by Kendra Santos, PRCA Director of Communications | Apr 05, 2016Lewis Feild did it right. As a cowboy, husband, dad, granddad and friend, there truly was no better all-around great guy. Lewis left us way too soon—at 59 on Feb. 15—but he’ll live forever as treasured gold in our hearts and heads.
It’s impossible to believe that the five-time world titlist—Lewis won three world all-around crowns from 1985-87, and a pair of world bareback riding championships in 1985-86—is gone so suddenly and so soon. Stage-4 pancreatic cancer is bad news. But the 1980 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Resistol Bareback Riding Rookie of the Year—the first roughstock riding million-dollar man in ProRodeo history and a three-time Linderman Award winner, who was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1985, the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1992, the Utah State Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Pendleton Round-Up Hall of Fame in 2015, to name just a few of his long list of accolades—faced it head on, with the same strength and honor he lived his incredible, inspiring life.
Like everyone else who knew him, I’ve admired and adored Lewis since meeting him my “rookie” year in 1987. Three straight all-around championships in, he was the reigning Cowboy King. But he never did act like it. His was the shiniest gold buckle of all and he had the most gorgeous wife, and yet his humility was his most striking feature.
I so enjoyed getting to visit with Lewis and Veronica over the years, and I made a point more than once to let them know that seeing the two of them so happy together for as long as I’ve known them gave me great hope for the world. Lewis and Veronica have three awesome kids in Shad, Maclee and Kaycee, and they raised them right. Most of you are most familiar with Kaycee because of his four world bareback riding titles, but Shad and Maclee are equally amazing and wonderful, and just as proud a product of the patriarch’s honorable lead.
The first-born, Shadrach Roundy Feild—who was named after Lewis’ great, great, great granddad Shadrach Roundy, who was Brigham Young’s tough, cool, frontier pioneer of a body guard—is 32 now, married to Jazlyn (who’s Rhen and Kaden Richard’s sister) and dad to three boys, Daxtyn, Bronx and Mavryx. Shad and Kaden split the first round of the team roping at La Fiesta de los Vaqueros in Tucson with Levi Simpson and Jeremy Buhler on Monday, Feb. 22, after Lewis was laid to rest in their native Utah on Saturday, Feb. 20. Shad left home early Sunday morning, and roped in Monday morning slack.
“It was one of the hardest moments, if not my hardest moment, throughout this whole deal,” Shad said. “I hadn’t even undallied yet, and I was excited to call my dad. It was the first time I realized he’s really gone.”
Losing Lewis is heartbreaking for every one of us. But—leave it to Lewis—the calm strength he instilled in his family is showing us all the way.
“A lot of people told me right there at the end not to leave his side and to spend every second with him,” Shad said. “But I never had a feeling like there was something left undone. We always called each other two or three times a day, and hung out together. There was nothing left unsaid.
“I have a lot of faith in where he is, and I know we’ll be together again. Families are eternal. I’m definitely going to miss him. Something that really sticks out for me is my dad, Kaycee and me packing into the Book Cliffs Mountains and making a camp every year to hunt and hang out. It’s a primitive area with a lot of bears and big deer, and Dad really loved that place. We spent a lot of time out there. I’ll miss that and the phone calls so much. Dad was the type of guy that no matter what you were calling him for made you feel like your idea was a good one and that it was going to work. He listened and engaged in your idea.”
Shad couldn’t call his dad when he missed their second steer at Tucson, but he knew what he would have said. “He would have made that no big deal,” Shad said. “He had a way to make things so simple and put things into perspective. He always told us to go have fun, do our best and enjoy the outcome.
“It didn’t matter if it had to do with school, career, relationships or anything else, my dad had a way of bringing you back to what life’s about, no matter how stressed you are. Do what’s right, try your best and enjoy the outcome, whatever that may be. He made things easy.”
