A Tehachapi original left the valley for good recently when roper, roofer and bullrider Rick Clagg, 53, died at home from a heart attack on June 5. He had been in poor health for several months.
Rick was a tall, tough, hard-living cowboy with a sharp mind and rock-hard fists. He loved roping and riding and his family and friends, and fishing and remembering past adventures.
There was a time when drinking and fighting were also fairly high on the list, and I would be less than honest if I didn’t mention that the Clagg family name and bar fights at the old Silverado Saloon (now Domingo’s) or the bowling alley were closely linked in the minds of many Tehachapi residents.
For the most part, though, Rick was no bully — he actually hated bullies and they were the kind of person most likely to be pummeled. Rick championed the underdog and many of his fights were in defense of weaker people who were getting picked on.
Outsiders who thought it would be fun to come to Tehachapi to drink and disrespect locals sometimes had a change of opinion beaten into them if there happened to be Claggs in the bar. Not everyone liked Rick, but not many forgot him.
Rick was born in Bakersfield on July 6, 1955, the firstborn child of Randall and Betty Clagg. The Claggs relocated to Tehachapi in about 1965 when Rick was in the fifth grade.
Rick was only 13 when he started working for Tex Bouscal and his son Dee out in Stallion Springs. The Bouscals leased part of the old Rex Ellsworth ranch and ran cattle, and young Ricky Clagg worked for them in the summer.
The Bouscals got Rick interested in rodeoing and so Tim Bouscal, Rick, Randy Redelsberger and other Tehachapi teens started a bullriding club using bulls loaned by Randall. Rick loved to ride bulls and that became his passion. He also rode horses in bareback bronc competition, but he preferred bullriding.
It goes without saying that riding bulls requires an extreme level of toughness and certain degree of fearlessness, which was a good fit for Rick. At 16 he was accidentally shot twice in the same week in unrelated incidents, including once in the leg by a .357 magnum.
Rick got to know cowboys from all over the U.S. as he was always catching rides to go compete in rodeos.
He got together with Connie Blagg of Bakersfield in 1972 and even attended her Foothill High School prom — an improbable family photo shows Connie and a young towhead Rick wearing a mint green tuxedo. Rick and Connie were married in 1983 and Connie had daughter Ricci in 1984 and Kaycee in 1986.
“After Kaycee was born I told him that he had to stop riding bulls, that he had a family that needed him and we couldn’t afford to have him get stepped on or something,” Connie told me.
Rick couldn’t give up rodeoing entirely so he switched to team roping, which brought him a host of new adventurers with his partner Jim Eaton as the two went roping every weekend. Sometimes to two or three rodeos in the same weekend.
“Rick was the best friend I ever had,” Jim says simply. “We’ve been in some tight spots together, and if I was ever in Afghanistan or somewhere, Rick was the one I’d want with me. He was also a good athlete. I wish everybody could have known him like I did. There won’t be another like him anytime soon.”
While some ropers pay tens of thousands of dollars for trained roping horses, Rick took another route.
“He bought whatever horse he could afford and made a roping horse out of him,” Connie said. “He could get the most out of a horse.”
Rick had his inner demons that he battled (punching and kicking them, I’m sure) but he had mellowed somewhat with time. He grew closer than ever to his father Randall in the past year and enjoyed his grandkids and nieces and nephews, even allowing the little girls to include him in their tea parties.
Rick had a sharp sense of humor and was a keen observer of human nature. He scanned people intensely and he could make someone uncomfortable real quick if they were lying or phony.
Rick also had old-fashioned manners and was respectful to his elders, using “Sir” and “Ma’am.” He also wasn’t bigoted and could enjoy people of other colors and ethnic backgrounds — as long as people treated him with respect, he showed them the same.
There are a lot of us in Tehachapi who loved Rick Clagg despite his flaws and rough edges, and he loved his hometown and his many friends here. He was particularly fond of little Billie Hawkins Austin, 95, who was his friend Kenny Austin’s mother. She was dearly loved and just passed away last week, and she will be the subject of an upcoming column.
Tehachapi’s a little tamer place without Rick Clagg, but we won’t be forgetting him. Jim Eaton is going to hold a memorial roping event in Rick’s honor and I’ll publicize it when he does.
Rick was predeceased by his mother, Betty Clagg, and his stepson Lance Hillis. Rick is survived by his wife Connie, daughter Ricci and her husband Ty Carter and their children Lance and Brooklyn, daughter Kaycee and her daughter Hayden, and his father Randall, all of Tehachapi.
Also his sister Dena and her husband Jack Burkhart and sister Maci and her husband Jack Chamberlain, all of Tehachapi; and brother Randall Jr. and his wife Channon of Templeton and brother Darin and his wife Yvonne of Stratford and numerous nieces, nephews and aunts and uncles.