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Copyright 2011 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

Museum for Legendary Stuntman

Yakima Canutt

By Dorinda Troutman, RMR Staff Writer

 

December 2011 issue

 

      “My aunt kept saying that we were related to Yakima Canutt, the famous rodeo cowboy and Hollywood stuntman,” says Bob Hickman, of Hickman Saddlery, now in Post Falls, Idaho, “and so, in 1998, I started putting together a Yakima Canutt Museum in our first store in Colfax, Washington.”

      At that time, Hickman approached the Canutt family to obtain nearly 400 duplicates of photos, and correspondence from such famous people as John Wayne, Ronald Reagan and Gene Autry, and World Champion Cowboy certificates that make up the bulk of the memorabilia — spanning Yakima Canutt’s lifetime and achievements as a multiple grand champion cowboy, actor, Hollywood stuntman and director.

      The Yakima Canutt Museum, dedicated to Hickman’s distant cousin, takes up about a quarter of the 5,000 square foot Hickman Saddlery store space, now located in Post Falls, Idaho. 

 

Canutt with some of his rodeo trophies, circa late 1920s.

 

      Hickman was recently featured in an episode of the PBS series, “History Detectives,” which had an antique saddle with the name “Yak Canutt” carved into the back of the cantle. The saddle’s owner wished to know if he had actually bought a saddle that had been owned by Yakima Canutt, the most accomplished rodeo cowboy and stuntman in Washington State history.

Left: From an old movie “card” form the 1930s — John Wayne on left, Canutt on right. Right: Canutt jumping between teams as the stuntman for John Wayne in the movie “Stage Coach” (1939).

 

      Hickman was, in fact, acquainted with the saddle and knew that it had belonged to his distant cousin, Canutt. “Yes,” recalls Hickman, “I had seen that saddle before. In 1998, a man in the Boise area approached me and offered the saddle for $800. I thought at the time that the saddle was too worn out for the price. Then, somehow it ended up at a bar in Weiser, Idaho , and was bought by the present owner, a Western memorabilia collector, for $4,500. I’ve kicked myself ever since.”

      Wes Cowan, one of the investigators on “History Detectives” tracked down the maker of the saddle (Hamley’s in Pendleton, Oregon), found that it was made in May of 1917 and had been used by Canutt in the September 1917 Pendleton Roundup to win the Bronc Riding Championship.

 

      Enos Edward “Yakima” Canutt was born near Colfax in 1895 and grew up on a ranch founded by his grandfather. As a lanky, six-foot tall, 17-year-old, he won the title “World’s Best Bronco Buster.” From 1914 to 1923, Canutt traveled the rodeo circuit and earned World Champion All-Around Cowboy four times.

      In 1923 Canutt began acting in silent movies, and was soon teaching riding tricks to famous actors such as Douglas Fairbanks. When talkies arrived in 1928, Canutt, whose voice had been damaged by flu while in the Navy during WWI, began focusing on stunts.

      In 1932 Canutt met John Wayne. He taught the actor how to fall off a horse. The two also perfected choreographed on-screen fighting techniques still in use. Canutt performed as stand-in and stuntman in many of Wayne ’s films, including “Stage Coach,” where Canutt jumped and climbed through a six-up team of galloping “runaway” horses. Wayne later said that he had modeled his hesitant speech and hip-rolling walk on his cowboy friend, Yakima.

 

Canutt, in chariot, with Charleton Heston, on the set of Ben-Hur (1959). At right, Canutt rears Ben-Hur’s (Charlton Heston’s) chariot team.

      Among many other famous actors and movies, Canutt played stunt doubles for Clark Gable in “Gone with the Wind” and for Charleton Heston in “Ben-Hur.” He spent five months training the horses for the chariot race and was the Second Unit Director in Ben-Hur. Not one horse was reported to be hurt in the filming of that furious race.

      Canutt is the only stuntman to have earned an Academy Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was also inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (Hall of Fame) in 1975.

      Yakima Canutt died at the age of 90 in 1986 in North Hollywood .

      Visit the Yakima Canutt Museum in Hickman Saddlery (and also see Hickman’s collection of 180 saddles, including one valued at $17,500), at 3960 W. Fifth Avenue, Unit B-3, Post Falls, Idaho. Call 888-397-2022 for more information.

      Hickman Saddlery will be soon opening a second store in Claresholm, south of Calgary , Alberta , Canada , and there will also be a duplicate Yakima Canutt Museum in that store.

 

Copyright 2011 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

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