Lewis served as a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo pickup man in 2004. Because of calls and conversations we’d had leading up to it, he was the first person I called when the new 10-year NFR contract was signed with Las Vegas. Lewis lived and loved all things cowboy, and sincerely cared about the future of the sport.
“My dad loved to team rope, too,” Shad said. “When I was about 25 we went to a big roping in Laughlin (Nev.), and we were high call with me heeling for him. He spun our short-round steer to win it all day long, and I laid it right beside him. I had a gut ache riding out of the arena. I felt so bad missing that steer for my dad. He never said one negative thing. He rode up on the side of me, put his hand on my back, and said, ‘Hey, that was fun getting to there and we’ll get ’em next time.’ By the time we got unsaddled it felt fun again.”
Maclee and her team roper husband, Jade Andersen, have three kids, Britten, Jaylee and Maizee. Kaycee and his wife, Stephanie, have two kids now, Chaimberlyn and Huxyn Lewis, who was born a month before last December’s NFR on Nov. 2.
“I hope like crazy I can be as good a man as he was,” Shad said of their dad. “Everything he did basically boiled down to living a Christ-like life, making good choices and always doing the right thing. The man my dad was is all I could hope to be. I don’t remember him ever talking bad about anyone, even if they’d wronged him. When he heard people talking badly about other people he would put a stop to it. He didn’t put people down. He made them feel important.
“My dad never lectured us on what kind of people to be. He really did lead by example, which gave us a strong desire to do right. When it came to competition, he told us to be strong and aggressive in the arena. But he also said and showed us that we need to be gentlemen outside the arena and to take care of people. I really have tried my hardest to follow in his footsteps as far as being a husband and a father.”
True to form, Lewis never pressured his kids to be cowboys.
“Dad always said, ‘I don’t care what you do—do what you want, but give it 100 percent,’” Shad said.
There are eras when it comes to the world all-around crown. Dean Oliver had roped and tied three straight world all-around titles from 1963-65 before Larry Mahan stepped up and started dominating at the other end of the arena with five in a row from 1966-70. Phil Lyne lit up both ends to the 1971-72 all-around championships, then Mahan struck again before a timed-event reign that included gold all-around buckles for Tom Ferguson, Leo Camarillo, Chris Lybbert and Roy Cooper. Lewis took over in 1985.
“When I came along, Dean Oliver was pretty much dominating the all-around, and mostly in one event (calf roping), which was pretty amazing,” Mahan said. “But he was one of those guys who was in a class by himself. Lewis came along after me, and was a great all-around champion and an all-around great guy, too. He was a special, special human being. You look at every aspect of his life and you can’t find a bad checkmark. Lewis was a true champion in and out of the arena. He did everything in a classy way and always represented the sport well. He was an inspiration to a lot of young people who wanted to play the game. Lewis goes down in my books with the best of them.”
After the 1988 world all-around title went to Australian Dave “Lone Roo” Appleton, I got to be front and center when baby-faced roughstock-riding phenom Ty Murray took the all-around torch from Lewis.
“I started really looking up to Lewis as a cowboy when I was in high school,” said Ty, who went on to break Mahan’s six all-arounds record with a seventh one in 1998. “I met him early on in my rookie year in 1988. And I started seeing that I loved everything about him. Lewis was the coolest guy I ever met without ever trying to be cool. One year at Calgary he had his hand in the rigging and was close to nodding and somebody accidentally rolled his horse. They opened the slide gate part way, and that horse shot into the next chute. Lewis laid flat back and barely got under that slide gate. Anyone else would have been cussing somebody. Lewis just stayed ready and nodded. He never sweat anything in his riding or in life.
“We were at North Platte one year and it was pouring rain. All the roughstock guys were jammed under the announcer’s stand trying to stay dry. I look out there in the pouring rain and Lewis is just standing in it with his glove tied on. He didn’t have anything over himself or his rigging or his glove. He was getting soaked. So I just went out there and stood by him. He looked over at me and said, ‘We might as well just get used to it.’ He knew at the end of the day it didn’t matter. We were going to get wet. Lewis always had a very simplified look at everything. It didn’t matter if it was life, rodeo, finance—he just took the simplest look at it. That’s something I learned a lot about from him.”
