Johnie Schneider from Livermore – First World Champion Bull Rider

Livermore is the home of the very first World Champion Bull Rider, Johnie Schneider, who attained this crown in 1929. To win the heart of “the prettiest girl in Livermore” - Julia Frates, the daughter of Highland Road rancher Thomas Frates - Johnie had to prove his undisputed skills a second time in 1930 and then after marrying her in 1931, to accomplish a treble of bull riding in 1932.

He also happened to become the World Champion All-Around Cowboy in 1931, as well as established a reputation as one of the most amazing, versatile performers in rodeo history abroad. He became Best All Around Champion in Australia in 1935 and was named an “Honorary Australian.” He competed there three times, and returned in later years just to visit. The Australian people thought very highly of Johnie Schneider. When visiting USA, if they didn’t see Johnie Schneider, they couldn’t say they had been to America. Johnie was also crowned the Top Cowboy and All Around Champion of the Hawaiian Islands in 1939. Johnie Schneider also claimed the Steer Decorating World’s Championship for the years 1931, 1932 and 1936.

He may have also become the first rodeo cowboy with a fan club when the “Johnie Schneider Fan Club” was organized at Livermore. They collected newspaper and magazine articles for a scrapbook.

A natural horseman, he was good copy, a sort of All-American boy in rodeo type, and always friendly and approachable.

  • Cowboy Johnny Schneider riding a Bronco mid-buck, Los Angeles, Calif. circa 1931on a buck
  • Johnie Schneider bull riding, Sonora, 1929 Placeholder
  • Julia Schneider in the late 1930sPlaceholder

On July 4th 1923 towheaded Johnie Schneider, 19-year-old son of a Stockton area rancher, came in 6th in the saddle bronc context at Livermore and since then his name was known wherever cowboys gathered. For the next 10 years, he gathered a share of the money in every rodeo he entered. Bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, steer decorating, relay races, pony express races, single and team roping, bull-dogging, and even Roman racing, during which he rode standing on two horses at the same time - Johnie Schneider competed in every one, unlike today's competitors who most often specialize in one type of entry, just as medical specialists have taken the place of general practitioners.

Johnie was attracted to the competition and excitement of the circuit. He itched to try every event, and found he enjoyed and excelled in all. M.M. Hightower wrote in Hoofs and Horns, “At a rodeo he did just about everything but drive the water wagon and if they had made this a contest event he, doubtfully would have been up there, rains in hand and with a familiar gleam in his eyes”. In 1930 Livermore rodeo program, the name of Johnie Schneider appeared 24 times, and he succeeded to place 20 contests.

Schneider grew up with a strong work ethic, and his constant vigorous physical activity no doubt contributed to the strong, lithe body he developed. While still in grammar school he took in colts to break, at the rate of $10 for 10 days riding. His second job was delivering the Stockton Sun every evening. The route covered about 10 miles, and Johnie combined duties by riding the colts to deliver the papers.

He left home early and went to live with some other folks, helping them out with their farm chores and working in the fields. He would get up at four in the morning, do the chores, then go out into the fields for ten hours, come back and do the chores again, eat and go to bed. He didn’t use any saddle and always rode bareback. He’d run towards the back of his horse and jump on it like a regular rodeo performer.

Athletic, enthusiastic and competitive, young Schneider was also attracted to the boxing ring, he surely was the first real athlete in the sport of rodeo. Always well mounted, he was constantly thinking how he could improve his performance. Schneider enjoyed Roman riding and racing, and would sometimes ride Roman with a four-horse team rather than the usual two horses. At 67 the former rodeo champion could easily pass for a youngish 47. He has hair, and none of it gray, and he has never lost a tooth in a dentist’s office or in an arena mishap.

Johnie Schneider is the real life example of the famous proverb “Size does not matter”. Only five foot six, Johnie had a compact, quick, lithe body that helped him in competitions.

Although being small in stature, at the beginning of his career Johnie was frequently pressed into service as an “extra” in cowgirl races, having to dress up as a girl to fill a racing card. One year at Stockton when several of the smaller cowboys filled in for cowgirl riders as to round out numerous races.

