Eastern cowboy shares adventures
Being a black cowboy from the East, Salem County native Abe Morris already had two strikes against him when he headed to the West. But he showed he could compete with the best of them. Now he's written a book about the adventures.
Morris has retired from riding, but his love of rodeo and bull riding in particular, is still evident as he enthusiastically recounts stories of his adventures.
In the spring of 2005, "My Cowboy Hat Still Fits," largely an autobiography of Morris' life in the world of rodeo, is due out.
"Basically it's the ups and downs of a kid who grew up in New Jersey who wanted to come out West and did and was very successful," said Morris, 48.
Morris grew up on a farm in the Woodstown area. There, on a dare, he started his rodeo career -- sort of.
When he was a boy, his cousins, Gene Walker, Jimmy Lee Walker and Willie Ed Walker --all who later also would take part in rodeo -- bet Morris a quarter that he wouldn't ride one of the young farm animals.
"They would bribe me," Morris laughed. "They offered me a quarter to get on a calf." Morris did more than once and took the quarters and enjoyed sodas and candy bars.
In July 1966 at age 10 he made his first appearance in the Cowtown Rodeo Arena in the junior brahma bull riding competition. The "junior bulls" are baby brahmas. Morris held on for the required six seconds and won the prize money of $7.50 "That's what got me hooked," he recalls.
In 1972 he began competing by riding the big brahmas.
Sitting on his first full-sized bull in the chute waiting to begin his ride, Morris was, to say the least, a little nervous. "I was scared to death," he recalled.
After graduating from Woodstown High School in 1974, Morris headed to the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo., on a full four-year academic scholarship.
While at the university, Morris competed in intercollegiate rodeo. But the road wasn't always easy. He was a black cowboy from the East.
"I already had two strikes against me," Morris said. "We had to do a little better and then some ... but it wasn't just me, it was anyone who went out there (from the East)," he said.
At college he competed in bull riding, winning his first ever champion buckle. He would later graduate with a bachelor of science degree in business.
After college, his passion for riding continued. At the height of his career he would ride about 100 bulls a year.
He twice qualified for the Dodge National Circuit Finals and eight times qualified for the Mountain States Circuit Finals. He won the Wrangler Circuit Series for the Mountain States Circuit.
Morris also branched out to become the first black rodeo announcer and for nine years was a commentator for the Prime Sports Network and Fox Sports Network at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. He also still writes a column, carrying the same name as his book, "My Cowboy Hat Still Fits," for a specialized magazine for bull riders, "Humps and Horns." Some of the columns focus on Cowtown Rodeo.
For a cowboy, unless you are a world champion or have sponsors as some do today, the prize money barely pays the way.
"I have won my share, but if I broke even, I probably did well," Morris said.
In August 1994 a severe hip injury from rodeo did not allow him to walk for six weeks, but all through rehabilitation "I knew I wanted to come back," Morris said.
But it was another cowboy who warned him that with another serious injury to the hip "you may not be able to walk again."
"It takes a braver man to walk away from the sport than to come back and try it again," Morris was told. And he listened.
Morris continues to live in the West, now in the Denver, Colo., area where he works in the financial services industry.
He still has strong ties to the Woodstown area where he was raised.
His late father, Abraham Morris Sr., was a pastor at Friendship Baptist Church in Brotmanville and his mother, Christine Morris is now retired. She had worked as a teachers' aide at the Mary S. Shoemaker School in Woodstown. His two brothers work here in the county -- David Morris as a Salem City School District teacher and Reuben Morris is with McLane Distribution. Sister Patricia Morris is a psychologist, sister Janice Corbin a seamstress and sister Rosalyn Hairston works for Lockheed Martin in Texas.
Morris' son Justin, 5, has hinted he may want to follow in daddy's footsteps in the rodeo arena.
"If he wants to ride bulls, I'm going to coach him. But I'm not going to encourage him," Morris said. "I'd tell him 'I don't want you to ride bulls because dad did.' I will tell him to 'ride bulls because you want to'."
Justin looks the part of the young cowboy. On a recent visit to the Sunbeam office he was clad in blue jeans, a neat shirt, cowboy boots, a big cowboy hat and his father's 1978 college rodeo buckle on his belt.
But Morris cautions bull riding can be a dangerous sport.
"I wouldn't recommend anyone do it because it's so dangerous," Morris said.
For the future, Morris says he would like to do more writing and perhaps use his own life of overcoming obstacles as an example for others through motivational speaking.
And who will his first book be dedicated to?
"Justin," Morris says. "He's my biggest fan."