The veteran and the kid never lost touch, and that respect-based friendship never did fade.
“Lewis was the best of everything,” said ProRodeo Hall of Famer Ty. “Beyond what a great cowboy he was, he was a great husband, dad, granddad, friend and mentor. It’s hard to be a teacher, and he was really good at it. As a friend, everybody who knew Lewis felt like he gave them enough time. He made everybody feel special and important.
“As far as being a great cowboy, if I could take one guy to go catch wild cows or start colts or pick up bucking horses or ride 1,000 miles or ride bucking horses or bulls or team rope or rope bulls or go on a pack trip with—anything you can come up with that has anything to do with being a cowboy—he’d be the guy. Lewis did it all, and he did it calm and relaxed and easy. He didn’t sweat anything.
“I was picking up one time at Red Bluff when I wasn’t up, and I rode in to pick up Lew off this bronc and totally messed up, widened out at the wrong time and about car-killed Lewis. He crashed, and I felt half an inch tall. Any other guy in the world would have yelled at me and cussed me. He just realized I was a young kid who was really trying, but made a mistake. It scraped the hide off his face, but he jumped up smiling, patted me on the back and that was it.”
Lewis’ wise financial advice to young Ty was never to buy anything he couldn’t pay for. Ty took that advice, and lived it. And when it came to the one time in his life he had to borrow money—to buy his ranch—Lewis was one of a handful of people Ty called to go over his plan.
“Everyone talks nice about people when they die, but Lewis really is the best guy I’ve ever met in every way,” Ty said. “I’ve known a lot of champions and great cowboys. Every single time I talked to Lewis it would be a great, laid-back conversation that I would learn something from. Every time. And I’m not saying any of this to be dramatic. It’s the truth.”
Ty and Jewel wrote the song “Till We Run Out of Road” about rodeo life, and there was a verse about Ty’s hero Lewis in it:
…The other day I talked to Lew
He quit back in ’92
Said he misses it bad
Those were the best times he ever had
He said give it hell to the end
Cause once you quit you can’t get it back again…
Ty smiles when explaining that, “Lewis really quit in ’91—that was just an easy rhyme.” Naturally, laid-back Lew didn’t mind.
In 1985, when Lewis won his first world all-around title, timies—Clay O’Brien Cooper, Roy Cooper, Jimmie Cooper and Dee Pickett—rounded out the top five. Lewis loving—and being good at—both ends of the arena showed up in his long list of friends and admirers.
“We used to run around together, and Lewis was a great person,” said fellow Hall of Famer Roy. “We shared an era when rodeo was fun, and Lewis was somebody you wanted to spend time with. I remember Lewis telling me about Ty before I knew Ty. He said, ‘Roy, he’s just a kid. Once he gets it all together he’ll be the greatest all-around cowboy ever in the roughstock events.’ He called that one.
“Lewis was the best. He was one of the greatest cowboys there was and one of the greatest people there was. He was a rodeo man and a gentleman. He was a family man who raised good kids. I loved him.”
Dee won the world team roping title with Mike Beers and the 1984 world all-around championship the year before Lewis’ first one. Dee and Lewis were both Wilderness Circuit cowboys, so got to rodeo a lot and even golf together a few times.
“Lewis was a tough competitor, but was always really polite and nice,” said ProRodeo Hall of Famer Dee. “The Feilds have always been such a classy, nice family. We’ve exchanged Christmas cards with them for years. They’re just great people.”
Joe Beaver was the PRCA’s Overall and Tie-Down Roping Rookie of the Year in 1985, and was that year’s world champion tie-down roper when Lewis was the all-around and bareback riding champ for the first time.
