“Gold is a treasure and he who possesses it does all he wishes in this world and succeeds in helping souls into paradise.” – Christopher Columbus
THE GOLD BUCKLE
The cowboy’s quest for gold started with the first Rodeo Cowboy’s Association National Finals Rodeo in a buckle made by the Seattle raised silversmith and engraver, Don Ellis.
“I was a 9-year-old roper kid with championship dreams the first time I held one of those buckles in my hands. It belonged to Ben Johnson, the top hand cowboy and movie star who was one of my heroes and a friend of Dad’s. It changed me,” Gary Gist said. “It drove home the desire to earn one of my own. It turned out, that wasn’t meant to be, at least not in a way I could see through a 9-year old’s eyes.”
Gist would never forget the feel and weight of that buckle. He heard it’s call clearly throughout a rodeo career that spanned several decades. Roping and traveling with his dad, he would become the youngest PRCA card holder at age 12. When his arena career was over, he would have 12 NFR team roping qualifications, six of those with his dad across from him in the box. In 1964, he and his dad won it but by a since changed technicality, the longed-for gold buckle would hang on someone else’s belt. 1966 found the young California cowboy a long way from home in the jungles of Viet Nam.“I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do with my life when I got back to the world,” Gist remembers. Two years later, the ex-Marine was back home, hanging up his first shingle as a business owner. The sign said Gist Silversmiths; the brand and the artist would go on to become the gold standard in Western buckles.
“The first year I had the PRCA contract for the champion’s buckles, I had qualified for the NFR and was in contention to win one. It was 1970 and PRCA wasn’t on solid financial ground. I told them if they’d buy the gold, I’d donate my time building them and they accepted. When the finals rolled around, I wasn’t done with them, so I’d rope for the title at night and engrave in my camper all day.”
Gist never won a gold buckle. He was edged out by heartbreakingly slim margins. What he did do was continue to make the buckles that haunt every great cowboy’s dreams in finer, more elaborate versions as the true craftsman’s display of Western Art for years to come. For 16 years, Gist Silversmiths sponsored the buckles in honor of the hard work, dedication of the rodeo athletes and the PRCA.
What is the Gold Buckle Worth?
The PRCA championship buckles are built from a sterling silver foundation faced with a solid layer of gold that’s then engraved, adorned with different colors of gold and finally, the name is added. Each of those buckles is worth $10,000. To the recipients, it’s priceless.
In the top tier of rodeo athletes who’ve won gold buckles, you’ll find commonalities. They were all born with a rare talent and desire to do what they do. They’re driven to practice relentlessly, sacrifice anything that doesn’t contribute to the goal, they commit to sleepless nights and long miles in pursuit of their dreams and train their minds to only see success. Along the way, they come to know God intimately and understand that in spite of the massive human effort they contribute, that greatness will evade them if every fiber of their existence isn’t in perfect balance.
ALLEN BACH: FOUR GOLD BUCKLES & A MISSION
He was 12 years old when he understood that he’d never rest until he was wearing a gold buckle with his name on it. Ten years later, he realized that he wasn’t the best roper of his time. He used the knowledge to stay in the practice pen until he was completely exhausted. While his competition rested after practice, Bach was still at it, driven by the knowledge that while they were on the couch, he was honing the best edge he had to razor sharpness.
“I won my first gold buckle at 22 years old,” Bach recalls. “I learned that my ability to influence had increased immediately.
Sponsorships came. I began to put on roping schools.
The trappings of championship suited him, but something was missing. It wasn’t just that the quest for gold hadn’t gone away and was, in fact, sharper than ever before. It was something deeper. One of the perks to rodeoing for a living is the long, lonely hours spent driving in between performances. It’s a quiet time of reflection and devotion, ideas flourish but most importantly, clarity comes.
“I realized that I didn’t feel just right about my name being engraved on that buckle. I knew that that buckle belonged to Jesus, not me, and since it was such an influential thing, I thought when somebody looked at it, they should see who truly won it. I wanted to represent roping and God,” Bach said. “I called Gary Gist and asked him if he could take my name off and replace it with ‘Jesus Is Lord’. He was quiet for a long time. Told me he’d never had such a request before and he’d want to meet face to face, visit some before he would agree to do it.”
All of that happened and Bach’s buckle was re-engraved.
In 1990, as the 10th round National Finals Rodeo arena dust settled around Bach being presented with his second piece of weighty Gist gold, his mind was already beginning a familiar struggle. He’d seen some odd looks over the years when people saw ‘Jesus Is Lord’ on his buckle instead of his name and wondered about the new one he was about to wear.
“I worked on that all the way back to Texas where I took it up in prayer,” said Bach. “I gave God the glory and asked him for a clear sign. I wanted to know if he cared, if it meant anything to him to have his Son’s name on a buckle instead of mine. I asked, then trusted. As I walked back into the house, my name fell right off of that buckle.”
“It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks,” Bach said. “This has always been between me and the Lord.”
“There’s a price attached to championship that is paid in sweat, blood and pain, but when it’s all said and done, rodeo isn’t who I am, it’s what I do.” – Allen Bach