Famous Big Island Paniolo
Famed Hawaii cowboy Ikua Purdy pursues a bull in this statue by Fred Fellows, of Arizona. The 27-foot-long
sculpture is so big that Waimea backers need more time to prepare a display area for it.
Statue of famous paniolo dwarfs its designated plot
By Rod Thompson
Monday, March 3, 2003
WAIMEA, Hawaii >> A flatbed trailer carrying an enormous statue of famed Hawaiian cowboy Ikua Purdy roping a bull was pulled into the parking lot of the Parker Ranch Shopping Center Feb. 23 for a blessing with all the proper ceremonies.
Then the statue was towed back to a warehouse.
The problem is the size of the statue, 16 feet high and 27 feet long. "It's huge," said veterinarian Dr. Billy Bergin, president of the Paniolo Preservation Society, which is putting up the monument.
An alternate site for it will be prepared, and dedication is now expected in mid-June, Bergin said.
Nearly a century has passed since Purdy rode to fame in 56 seconds at the Frontier Days rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1908.
First, his cousin Archie Kaaua set a world record in steer roping. Moments later, Purdy broke Kaaua's new record.
Purdy's half brother, Jack Low, came in sixth, roping his steer shortly after suffering an asthma attack.
Eben Low, Jack's brother, who sponsored their trip to Wyoming, wrote in his memoirs, "You cannot imagine the noise of the applause our boys received from those 30,000 watchers after the announcement of the final results. The kanakas won!"
Ikua Purdy: He set the steer roping record in 1908
After his triumph, Waimea-born Purdy moved to Ulupalakua, Maui, where he died in 1945.
Waimea real estate agent Leslie Agorastos, born on Maui and raised on the neighboring Kaonoulu Ranch, was 2 when he died. Twenty years later, people still talked about him, she said.
"My uncles were some of the roughest, toughest guys, and they thought he walked on water," she said.
Decades later, Agorastos was at an auction to benefit the Old Hawaii on Horseback pageant when she casually remarked to Bergin, "We ought to get Fred Fellows to do a statue of Ikua Purdy."
Arizona artist Fellows was already well known in Hawaii for his table-top bronze sculptures of the Hawaiian "tree saddle."
The idea of a statue grew, and with it, the size. Bergin knew the paniolo society was getting a 16-by-27-foot monument, but he had never envisioned how truly large that is until it arrived in late January.
The sculpture was supposed to fit on a 50-foot-long patch of grass at the front of the Parker center. "Now it's like a great big monument on a postage stamp," he said.
Bergin had visions of tourists with cameras stepping way back to get the whole picture and walking right into street traffic.
An alternate site, 120 feet long, was picked at one side of the Parker parking lot, but several weeks' work will be needed to make it suitable to hold the giant artwork.
Meanwhile, new ideas have sprung up.
The monument cost $300,000, of which roughly $100,000 remains to be raised. To pay for it, the paniolo society has been selling 16-inch-long scale models for $3,200 and 5-foot-long ones for $16,000.
Now the society is also selling 12-by-12-inch and 16-by-32-inch bronze plaques, which will bear the brands of various ranches that buy them and other information. The prices range from $800 to $3,400. These plaques will be placed around the base of the monument.
And Bergin envisions the grassy area around the monument having picnic tables and shade trees.
The end product will honor all of Hawaii's cowboys, Bergin says. "It illustrates how hard work, diligence, attention to duty and practice made them what they were."
Those are values that Hawaii and America would do well to reflect on today, he said.
Paniolo Preservation Society
Something's Missing from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame
Waimea's Own Ikua Purdy
By Patti Cook And Doris Purdy
Ninety-one years ago, Waimea's Ikua Purdy stunned the American West by winning the 1908 World Roping Championship in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Ikua remains Hawai'i's most famous paniolo. His riding and roping skills are legendary. "We sing his praises and boast about his skills in cowboy songs and hulas. His prowess with the kaula ili (rawhide lariat) is recounted during talk-story sessions at brandings and gatherings. It's not surprising Ikua was among the first to be inducted into the new Hawai'i Sports Hall of Fame in 1998," said Dr. Billy Bergin, chair of the newly formed statewide Paniolo Preservation Society (PPS). But induction into the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame has eluded Ikua. Though nominated in years past, members of the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame Historical Society may not be familiar with Hawai'i's paniolo history. Elections are very competitive and the society has few Hawai'i members. "Now's our chance to change this," says Dr. Bergin. PPS has made this its first task - to secure Ikua's rightful place among the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame's prestigious group of American cowboys. "The good news is they split the honors between pre- and post-1940. There's less competition in the pre-1940 balloting," said Bergin.
