Maurice Wade’s heroes have always been cowboys.
‘I grew up in the 50s watching Roy Rogers, the Cisco Kid, and Gene Autry ,’ he says. ‘My grand dad was a farrier down in Greenwood, Mississippi, and I used to go out to his farm and ride his mules and pretend I was a cowboy. That’s all I ever wanted to be.’
After high school, Wade joined the army and served in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division. ‘I was on a fire support team that shot the big guns for the infantry,’ he says. ‘We’d get mortared every night.’
He came back shattered, angry, and suffering from PTSD. ‘I used to go around and inspect my house every night as if I was checking the perimeter,’ he says. ‘And we didn’t get no hero’s welcome, either. They called us baby killers.’
After his discharge, he went to work full time as a compliance monitor for the USDA in Denver, and part time at Allen Stables in Aurora. ‘The cowboys’d come in and drop off their horses,’ he says, ‘and they kept asking me if I knew a guy named Henry Lewis.’
Henry Lewis, as it happened, was a legendary black cowboy who ran a small cattle operation on ten acres behind Aurora’s Hinkley High School. One day Wade’s curiosity got the better of him and he went over there and introduced himself. ‘Henry was a loner,’ he remembers, ‘an old-time cowboy who stayed off to hisself a lot. He was in his late sixties when I met him, and in his nineties when he finally passed. He was tough as nails, Lewis. Talk about True Grit; that was Henry. He was roping and tying calves right up ‘til the day he died.’
Lewis had a small arena on his property where he used to practice calf roping in the afternoons. Wade started going there after work to lend a hand. ‘That was how you learned from Lewis,’ he says. ‘You hung out and worked for him. He taught me some skills, and I got to where I could rope a calf pretty good. Next thing I know, I’ve got horses, a truck, and some ropes, and I’m goin’ down the road, doin’ two or three rodeos a weekend. Wherever there was a rodeo and some prize money, we’d go.’
In 1985, his first year on the tour, Wade was named Bill Pickett Rookie of the Year. He was nicknamed ‘Moe Betta’ by his fellow cowboys, most of whom were at least twenty years his junior. Maurice ‘Moe Betta’ Wade is 62 years old, which would be over the hill in any sport, but especially so in professional rodeo.
Wade disagrees. ‘I still have a lot of spunk in me,’ he says. ‘I stay physically fit, work out, don’t drink or smoke. Course, at my age you’re more cautious. You don’t bail off the horse at flat full speed like the younger guys do. But then the younger guys don’t have the experience I’ve got, so they make more mistakes. The key is being consistent. You wanna stay smooth and correct and make the best run on that cow as you can.’
Like his mentor Henry Lewis, Wade practices calf roping two or three hours a day, and tours the small town rodeo circuit on weekends. ‘Rodeo-ing, you ain’t gonna get wealthy,’ he says. ‘If you win, you might take home $800 on a weekend, maybe ten to fifteen grand in a season. There’s not a lot of money in it.’
So why do it?
‘Cause I love it,’ he says simply. ‘I have a passion for it. It also keeps me from thinking about Vietnam and the friends I lost over there. I’m pretty much a loner these days. I was married once, but that didn’t last. So I hang out with the guys I rodeo with. Cowboys are genuine and we get along. It’s a brotherly relationship. Cowboys look at you for the man that you are.’
Maurice ‘Moe Betta’ Wade will compete in the MLK Jr. African American Heritage Rodeo of Champions at the Denver Coliseum/National Western Stock Show Complex, Monday January 17th at 6 PM. Tickets: 303-373-1246
For more info:
National Western Stock Show
Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo
Click on ‘Subscribe’ at top of page for free email notification whenever a new article is published.
Got a life changer you’d like to share? Contact me at email@example.com