Siegal memorialized on Fourth

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— When Warren Siegal arrived in Steamboat Springs back in 1967 he was hoping to find a bronco he could win some cash on during a Fourth of July stop.

What he discovered was a young woman who would bring him enough love to last his entire life.

A soonto-be ex-boyfriend introduced Siegal to Lexie at the Fourth of July Rodeo. After the rodeo performance had come to a close, the pair was part of a group of friends that headed to a nearby park to enjoy some watermelon at another holiday event.

Later, as Siegal and his buddies headed off to hit the bars before they closed, the cowboy was able to leave a lasting impression on the young woman from Steamboat Springs he had just met.

"He flipped me a dime and said, 'Call me another one just like you,'" Lexie recalls. "I just flipped the dime back to him and said, 'I'm the only one.'"

That moment sparked a relationship that would span more than 34 years before Siegal died last July at the age of 58.

Now that girl, who fell in love with the bareback rider from Arizona all those years ago, is hoping to start a memorial that will live on every Fourth of July in Steamboat Springs.

This year, a special belt buckle and $500 added cash is going to be awarded to the bareback champion at the 99th Cowboys Roundup Days, as part of the Warren Siegal Memorial Bareback riding.

"It's appropriate that we have a memorial like this here in Steamboat," Steamboat Springs Rodeo Director Brent Romick said. "Warren had a long history in this valley and a lot of friends here in our community."

One of those friends was World Champion Bareback rider J.C. Trujillo who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994. He said he considered returning to the bucking chutes for a chance to compete in this week's memorial, but reconsidered after his wife talked some sense into him.

"I talked about it maybe I should get back in shape and give it a shot, but my wife told me I was crazy," Trujillo said. "She's probably right."

If anyone could get Trujillo back on a bucking horse, it would have been Siegal.

"I rode a lot with Warren," Trujillo said. "We were roommates when I was in College at Arizona State University and we were on the same rodeo team."

After college the two maintained a friendship and continued to chase their dreams a number of years after school had ended.

Trujillo became World Champion before retiring in 1985 at the age of 36. Siegal never reached that level, but his talents as an attorney saved more than one cowboy.

"Warren was able to strike a pretty good balance between being a cowboy and being an attorney," Trujillo said. "He was the smartest guy I've ever met and he had a reputation for being a great lawyer."

Trujillo credited his friend with getting him out of jail once after he got into a bar fight. Trujillo said there are more than a few other cowboys out there owe at least one night of freedom to the lawyer who really wanted to be a cowboy.

However, there were times when even Siegal couldn't talk fast enough to keep his friends out of trouble.

One time, Trujillo and Siegal were late for an event where they had drawn some pretty good horses.

"There were horses that we could win some money on," Trujillo said. 'We really wanted to get there."

In his haste to get to the rodeo Trujillo admits pushing the speed limit a bit and he not hesitating to pass a few other cars in an attempt to make up for lost time.

As the Oldsmobile closed in on another slower moving vehicle, Siegal looked over at his longtime friend and asked how much the winning bareback rider would pocket at this particular rodeo.

"I looked over and said, 'I don't know maybe $700 or $800," Trujillo said.

Siegal, who was obviously a little shaken by Trujillo's blazing pace, offered to match the winning purse out of his own pocket if his friend didn't pass another car.

But Trujillo must not have wanted to take his friends money, because he passed the car anyway and made it to the rodeo in time.

Trujillo, however, would eventually pay the price for his aggressiveness.

Once they arrived, Siegal popped the trunk with a switch from inside the car, and both cowboys jumped out to grab their gear. Within moments they realized that they had left the keys in the ignition with the car running the doors were all locked.

Trujillo said the two cowboys didn't panic at this point.

They left the car running and headed to the chutes in time to make their ride.

The good news was that Trujillo won the event; the bad news was that the cowboys probably lost some time celebrating at a local bar because they had to use a hanger to break into the car and recover the keys.

Like his love for Lexie, Siegal also shared a life-long love for the sport of rodeo.

He got his first taste as a teen-ager when he competed at the Youngs Rodeo in Arizona.

"He won the bareback riding and was hooked," Lexie said. "He loved rodeo and he loved Steamboat Springs."

In college he was a member of the Arizona State University Rodeo team where he met Trujillo. He put off taking his bar exam after finishing law school, so that he could rodeo.

But in 1973 Warren traded in his dream of being a full-time cowboy for a more lucrative profession as a lawyer.

He built a successful law practice in Phoenix, Ariz., but often returned to the Yampa Valley with Lexie.

"He used to fly in for the Cowboy Downhill, even after he retired," Trujillo said. "He was always here once or twice a year."

Siegal purchased a condominium in Steamboat along with Trujillo. Trujillo said he lived in the condo for many years before moving to a different location.

At that time, Warren bought Trujillo's half and used it whenever he visited the area.

The cowboy was a regular at the Steamboat Springs Series until he retired in Prescott, Ariz., in 1978.

In addition to rodeo, he also enjoyed breeding and racing thoroughbred horses.

"He dearly loved Steamboat," Lexie said. "That's why we want to do this."

The handmade Maynard belt buckle will be awarded to the cowboy who records the top score at one of Steamboat's three holiday performances. The rodeos will take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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