Roping His Way Into History
Ikua was born on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1873 in Waimea. He was the second son - one of nine children - of William Purdy and Anna P. Waipa. As the Hawaiian-Irish offspring of Anna, he was a great-grandson of John Palmer Parker, founder of Parker Ranch, and Kipikane, granddaughter of Kamehameha the Great. Ikua learned to ride and rope on the grasslands and upland forests of Waimea and Mauna Kea. He was a working paniolo who competed in roping events on the Big Island, O'ahu & Maui. Hawai'i's most famous singer/story teller, Clyde "Kindy" Sproat, speaks with great aloha for Purdy as well as Archie Ka'au'a - who took third in the world championships that same year - and their patron and promoter, Eben "Rawhide Ben" Low. He says he learned about Ikua "from the horse's mouth - Eben Low," when Kindy was a child. "Eben Low was a successful rancher and very proud of the skills of Hawai'i's paniolo. So he secured the invitation to compete in the 1908 Frontier Days World Championship in Cheyenne, Wyoming," said Sproat, who has shared stories about Hawai'i's most famous paniolo on several occasions at the Smithsonian Institute. The invitation read: "Bring your saddle and lariat; horses will be provided at the rodeo." Conditions in Cheyenne - especially the cold - were difficult for the Hawaiians. They were an instant curiosity with odd, slouched hats and colorful hat bands, peculiar saddles and bright clothes - an exotic blend of Hawaiian and vaquero influence and tradition. What's more, they spoke a foreign language - native Hawaiian. Cheyenne didn't know what to make of the paniolo. They believed these strangers didn't stand a chance; they were riding borrowed mounts. But on the day of the competition, Ikua roped his steer in fifty-six seconds flat. The rest is history.
Hawaiian Cowboys Pre-date Those of Wyoming
It's not surprising the Wyoming hosts were caught off-guard by the Hawaiian contenders. Few, to this day, understand Hawai'i had an early, and thriving, cowboy culture. Captain George Vancouver brought cattle as gifts to King Kamehameha in 1792. The first horses arrived in Hawai'i about 1804. Vaqueros were invited to the islands in 1832 by Hawai'i's king to teach Hawaiians how to ride and rope wild cattle. By 1836, Hawai'i had working cowboys. Whereas, what we consider "American" cowboys date back only to the 1870s, after Custer's last stand at Little Big Horn. That's when vaqueros from Mexico began teaching Texans to ride and rope. It was then that Wyoming, Oklahoma and Arizona - the "wild west" - became ranch country. (Though the Spanish had been running cattle for centuries before.)
Why the Hawaiians Were So Good at Competition
Kindy recalls Eben's explanation about why Hawaiian cowboys were able to compete for the championship: "Our paniolo had to catch wild cattle. They would set up ropers at the edge of a kipuka (a densely overgrown piece of land entirely surrounded by newer lava). The cattle would run by on the fly and the cowboys had to be ready with horses in good condition. They'd only get one swing of the lasso to catch a longhorn or it would get away. Therefore, when Hawaiians first encountered rodeo-style roping of fast-running cattle, it was what they did everyday."
Immortalized in Legend and Song
Ikua literally rode his way into legend and song - most notably in the melodies, "Hawaiian Rough Riders," "Pu'u Huluhulu" and "Waiomina." The later, written by Helen Lindsey Parker, refers to Purdy and Archie Ka'au'a as "rascals of the lariat. . . rascals of Waimea." "Waiomina" - which can be translated as "Wyoming," tells of the respect Purdy and Ka'au'a earned from cowboys all over the U.S. and Europe. It tells of the people of Hawai'i learning by telegraph of the Hawaiian cowboys' accomplishments in Wyoming. It personifies the three paniolo as Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Hualalai - three mighty volcanic mounts on the Big Island. To this day, many old-timers in Hawai'i remove their papale (hats) and clutch them to their hearts when singing these songs out of respect for the memory and achievements of Purdy and Ka'au'a.
Ikua and Ka'au'a,
Here come the cowboys,
The glory of my home.
- The English translation of the closing lines of
"Hawaiian Rough Riders"
Ikua came home to Hawai'i in a blaze of glory, never to return to Wyoming. But his cowboying days were far from over. He worked another three decades, mostly as foreman on Maui's Ulupalakua Ranch. He and his wife, Keala Peneamina Purdy, had twelve children. He died at the age of seventy-one on July 4, 1945 and is buried at Ulupalakua, Maui. He left behind a large Hawaiian family, many still involved in ranching. Of the twelve children, three are still living - Dan Purdy and Kalili Hapakuka of Ulupalakua and Martin Purdy, Sr. of Waimea.