Jake Herman and his mule. Photo from State Historical Society of North Dakota

Native Sun News: Jake Herman brought humor to rodeo circuit

The following story was written and reported by Richie Richards, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

Jake Herman – South Dakota Hall of Fame Rodeo Clown
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer

RAPID CITY –– Comedy is a medicine which heals the wounds of tragic events.

The Indian Wars had all come to an end at the beginning of the 20th century. Although tribal groups had been rounded up and placed on reservations, the Indian men kept the skills and mastery of horse riding.

One of the ways these Native American men kept their connection to their warrior past and their inherent need for action was to join the rodeo circuit.

These performers become legendary for their incredible feats of courage and astounded audiences with their death-defying performances.

‘Broncos, Bulls, and Baggy Pants: Recollections of an old-time rodeo clown’ is the autobiography by Jake Herman. Image from genealogyimagesofhistory / eBay

Jake Herman (Oglala Lakota) was one such rodeo star. His performances in front of non-Native audiences broke down racial barriers at a time when the original occupants of this country were not even citizens of the United States.

It was not until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 that Jake Herman became an American. It was on Jack King’s Wild West Show and Rodeo Royal Circus where Herman began his rodeo career.

Although best remembered as a rodeo clown, Herman also had the ability to ride broncos, trick ride and rope, ride bareback, and entertain audiences as an outstanding comedian.

His uncanny ability to entertain with his rope spinning and bronco riding tricks brought dusty laughter to the packed crowds in the grand stands. Indians and whites gathered for joy. Just a generation before, they were fighting for the land the rodeo grounds built upon.

Jake Herman
Jake Herman

In 1918, Jake decided he was tired of traveling and following rodeos. However, he was not ready to give up the rodeo altogether. He decided to become a specialty act as a Wild West Rodeo Clown.

His counterparts included a pet skunk called “Stinky,” a devoted dog, “Tag,” and a trick mule named “Creeping Jenny.” Together they charmed rodeo fans across the nation.

Herman once said, “There is one thing about rodeo fans, if a cowboy gets bucked off or gets hooked by a bull, he gets their sympathy, but if a rodeo clown encounters the same type of situation, everyone gets a big laugh out of it.”

Herman retired on the Pine Ridge Reservation but continued to serve as a rodeo announcer and wrote articles about the Wild West and rodeos for both local and national publications. Throughout his life Herman also worked for the federal government, the Pine Ridge police force and the Oglala Sioux tribal council.

In 1985, Jake Herman was inducted into the South State Hall of Fame.

As a rodeo star, Jake Herman gave his time and body, for a country who needed him. America needed him to make us laugh and build bridges through comedic performances. His comedy was a teaching tool which helped America heal from the mistakes of the past.

Jake Herman was a medicine person who used the horse to communicate a message of peace and understanding.

(Contact Richie Richards at staffwriter@nsweekly.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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