Bascom was born on June 19, 1906 in a sod-roofed log cabin on the Bascom 101 Ranch in Vernal, Utah, United States, the son of rancher and lawman John W. Bascom and Rachel Lybbert. His father had been a Uintah County deputy sheriff and later a constable in the town of Naples in northeast Utah, who chased members of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch Gang and other outlaws including Harry "Mad Dog" Tracy.
Earl's grandfathers, Joel A. Bascom and C.F.B. Lybbert, were Mormon pioneers, ranchers and frontier lawmen. Joel Bascom was a cattle rancher and a member of the Utah Militia fighting in the Utah War of 1857 and the Utah Black Hawk Indian War of 1866. He also served as Chief of Police in Provo, Utah and as constable in Mona, Utah. C.F.B. Lybbert, who served in the Danish army before coming to America, was a rancher and blacksmith who served as constable of Levan, Utah and Justice of the Peace in Naples, Utah. Other members of Earl's family include his grand uncle Ephraim Roberts who was a pony express rider, and grand uncle William Lance who was a soldier in the Mormon Battalion - Army of the West 1846-1848. Noted Bascom relatives include mountain man Jedediah S. Smith, U.S. army Lt. George N. Bascom who instigated the Apache Wars in 1861, and rancher Bryant Brooks who served as governor of Wyoming in 1911.
Bascom's paternal ancestors include Minne-tin-ka, Princess of the Turtle Clan who was the daughter of Chief Miantonomo of the Narragansett Indian tribe, King Edward III of European Royalty, and others from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium and France with ethnicities including Quaker, French Basque and Huguenot. Bascom's maternal family was of Norwegian, Danish, Dutch and German ancestry.
In 1909, Earl and his two older brothers and their father were riding horseback near Lybbert Gulch, when a bee stung Earl's horse and it bucked across the meadow with him. Earl hung on until his brothers rode in and picked him off the horse like a rodeo pickup man. Earl was just three years old. For entertainment, the Bascom boys rode anything on the ranch that "bucked, jumped, or crawled." The family was at the local Vernal rodeo where they saw the famous bucking horse "Steamboat" in the arena.
In 1912, when Earl Bascom was just six years old, his mother Rachel died of breast cancer, leaving five children - Raymond, Melvin, Earl, Alice and Weldon - ranging in age from 11 years to nine months. In 1913, Earl's father, who had cowboyed in Utah and Colorado and worked on ranches in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, went to Alberta, Canada securing a job as a foreman on the Knight Ranch. John Bascom's brother-in-law, Ike Lybbert, was already working there as the ranch blacksmith and farrier.
In 1914, the Bascom family loaded their belongings into a covered wagon, traveled a week to the nearest railroad in Price, Utah and rode the train to Canada. After working for the Knight Ranches headquartered on the Milk River Ridge in Alberta, Canada and managing Ray Knight's Butte Ranch north of the town of Raymond, Alberta, John W. Bascom and his sons began ranching on their own using the Bar-B-3 brand. Over the following years, the Bascom family lived at Welling Station and ranched along Pot Hole Creek, at New Dayton on the Fort Whoop-up Trail near Deadman Coolee, at Lethbridge on the Old Man River and at Stirling east of Nine Mile Lake.
By Canadian law, all minor children who emigrated to Canada before 1915 and whose parent became a naturalized citizen, automatically became Canadian citizens. Earl Bascom's father became a naturalized Canadian citizen. Earl Bascom was technically an American Canadian. During the winter of 1916, the Bascom family moved back to Naples, Utah, returning to Canada in the spring of 1917.
Schooled mostly in one-room schools, Bascom quit school while in grade three to work on the Hyssop 5H Ranch, east of Lethbridge. It was not long before a Canadian Mountie, who was visiting the Hyssop Ranch, thought that one of the cowboys was just too young looking to be a seasoned cowpuncher and bronc peeler. The Mountie asked Earl Bascom just how old he was - he was 13 years old. Earl was returned to school. Attending school felt better after Earl's father, who had a school district transportation contract, gave him the job of driving an old stagecoach pulled by a team of Bascom horses each day to the surrounding ranches transporting fellow students to and from school.
In 1918, Bascom gained a stepmother and a stepbrother, Frank, when his Earl's father married Ada Romeril Dawley. To this new union was born five more children - Ada Bell, Charles, Luella, Grant and LaMona - making a total of eleven children in the Bascom family.
Bascom was known as the Cowboy of Cowboy Artists due to his wide range of western experiences as a professional bronc buster, bull rider, cowpuncher, trail driver, blacksmith, freighter, wolf hunter, wild horse chaser, rodeo champion, cattle rancher, dude wrangler, and Hollywood actor. Bascom was among the last of those who experienced the Old West before the end of free-range ranching. Bascom reminisced:
For Bascom, ranch life and cowboy life was his life. "The life of a cowboy and the West, I know," he stated. Bascom worked on some of the largest horse and cattle ranches in the United States and Canada — ranches that ran thousands of cattle on a million acres (4000 km²) of land. He broke and trained hundreds of horses. He worked on ranches where he chased and gathered horses, cows and even donkeys in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Texas, Mississippi, Washington, California and western Canada. He worked on cattle drives out of the Rockies and horse drives through the Teton Range. He took part on large roundups of horses and cattle, and brandings. He made saddles and stirrups, quirts, chaps, spurs, bridles and bits, ropes and hackamores, and even patched his own boots. Earl's brothers and their father, John W. Bascom, were all experienced ranch hands and professional horsemen who were known as the "Bronc Bustin' Bascom Boys."