“Lewis kicked my butt for the all-around a couple times. I was right behind him more than once,” said eight-time World Champ and ProRodeo Hall of Famer Joe B. “Lewis was hard to beat. He was durable, too—built good to ride and last. He rode with so much consistency and control that he won all the time. I hate to lose. But Lewis was a competitor to the highest mark. It’s hard to gripe when such a nice guy beats you. And Lewis Feild was the nicest guy.”
Lewis didn’t bulldog, but he had bulldogging buddies. He and ProRodeo Hall of Fame steer wrestler John W. Jones Jr. were great friends, and did some traveling together the last few years for the Wrangler National Patriot Tour, including a trip to Kyrgyzstan.
“I always enjoyed talking to Lewis,” Johnny said. “We had a lot of fun together. Lewis can take a razzing and he can dish it out, too. I loved to listen to his stories about rodeo, packing and hunting. When it came to anything Western, he knew all about it. I feel so fortunate I got to know Lewis. He was just so genuine. Lewis commanded respect—not by demanding it, but by earning it. When Lewis talked, we listened. It was always something you wanted to hear.”
Fellow ProRodeo Hall of Fame bulldogger Ote Berry won his first of four world titles in 1985 with Lewis.
“It was the first year the Finals was in Vegas, and there was a changing of the guard among the cowboys about that time, too,” Ote said. “Lewis, Jake (Barnes) and Clay (O’Brien Cooper), Joe (Beaver), Ted (Nuce) and I all won our first championships there that year. It was pretty cool to open the next chapter together. There were some dynasties that came out of 1985, and Lewis was right at the center of it. What Lewis did for this sport really can’t be put into words. It’s priceless. He was always a positive, first-class guy you were proud to call your friend.”
ProRodeo Hall of Fame saddle bronc rider Brad Gjermundson won his fourth and final world title that same magical season.
“I was in some pretty good cowboy company in 1985,” Brad said. “That was quite a year for rodeo, really, as all those guys had great careers. When he was rodeoing, Lewis could do anything he wanted, and he did it with ease. It didn’t matter when he got to the rodeo if he had the biggest eliminator or the one to have. He never sweat anything. I was still riding when he started picking up, and he did a great job at that, too.
“Lewis has always been a great friend and an all-around great guy. He never changed a bit from our rookie year on. In his riding he was a perfectionist. And nothing was more special to Lewis than his family, as it should be.”
Fellow four-time World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider and ProRodeo Hall of Famer Clint Johnson shared the Hall’s Class of 1992 with Lew.
“Lewis was probably the toughest of ’em all physically in his career,” Clint said. “One reason it’s hard to believe he got sick is because as a competitor there was nobody tougher. He was so durable and strong. Getting on three or four bucking horses a day didn’t faze him. And he was always so tough mentally, too.
“Lewis had such a stabilizing personality. Rick Smith probably describes him the best. They were friends since college. As Rick puts it, ‘Lewis was the guy you called when you needed some advice about something.’ He was a real common-sense guy, so if you were having trouble or needed to make a decision you called Lewis. He was such a sensible, solid guy; somebody you looked up to and tried to emulate.”
NFR bareback rider Danny Brady traveled with Lewis for several years, and was another of his closest cowboy friends.
“Lewis was just a man’s man and a cowboy’s cowboy in my book,” Danny said. “Lewis was a cowboy through and through, and was just one hell of a man.”
Hard work and humility were the cornerstones of Lewis’ career and life. We all feel better and blessed for knowing him. In Lewis’ words to me on the occasion of his ProRodeo Hall of Fame induction, “Someday, when rodeo people look back on what I’ve done, I’d like them to say these things: That I rode tough; that I could ride with pain and courage; that I was a fierce competitor in the arena, but a quiet, respectable man outside the gate. I just want to be remembered as a cowboy. That probably says it all.”
Courtesy of PRCA