Their competitive drive was frustrated because they were never allowed to win. So, the last day they had a race among themselves, and Johnie Schneider beat them all. Johnie’s mother, Nevada Schneider, was seated in the grandstand when that happened, and when he rode into the winner’s circle she commented, “That girl sure can ride, but she sure is ugly.”

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Johnie Schneider in the Girl's Relay Race, Jimmy Schneider photo Caption on original photo: "Getting ready for the big race." Jockies are from left to right, Rose Malloly, Laverne Burrell, Johnie Schneider and Rose Stadler Selpher"

More than a professional athlete, Johnie Schneider has always been a great with children. He always kept an eye on the small fry who hung around the chutes and corrals during the California Rodeo of the 30’s. In 1932, Livermore actually formed a ‘Johnie Schneider Kids Club’. All the kids in town were invited to ride with Gentleman Johnie in the rodeo parade. Spectators saw a big wagon and a load of kids, but Johnie Schneider was invisible—completely mobbed by his adoring fans from the beginning of the parade to the end.

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Johnie Schneider and his wife, Julia

Unlike some of the hell-raising hands of his era, Johnie was a family man, deeply devoted to his first wife Julia. He was a very clean-cut fellow. Most rodeo cowboys liked to drink a lot and party. Johnie didn’t, he rarely ever was around till shortly before a rodeo performance. He stayed a lot to himself, but he was liked by everybody. With a soul of a poet and the heart of a cowboy, he was a hell of a rider, and a true romantic. Johnie wrote this poem for Julia on her birthday, May 3, 1937:

Twenty eight years ago today
A baby was given birth,
Never more beauty, grace and charm,
Has ever been sent to this earth.

Her face is as sweet as an angel.
Her smile is that of a saint.
Her dark curly hair frames the picture.
Such beauty, no artist could paint.

Her thought is as pure as a snowdrift.
Her will is that of a nun.
Her heart is as soft as a moonbeam,
And as warm as a beam from the sun.

I know that I'll always love her
As we go hand in hand through this life;
For she is my darling Julia,
My sweet and adorable wife

Read more poems by Johnie Schneider...

The Schneiders were a fun-loving bunch, and all got a big laugh out of that. Johnie loved to tell funny stories, and always enjoyed a prank. So did Julia. Once, one of their neighbors, who frequently helped Johnie, and who loved to tease and pick on Julia, giving her a bad time, had breakfast with the Schneiders. She’d fry up a stack of pancakes and put butter and syrup on them and pass the plate to one guy at the table, and the next stack was for the next guy and so on. When she passed the plate to this guy there was a cow-pattie on it, with butter and syrup on top. That kind of put an end to his picking on her.

Julia was the unfortunate victim of a deadly cancer that took her from Johnie and their three small children in 1945. After that Johnie married the second time to Bernice Schneider. Johnie’s last year of competition was 1941. Reporters frequently asked Johnie why—when he was obviously still capable of winning.  He’d tell them, ‘I wanted to retire when they wondered why I did, instead of waiting until they’d wonder why I didn’t.’ Although it wasn’t the end of his involvement. After retiring from rodeo he spent his time as a state brand inspector in Stockton, California. In 1951 he moved to Salinas and became the Monterey County Brand Inspector. It was around this time when he returned to the California Rodeo and became a familiar figure as the man opening the chute gates.

As long as he lived Johnie Schneider possessed an uncanny ability to read and understand horses, even from a distance. Johnie Schneider could judge men and their ability much the same way. Johnie died in 1982 at age 77, a true “cowboy’s cowboy” throughout his life. He is buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery on East Avenue in Livermore, near his first wife. Johnie was a cowboy, cattlemen and above all, he was a gentleman. Johnie was recognized by multiple halls of fames, including his induction into the Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1992, as well as being an Honorary Member of the California Rodeo Board of Directors. He was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame at Oklahoma City in 1965. In the early 1980s a plaque was dedicated in his honor at the Livermore Rodeo Stadium, located at the bottom of the rear stairway to the grandstand.

Johnie once said, ‘I read something somewhere that went like this, “A man is indeed fortunate if in his lifetime he has had one good horse, one good dog, one good friend, and one good wife.” In my time, I have had lots of good horses, lots of good dogs, lots of good friends, and two good wives—so I am indeed fortunate.”

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