Growing up, Dixie Reger Mosley realized pretty early on that her life wasn’t like other kids her age. In fact, some people might say she had an unusual childhood.
Dixie was born in Buffalo, Oklahoma, and eventually settled in Amarillo. She spent the majority of her childhood traveling around the northeastern United States. Thanks to her parents, Monte and Opal, Dixie and her two older siblings, Buddy and Virginia, were rodeo entertainers in Colonel Jim Eskew’s Wild West Show. Dixie started her career trick riding and trick roping. Then she started clowning, and that is what she is famous for today.
Amarillo resident Dixie Reger Mosely was the first female rodeo clown.
In early December, at her kitchen table in Amarillo, Dixie wears a Western jacket she had meticulously made, a belt buckle she won and her custom black National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame boots with pink stitching. She points out a photo of her family standing in front of a trailer and recalls life on the road. “For a while, we lived in a tent,” she says. “Then all five of us lived in an 18-foot house trailer where the bed made into a table and the seats made into a bathtub and storage unit.”
Because the Reger children traveled constantly from one rodeo to the next, their mother was their teacher. She taught them through Calvert Correspondence School, which is still in operation today. “In a correspondence school, you might have four days of lessons today, but tomorrow you might not have any because you’re moving,” Dixie remembers.
She started high school when she was just 11 years old and graduated when she was 15. Every year, the Reger children would start school one month after their classmates and finish one month before school ended so they could work. “I always wondered what it would’ve been like to go to elementary school with kids, because it was just my brother, my sister and I,” she says. “I rodeoed—and I’m glad I did it when I did it—but I wanted to know what the other people lived like.”
Although she didn’t get to stay home during summer vacation and go swimming or catch a baseball game with her friends, Dixie experienced far more than her peers. While traveling on the Wild West circuit, the Reger family attended the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. Dixie said her dad wasn’t much for sightseeing so they didn’t stay long, but she vividly recalls how exciting it was to see the RCA vendor. His new invention showed what it was like to talk on the phone and see someone in another location at the same time. “The other thing that blew my mind, they showed all these constructed highways with loopty-loops and everything, which we have now on the interstate. But they were planning that and showing that it could be done in 1939,” she says, smiling.
The Reger family’s life in rodeo began in Doby Springs, Oklahoma. Monte found an impressive longhorn steer, Bobcat Twister, or Bobby. His lyre-shaped horns measured 8 feet, 6 inches, and Bobby became famous around the world. Monte and the steer even appeared together in a film with Western star Ken Maynard in the early 1930s. Monte trained Bobby to do a number of tricks by rewarding him with Opal’s biscuits, which Bobby loved. The tame steer learned to be ridden, lie down, pull carts, kneel and could jump easily over a Chevy convertible. Those tricks earned Monte performances on the rodeo circuit, and before long all three Reger children got involved with riding, roping, clowning and doing everything rodeo.
One day when Dixie was 5 years old, Junior Eskew, Colonel Eskew’s son, taught her how to trick rope and trick ride. Not long after, she found her way into the family act and began trick riding on her Shetland pony, Tom Thumb. Eventually, Dixie outgrew Tom Thumb. Her family had to train new horses every two years because she and her siblings kept growing.
Dixie explains today that rodeo clowns divide their duties between entertaining and bullfighting. “If there’s a lull in the action from the chute, you either tell a joke or do a silly routine to entertain,” she says. “A bullfighter was there to distract the bull away from the guy who is trying to get away.”
In the world of rodeo clowning, makeup is important and unique to each clown. Dixie admits that she was inspired by the makeup of her older brother, Buddy. “I would put on rosy cheeks, and sometimes I would put on a red nose with makeup,” Dixie explains while holding a photo of her and her clowning partner—a mule named Rabbit. “Then I’d put white around the eyes, big black eyebrows, brown freckles and usually a grinning line. Usually, I’d have a red shirt with white polka dots. Once they didn’t have any red material, so I bought a white shirt and bought some paint and just painted the dots on.”
When she was little, Dixie’s mother made costumes for all three children. But when Dixie needed new shirts at 17, “my dad passed by and said, ‘It’s about time you learn to sew.’ So I started sewing when I was 17,” she says. “I made all my Western pants and shirts, and after I was married I made my husband’s Western shirts. I’ve got about eight jackets that I wear.” She doesn’t sew any longer, though. “At 91, I said, ‘that’s enough.’”
Dixie remembers an event when she accidentally left her tennis shoes at home. “You try trick riding and hitting the ground in a pair of boots,” she says. “I never forgot my tennis shoes again. And back in those days, in the war days, I think you could only buy a new pair of shoes every six months.”
A Pioneer of Girls Rodeo
Dixie is proudly one of the founding members of the Girls Rodeo Association, or GRA. “About 77 of us got together and put together the GRA, which is now the WPRA (Women’s Professional Rodeo Association),” she says. The women didn’t want to compete with the men; they wanted to compete with each other.
“The original group, we just wanted to participate and have a rodeo,” Dixie recalls. “My good friend, she and I used to rope against each other all the time. If I broke a rope, I’d borrow hers. You just looked after each other. But when you were in the arena, you were competing.” Dixie served as vice president of the organization for two years and as a contract performer for the first year or two. “I was glad we started the GRA, but I’m just as glad they named it the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. We had the first girl rodeo here in Amarillo in 1947.”
When Dixie was 23, she met Bill Mosley through a mutual friend. “Some way or another I just fell in love,” she says. “I wasn’t looking to get married, didn’t think I had to get married or should get married. And when he finished his last tour with the Korean War, we got married and he finished college.” That was when Dixie retired from rodeoing. “When I got married in 1953, that was it,” she says. “I quit rodeo.”
Dixie’s last rodeo was the Cowgirl Rodeo in Colorado Springs in 1953. She and Bill married a few days later, on Aug. 30, 1953. The two moved to Amarillo and started their lives together. Bill worked as a cattle buyer and inspector, and ended up one of the founding partners of Palo Duro Meat Processing. The couple had been married just shy of 64 years when Bill passed away in August 2017. They have three children, Judy, Clay and Paul.
The Cowgirl Hall of Fame
Despite rodeoing in numerous shows, getting bucked off her fair share and jumping over cars on a horse, Dixie never broke a bone while performing. In fact, the only time she’s ever had to go to the hospital for a broken bone was in 2017, when she slipped and fell on some ice.
A few of Dixie’s proudest and most memorable achievements in her 91 years include being inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth in 1982 and the Rodeo Historical Society in Oklahoma City in 2003. She also has attended rodeo clown reunions in Fort Worth, where she has been the only female rodeo clown.
Dixie’s life has been filled with immeasurable memories and experiences that most people only dream of, from performing with her family across the U.S. to trick roping for sick children at hospitals. She’s met many people along the way and still holds them dear to her heart. “Rodeo people are still extremely wonderful, honest people,” she says. “They would do anything for you. Everyone I worked with was like family. A good ranch cowboy or a good rodeo cowboy will help you any way they can.”
Today, Dixie spends time watching the Cowboy Channel. Just so she can keep up with all things rodeo.