ARTS: “Oklahoma Kid”
Fourth-generation Wild West showman Marty Tipton, aka “The Oklahoma Kid,” carries on the family business with style. The trick-roper and professional cowboy has performed thousands of shows across the nation, adding his own chapter to his storied pedigree with his sharp wit and a unique message.
“It’s not always how fast you run in life, or how high you climb, but how you bounce,” is Tipton’s mantra. When poor health forced him to live in an oxygen tent for much of his sixth year of life, he didn’t have much contact with the outside world, but he had a trick rope and a cap gun and those proved to be ingredients for stardom. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Tipton grew up on the legendary 101 Ranch in Ponca City, or that his great-grandfather worked with Buffalo Bill and Geronimo, or that his grandfather worked with Pawnee Bill, or that his dad was a rodeo world champion, or that he has relative ties to Will Rogers. One might think spinning lassos is embedded in Tipton’s DNA.
His first rodeo performance was in 1978, at the 101 Ranch Rodeo, when he was 9 years old, but he started performing at age 5, tap dancing and jazz dancing. By age 8, his “hobo act” made the top 10 in a national talent contest. He rode bucking ponies in grade school, then graduated to bulls in high school and joined the National Rodeo Association. On weekends, Tipton would drive to Mesquite, Texas, to rodeo for eight-time world champion Don Gay.
Tipton went on to be a bullfighter for Wrangler for two years. Part of the show required him to be “shot” in the rear end with a shotgun. At the right moment, Tipton would hit an igniter that would blow up the seat of his pants. “Sometimes, my shirt would catch on fire and I would have to roll around a bit, and a lot of the time I got burnt. But it was a great act,” he remembers.
Now, he’s a trick roper and public speaker, emceeing conferences, banquets, silent auctions and charity events. During Oklahoma’s centennial, Tipton did close to 300 performances, putting on shows in up to three cities in one day.
Along the way, he’s gained some famous fans. Late-night TV host Conan O’Brien once sent Tipton an image of himself as Tipton’s onstage persona, The Oklahoma Kid. In 2009, George W. Bush invited Tipton to spend July 4 shooting fireworks with him in Woodward, but Tipton was already scheduled to perform at a Boy Scouts convention with Shooter Jennings and Tipton refused to break his contract. “I’m an honest cowboy,” he affirms.
Tipton entertains patients at places like The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center and the Troy Aikman Center as often as he can. He relates to the young cancer and transplant patients, glassed off in quarantine, because of his year in the oxygen tent as a boy. “I’ve seen the pain. I’ve been there,” he says. “I thought I was going to die when I was six years old.”
He remembers one little girl had been crying all day and night, and when he gave her a trick rope on one of his visits, Tipton says he had her laughing and smiling. “I like to see kids that have been crying, smile,” he relates. “That’s what’s closest to my heart, to help people like that who are in trouble.”
Once, Tipton was eating at a pizza place and the manager came up to him. The man said his daughter was at one of the treatment centers Tipton had visited and that his daughter had gotten well. The girl’s dad offered Tipton free pizza for the rest of his life, but he refused. That’s not why he does it. “It’s really the only thing that makes me feel good, is to help someone else,” he says.
Tipton got involved with charity work through the urging of his pastor. After dodging death a few times — his childhood illness, a parachute malfunction during Operation Just Cause, getting caught in a shootout in Panama, rolling his car and getting mauled by a bull — Tipton wondered if God kept him alive for a reason. “He saved my life,” Tipton believes, “There have been several occasions that I should have died and I feel God kept me alive because he had a plan for my life.”
He says his pastor told him to start giving back. In addition to charity work, Tipton does a lot of educational programs, visiting libraries and schools. He brings ropes for the kids to use and he teaches them how to spin. He also teaches them the value of “bouncing” well after life’s setbacks. “You can try to be the best,” he explains, “[but] it’s about how you respond to bad things that happen that matters.”
To learn more about Tipton, go to www.theoklahomakid.com