CLAREMORE, Okla. – In his lifetime, John Payne has worn many hats. No matter their shape or their style, they all would be considered cowboy.
Payne is a cowboy, and he’s quite proud of it. So when he has faced adversity, Payne has tackled it head on, just like most other cowboys. When he was electrocuted and brought back to life 40 years ago, he dealt with it. It was a life-changing event that led to his right arm being amputated, but it didn’t take away from the man, the cowboy Payne has always been.
Now he makes a living showcasing his talents and the unique brand of ranching he uses on his piece of land a couple hours northwest of Claremore near Shidler, Okla. John Payne of the One Armed Bandit & Co. will be the featured act at the Will Rogers Stampede PRCA Rodeo, which will have three performances set for 7:45 p.m. Friday, May 24-Sunday, May 26, at Will Rogers Round-Up Club Arena.
“I’ve always been a showoff, and I’m pretty good at showing off with my animals,” said Payne, who works the business with his son, Lynn, 37, and daughter, Amanda, 34. “It’s kind of like a paid vacation. You get to travel all over the country and get paid for it.
“But I like to show off the talents of my animals and my horsemanship.”
And while his children have their own version of the act, Payne is the original One Armed Bandit, a shout-out to his ability to overcome all sorts of adversity. When he was electrocuted in June 1973, he fell 25 feet to almost certain death. His work partner revived him with CPR. But the voltage did plenty of damage – the electricity exited his body through his abdomen, leaving a nasty hole there and on his left leg.
His rodeo career began in the mid-1980s, when he went to an event close to his home. He told the folks at the 101 Wild West Rodeo in Ponca City, Okla., that they could get a better act if they hired him. He put something together, then went back to ranching. That’s when legendary announcer Clem McSpadden called Payne.
“He was the one who prompted me into pursuing a career in the entertainment business in ProRodeo,” Payne said. “Clem told me that I could do that and make a heck of a living at it. Heck, I’ve been in business 23 years now.”
It’s a pretty good business. The One Armed Bandit & Co. has been named the PRCA Specialty Act of the Year 12 times.
“John is a rodeo legend, and he puts on a great show every time,” said David Petty, chairman of the committee that produces the annual rodeo. “He’s also an Oklahoma icon, which is pretty important to me in having someone of his caliber here at our rodeo.
“We have a lot of great, long-term rodeo fans in our area that love to see the One Armed Bandit work, and we’re excited to bring him to Claremore this year.”
Payne has made an impression on many throughout his award-winning career.
“He’s not scared to be a cowboy,” said Jesse James Kirby, one of the elite saddle bronc riders in Pro Rodeo from Dodge City, Kan., a Stampede regular in every May. “He can make whatever happen, whether he’s riding a mule or a horse, and he can make those buffalo do anything you can think of.”
Payne has been amazing people for more than two decades. He has a custom-made trailer that he utilizes in the act, allowing himself and the animals a rather high perch to show off to the fans. It takes guts and true horsemanship skills to handle the act.
“When you look at the things he does, it’s just awesome,” said rodeo announcer Scott Grover, who has called the action in Claremore for nine years. “When you consider he does all this with just one arm, it’s downright incredible.
“It has been one of my favorite acts for a long, long time, and it continues to amaze me.”