The Roberts name is synonymous with the history, and success, of the Flint Hills Rodeo in Strong City, Kansas, as well as growth of the sport over the years.
Ken Roberts continued that proud tradition until his untimely death of a heart attack in 1975 at the age of 57.
A three-time world champion bull rider and a charter member of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, Roberts was called the toughest bull rider of all time. He was a pioneer athlete and producer of bull riding and was instrumental in building the sport into national prominence.
Roberts’ rodeo career spanned four decades, starting with a 1936 bull riding victory in Chicago at the age of 18. He repeated that championship in Chicago in 1937 and ’38.Thirty years later, Roberts won the national bull riding championship by riding a bull, which had not been ridden in two years.
Roberts was the arena director of the first National Rodeo in its’ first two seasons. Roberts was part of the famous rodeo family of Emmett and Clara Roberts, who were instrumental in forming the Flint Hills Rodeo and turning it the longest running rodeo in Kansas.
The Flint Hills Rodeo began from a regular practice in the 1930s of staging pasture rodeos at the farm of Emmett Roberts near Strong City. The year 1937 is marked as the birth year of the Flint Hills Rodeo. The first annual Chase County Rodeo was held in 1938 and the rodeo was renamed the following year and has been going strong ever since.
Ken Roberts helped put on the first Flint Hills Rodeo. It is held during the first full weekend of June in the same arena and grounds that were built for the event in 1948.
Ken Roberts’ older brother Gerald was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1961 and his sister Marge was also a world champion and inducted into the Nation Cowgirl Hall of Fame posthumously in 1987.
Ken Roberts was a world champion bull rider in 1943, ’44 and ’45. He made his last bull ride at the age of 50 when he won the competition at the Denver Stock Show. In addition to being inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs in 1979, Roberts is an original inductee into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.
Roberts’ sudden death in 1975 stunned the rodeo world.
“One of the most popular and colorful characters ever in the game, even more than just as a champion, “Sherwood” was known for his grim determination and as a square shooter, who’d stand up and be counted and whose word was his bond,” penned a writer in a rodeo magazine. “Iron headed and generous to a fault, he never complained when he lost and never bragged when he won.”
Roberts’ funeral was attended by an overflow crowd that included members of the Rodeo Cowboys Association from Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, California, Colorado, South Dakota, Arkansas, Nebraska and New Mexico.