Written by: Kathy Ann Gregg

Bugbee, pictured in 2011, "was infectious," according to fellow Frontier Rodeo pick-up man Jason Bottoms - Photo by Kathy Ann Gregg

The rodeo world is still saddened by the loss of one of its own in August of 2020. Frontier Rodeo Company pick-up man Rex “Bugs” Bugbee incurred injuries in a rodeo wreck at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event in Guyman, Oklahoma, on Aug. 21. His horse became tangled up with the bronc and went down, also involving fellow pick-up man Shawn “Too Tall” Calhoun and his horse.

Bugbee was transported to a Level 1 Trauma Center in Lubbock, Texas, but the injuries he sustained were of such a severe nature, he was unable to recover from them. He passed away from the injuries on Aug. 25.

Following the incident, Bronc Riding Nation placed “Bugs” on its injured list. Bronc Riding Nation ended its report by stating: “All horses walked away.” Bugbee would have been pleased—knowing that he had done his job well.

Frontier Rodeo Company is based out of Winnie, Texas, and Freedom, Oklahoma. It’s been the stock contractor for the Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo for almost two decades. “Bugs” entertained spectators at that annual March event for nearly as long. He was easily spotted in the arena with his drooping gray mustache and wire-rimmed glasses. Boy, could he ride!

Frontier Rodeo’s announcement called Bugbee “a cowboy to the core; he was respected by all who met him. He was one of the toughest men God ever gave breath, with a heart of gold.”

The local cowboys would gravitate to “Bugs” at every rodeo he worked across the country. They would hang out with him at the back trailer and talk cowboy things before and after every performance. And people were constantly trying to buy the horse or horses that Bugbee had ridden at rodeos.

Western artist Tara Radosevich used Bugbee as her subject matter on several occasions. Her painting here is of Bugbee picking up famous bronc Maple Leaf.

At Arcadia, the late Matt Condo and the late Alton Langford always looked forward to their time chatting with him. Ronnie Welch did so after Condo and Langford passed away. Condo and Bugbee were the best of friends. In early 2016, “Bugs” handcrafted chaps for Condo’s granddaughter, Paysleigh, and he was a pallbearer at Condo’s funeral a few months later.

Robert “Blue” Jeanes was Frontier’s regular bullfighter. He describes “Bugs” as “the quintessential cowboy.” He remembers the city kids coming to the Houston Stock Show and Rodeo—where they would be fascinated with Bugbee and his horses.

The kids would photograph things that they liked, and would go back to their schools and paint or draw what they had seen, with Bugbee being a frequent subject of their artwork. One young man won the Grand Champion award at an art contest for a painting he had done of “Bugs.”

Jeanes’ wife, Jennifer, a former resident of Florida, talks about Bugbee’s devotion to his family: “He loved his wife, Ms. Teri, and beamed when he talked about his boys, Josh and Jay. He loved his grandkids—he was so excited that Ila [named after Bugbee’s mother] liked to ride ‘Pedro,’ and Tripp was just getting old enough to do cowboy things.”

Rex Bugbee was named “Pick-up Man of the Year (2020)” by the PRCA. At the National Finals Rodeo in December in Texas, Round 4 saw a huge lighted cross placed in the arena to honor those who rodeo lost during the past year. And Shawn “Too Tall” Calhoun rode Bugbee’s sorrel horse in the bareback riding event, while Brent Sutton rode his black horse during the bull riding.

The following tribute to the late Rex “Bugs” Bugbee by fellow Frontier Rodeo pick-up man Jason Bottoms says it best: “He was infectious, and at 65 years old absolutely loved what he did like I did when I was 24. He loved bits and saddles and good horses. Rest easy, ‘Bugs,’ we will make sure the cover pads are on the right one and take care of the great broncs you loved until it’s our time to come wrangle with you!”

Photo by Kathy Ann Gregg