Cowboy Charlie Irwin: Wonder of the Wild West

A six gun salute today to Charles Burton “Cowboy Charlie” Irwin (1875-1934), a.k.a. C.B. Irwin, a legendary figure in rodeo and Wild West culture. Irwin was a second generation blacksmith from Chillicothe, Missouri. As a young man he moved to Colorado and then to Wyoming circa 1900, were he was in charge of baggage and livestock for the Union Pacific Railroad. Here is where he made his name. He also had a ranch with his brother Frank which grew to 23,000 acres. He and Frank first crept into the history books by singing at the hanging of outlaw Tom Horn (whom you may know from the eponymous 1980 Steve McQueen film) in 1903. In 1911 Irwin founded the Cheyenne Feature Film Co., whose sole movie was about Horn. But Irwin’s big early fame from competing in rodeos. He became World Champion Steer Roper in 1906. He was also a champion rider. He and his horse Steamboat are depicted on Wyoming license plates to this day. Legend has it that he had to “put down” Steamboat in 1914 and that he used Horn’s rifle to do it. He produced parades and wild west shows in Cheyenne, and is best known for putting on the Irwin Brothers Cheyenne Frontier Days Wild West Show (no relation by the way to these Irwin Brothers.) He was a friend to the local Sioux people, and incorporated them into his spectacles.

In 1917, Irwin lost his only son Floyd in a freak roping accident. This killed his taste for the sport and he stopped putting on his shows, and became less active in general. This is when his weight swelled up to over 350 pounds. But he remained a prominent man in the community and maintained friendships with the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Gen. Black Jack Pershing, and Will Rogers. (Earlier he had also known Buffalo Bill Cody.) In 1934 he ran for Governor of Wyoming, with a slogan devised for him by Rogers, “Popular government at Popular Prices”. Unfortunately, he died that year on the campaign trail in an automobile accident. Over 1300 mourners attended the funeral.