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by Tumbleweed Smith

Quail Dobbs grew up in his daddy's boot making shop in Albany. When the family moved to Colorado City, Quail played second string halfback for he high school football team. "Really I was a live dummy," says Quail. He was born Marvin Dene Dobbs but a classmate gave him the nickname Quail. "Maybe it was because I had a top knot and ran like a bird. Anyway, I was flighty, but game." When he sold some land and went to a lawyer to get the legal work done, all the papers were in the name of Quail Dobbs. He told the lawyer that Quail was a nickname. The lawyer said it would be a lot easier to change his name than to change all the paper work. So they went to the courthouse and his name became Quail Marvin Dobbs. He lost the Dene.

Quail was the class clown in school. He wanted to be a rodeo cowboy and tried his hand at riding bulls and broncs. "Every time I got on a horse or bull it looked like some sort of a clown act." When he was in Buffalo, Minnesota at the age of 19, a clown didn't show up for a rodeo. Quail asked if he could fill in for him. He did such a good job one of the contestants told him he was a natural, that he ought to buy a barrel and a mule and go down the road. Quail did just that. The second year he was clowning a rodeo contractor told him he wanted Quail to work all his rodeos the next year at $125 per performance. Quail took the job.

A lot of those rodeos were in small towns. "Once in Ironwood, Michigan we only had 13 people putting on the rodeo. That's contestants, announcers, clowns, chute help, contractor, everybody. And the cowboys weren't all that good. So the contractor told me he wanted some kind of act in the arena to have something going on so the crowd wouldn't leave. I had to come up with a lot of stuff. I did several tricks with my mule."

At Palestine, Illinois, Quail saw a boy with a funny-looking dog. Quail offered to buy it, but the boy and his parents said no. The next year, when Quail was in the Cheyenne, Wyoming Rodeo parade, some people called him over and said they were the people from Illinois who had the dog he wanted and they gave it to Quail. That's how he acquired Phyllis, a big part of his clowning routines. In one of his acts he had a chicken pulling a small cart. "You ought a see the drumsticks on that thing."

Quail was best known for his exploding car, which he bought for $800 from another rodeo clown. His car act never changed. People in the stands were so familiar with it they could quote the lines right along with Quail. Once the announcer forgot a line and the audience yelled out to him what he was supposed to say. Quail worked rodeos in El Paso and Cheyenne 29 consecutive years, Houston 25 years. He was perhaps the most popular man in professional rodeo. When he retired from rodeo he became a justice of the peace and called his office "The Law East of Stink Creek." He was recently inducted into the prestigious Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. He was twice voted PRCA Rodeo Clown of the Year and is one of only three clowns to work both as a bullfighter and barrel man at the National Finals Rodeo.

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