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Rodeo Legacy: James ‘Hyde’ Merritt inducted into Rodeo Hall of Fame

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On May 24, 1922, a rodeo legend was born in Federal, a small Wyoming town northwest of Cheyenne. James “Hyde” Merritt was the son a World Champion Steer Roper King Merritt, and he spent his childhood with a rope in his hand, gathering and working livestock and roping.

From there, Hyde’s influence in his community, state and across the country grew to impact the rodeo industry in many positive ways. As a result of his influence, Hyde will be inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in on Nov. 11 in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Starting young

Since his birth, Hyde has been entrenched in rodeo. His father King was well-known for his rodeo success. Hyde was the second child of six. His siblings include Sonny, Orlene, Cotton, Ginger and Ramona.

“Everything this man gave his cowboy touch to carried his brand for love of ranch, horses and rodeo,” says the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association.

At age 19, Hyde left the family ranch to attend the University of Wyoming (UW), where he was instrumental in establishing the first UW college rodeo team, including writing the by-laws.

Merritt served in World War II as a bombardier. He flew 31 missions and was shot down over Belgium Dec. 24, 1944.

Industry involvement

When he returned to the U.S., he jumped back into the industry that he loved as co-founder and editor of The Rodeo News from 1947-49.

After that, he worked as editor and West Coast manager for Western Horseman magazine from 1949-50, until he became editor of Quarter Horse News in 1950.

At the same time, Hyde remained active outside the publishing industry.

“Hyde was one of the founders of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, became an RCA member in 1945 and founded or served in various Quarter horse associations,” says Heidi. “He also became an esteemed Quarter horse judge and breeder.”

Hyde was instrumental in founding the Wyoming Quarter Horse Association, and he was began breeding horses in the late 1940s.

“Hyde was a co-owner of Blue Valentine with his father-in-law Buster Hayes,” Heidi says. “Hyde incorporated he and his father’s breeding program, along with that of his father-in-law, to develop and promote foundation Quarter horse bloodlines in the U.S.”

Family ranch

In 1950, Hyde and his wife Dede Hayes Merritt established their family ranch, where they raised four children, Chip, Heidi, Randy and Lory.

Lory says, “Hyde taught us work ethic from the start. We were riding horses before we were four years old. We did everything horseback, and he taught all four of us how to be cowboys from day one.”

“We worked really hard, and my siblings and I all made sure to teach the same work ethic we learned from Hyde and Dede to our kids,” he continues. “He worked hard at everything he did.”

Growing up, Lory emphasizes that everything they did was centered around family and the ranch, although Hyde also loved to duck off with his old buddies periodically.

“My mom was beside my dad every day, and we were right there, too. We did everything as a family,” Lory says. “It was a family affair, with lots of hard work and fun times.”

Hyde also had a joking streak, and Lory says, “Hyde loved to play tricks on us while we were growing up.”

“But no one can mention Hyde without mentioning Dede,” Lory says. “Mom passed away in 2011, but she was Hyde’s partner and right-hand man. I think that’s why all of us kids have remained close all these years.”

Rodeo influence

“Hyde’s influence on rodeo was from the ground up,” Lory says.

After starting Rodeo News, Hyde began writing a series of articles promoting the creation of an organization to provide an umbrella for college rodeo, which got the ball rolling to form the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA). He also helped to write NIRA’s by-laws.

“He was well educated and had a passion for rodeo,” Lory explains, noting that Hyde was also a stock contractor for timed events at many rodeos through the years. “In the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties, Hyde supplied Mexican steers and roping calves for Cheyenne Frontier Days.”
Lory fondly remembers the hard work his father put into sorting steers.

“Hyde wanted to produce the best product all the time,” he says. “He worked so hard to keep his cattle even and sort out the bad ones.”

Legacy

Lory says that Hyde’s influence and legacy still lives after his untimely death.

In 1983, Hyde was in a family ranch accident that took his life.

“A respected family man, businessman, rancher, calf and steer roper, Quarter horse breeder and judge, stock contractor, steer roping producer and more, Hyde was a man who represented the western way, who loved the land and nature and believed in the good Lord above,” the Merritt family says.

James Allen, Mel Potter and Pake McEntire, among numerous others, speak fondly of Hyde, saying he “changed the history of steer roping,” “stood out among many” and was “a man full of integrity.”

“We’re so proud of Hyde and Dede,” Lory says. “Hyde’s induction into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame means so much to our family.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at saige@wylr.net.

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