broncs with and without a saddle, and bulldogging. Bull dogging is catching a steer and wrestling it to the ground.

Faye became nationally known for her skills at barrel racing and trick riding. She invented the daring "back-fender drag," which she performed in many a Wild West Show over the years.

During their time of criss-crossing the country, the Blackstones spent time in Manatee County during the winters. It was the perfect place to train and practice. While wintering here, they worked on the Quarter Circle A Ranch, an 11,000-acre cattle ranch 7 miles east of Parrish. But when springtime came along, they would hit the trail for their life on the rodeo road.

They rodeoed in every state except Hawaii and California. Once they retired from rodeo, Vick and Faye managed the Quarter Circle A Ranch full time, but couldn't resist the lure of the rodeo life. They still entered weekend shows from time to time.

By the time the ranch sold in 1974, the Blackstones were ready to retire from ranching as well as rodeo. They then lived on and managed their own small citrus grove and ranch.

Vick was named Florida Rodeo Cowboy of the Year several times as a result of the high points he scored in his five events. Faye was named Florida's Champion Cowgirl, as the daredevil trick rider. In 1982 Vick was inducted into the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma and Faye was simultaneously inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Texas. These are the highest honors in the rodeo industry. In 2004, the Blackstones were inducted in the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame. Locally, they were inducted into the Manatee County Agricultural Hall of Fame -- Vick in 1987, the year he passed away; Faye in 2011, the year she passed. In addition, numerous local honors were bestowed on this couple. Vick was named Manatee County's Distinguished Citizen in 1980 and Blackstone Park in Palmetto was named for Vick and Faye. They were active in the local Cattlemen and Cattlewomen Associations, Chamber of Commerce, 4-H and Parrish United Methodist Church.

Vick and Faye Blackstone left behind polished reputations as not only celebrated rodeo performers, but also as loyal friends to our community who enjoyed their lives together both in and out of the rodeo ring. You can learn more about them in an exhibit at the Manatee County Agricultural Museum through the end of January. If you are a rodeo enthusiast, or perhaps would like to experience rodeo for the first time, you can enjoy it live at the Manatee County Fairgrounds on Jan. 30-31 during the Conley Buick GMS Southern States Bull Riding Finals or on April 18 during the Manatee County Cattlemen's Ranch Rodeo.

Diane Ingram, museum supervisor of the Manatee County Agricultural Museum, encourages readers to visit the Manatee County Fair this week and enjoy the "What is it?" exhibit in the Harllee Barn, sponsored by the Clerk's Department of Historical Resources. Reach her at diane.ingram@manateeclerk.com or 941-721-2034