BILLINGS — Allen Fisher stopped cold in his cowboy boots. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
The Montana cowboy was in Ponoka, Alberta, Canada, to rope at one of Canada’s largest rodeos during professional rodeo’s annual Fourth of July run.
Standing in front of Fisher were 25 Jerry Small look-alikes.
“They were having a Jerry Small walking contest,” Fisher remembered of that day with a chuckle. “They had 25 guys lined up, ready to walk like Jerry.
“I’ll always remember that.”
Back then, everybody wished they could rope like Jerry Small.
Small, considered one of the greatest Indian cowboys ever, passed away on Aug. 26. He was 66.
He and his wife of 36 years, Darlene, ranched on Kirby Creek in the Busby area.
“He was a great cowboy,” said Fisher, who competed with and alongside Small. “He had a great way about him … a great attitude. He knew how to win, which is important in rodeo. He was fun-loving but when it came time to rope, he roped.”
Talented in all three timed events — tie-down roping, steer wrestling and team roping — Small is both a member of the Montana Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and the Indian National Finals Rodeo Hall of Fame.
Small won the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals all-around and steer wrestling titles in 1979. He also won the year-end all-around title the same year. Small added another all-around year-end title in 1985, along with the tie-down roping championship.
Small, a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, won INFR all-around titles in 1977, 1981, 1982, 1984 and 1987. The five all-around gold buckles are believed to be an INFR record. He also won the steer wrestling title in 1977 and a team roping championship in 1999 with Terry Fisher.
“He was just a great Indian cowboy,” Fisher emphasized. “He had such style … kind of a flair when he roped.”
But Fisher was more than a roper and rancher. He mentored many young rodeo competitors with his constant smile and laugh.
Spike Guardipee made special mention of Small’s influence when the Browning cowboy was inducted into the INFR Hall of Fame in 2017.
And Fisher knew first-hand of Small’s generosity.
When Fisher’s horse suffered a cut during the MPRC Finals in 1989, Small quickly loaned him his horse. Fisher would go on to win his first MPRC year-end championship in tie-down roping.
“That’s just the kind of guy he was,” Fisher said. “Whenever you needed help, he was there.”
Fisher said his friend was a magnet for attracting a widening circle of acquaintances.
“Everybody was a friend to him,” added Fisher. “Jerry was just one of the best guys ever. He had a charisma about him.
“He helped so many. Jerry was a special kind of guy. We’re not going to find any more like him.”