A professional rodeo cowboy, Bascom followed the rodeo circuit internationally, rodeoing from 1916 to 1940, where he won several all-around championships. He competed in the rough stock events of saddle bronc riding, bareback riding and bull riding, and in the timed events of steer decorating and steer wrestling. In 1933, he set a new arena record, a new world record time and won third place in the world standings in the steer decorating event. He also was a rodeo announcer, performed trick riding and competed in the rodeo events of wild cow milking and wild horse racing. He held memberships in the Cowboys Turtle Association, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the Canadian Rodeo Cowboys Association (now the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association), the National Police Rodeo Association and the National Old Timers Rodeo Association (now the National Senior Pro Rodeo Association). Earl Bascom was a life-member of the Rodeo Historical Society and a founding member of the Canadian Rodeo Historical Association.
Honored as a rodeo pioneer and as a rodeo champion, Bascom has been inducted into several rodeo, cowboy and sports Halls of Fame in Canada and the United States. He received international acclaim for his rodeo equipment inventions and designs. Earl's brothers - Raymond "Tommy" Bascom, Melvin "High Pockets" Bascom and Weldon "Preacher" Bascom, along with their father John W. Bascom - were also professional rodeo cowboys and Hall of Fame inductees. Rodeoing financed Earl Bascom's college education at Brigham Young University where he was given the title of "Rodeo's First Collegiate Cowboy" and from which institution he graduated in 1940.
Bascom has been honored as the "Father of Modern Rodeo" and known as rodeo's greatest innovator and inventor. He is known in rodeo history for designing and making rodeo's modern bucking chute in 1916 and modified in 1919. He also made rodeo's first hornless bronc saddle in 1922 and rodeo's first one-hand bareback rigging in 1924, for which he has been called the "Father of Rodeo Bareback Riding." In 1926, he designed and made the modern rodeo riding chaps, and then in 1928, a rodeo exerciser made of spring steel.
Bascom has been listed among Canada's greatest inventors and among the world's most famous excogitators and thinkers.
During his college years, Earl and his brother Weldon produced the first rodeos in Columbia, Mississippi in 1935, 1936 and 1937 while working for Sam Hickman's B Bar H Ranch near Arm, Mississippi. This first rodeo in Columbia is known in cowboy history as the first rodeo held outdoors at night under electric lights. The rodeo arena designed and built under the direction of Earl Bascom in 1936, was the first permanent rodeo arena built in Mississippi.
The bucking horses used in the rodeo were shipped in from West Texas and had colorful names of Yellow Fever, Dynamite, Mae West and Funeral Wagon. Sam Hickman and Earl Bascom went to New Orleans where they purchased brahma bulls for the rodeo bucking stock. This was the first recorded use of brahma bulls in rodeo.
Among those participating and assisting in these rodeos were Jake Lybbert, Mel Lybbert, Rose Bascom, Clyde Hatchell, Sam Jackson, Oliver Diffey, Ernest Buhrer, Ashel Evans, Tad Lucas, Horace Flake, Lester Flake, Don Pearce, Ferral Pearce, and Jasbo Faulkerson. Sam Hickman financed these rodeos through his Wild West Rodeo Company.
Between rodeos of 1936 and 1937, Earl was a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) in Mississippi, serving under Mission President LeGrand Richards of the Southern States Mission. The Bascom brothers were honored fifty years later for being the "Fathers of Mississippi Rodeo" and given the "Key to the City of Columbia," along with a congratulatory telegram from President Ronald Reagan. In 2016, Earl Bascom and his brother Weldon were officially recognized by the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame as the "Fathers of Brahma Bull Riding."
In 1939, Bascom married Nadine Diffey, who was part American Indian, Creek and Catawba. He met her in Mississippi while cowboying and rodeoing there. They were married in Salt Lake City, Utah in the Salt Lake LDS Temple, and raised five children. Later in life, Nadine Bascom became a sculptor in her own right, creating bas-relief sculptures.
Besides being a professional rodeo contestant, Bascom tried his hand as a rodeo clown and rodeo bullfighter during his rodeo career. Just after his 89th birthday, Earl was honored as the oldest living rodeo clown in the world.
At the age of 88, Bascom helped roundup longhorn steers on the Shahan Ranch in west Texas and received honors for his art during the 1994 Texas Longhorn Quincentennial Cattle Drive and Celebration. Bascom's bronze sculpture "The American Longhorn, 1494-1994" was declared the most authentic example of a classical Texas longhorn steer.
In 2014, Bascom was honored posthumously during the tenth anniversary celebration of the National Day of the Cowboy, for his international contributions to cowboy culture and the cowboy way of life.
During his lifetime, Bascom personally knew and associated with such characters as old time cowboys, pioneers and homesteaders, outlaws and lawmen, gunslingers and bootleggers, prospectors and gold miners, Mormon Battalion soldiers and Civil War soldiers, Indian Chiefs and Indian War fighters, muleskinners and pony express riders, squatters and sheepherders, cattle rustlers and horse thieves.
While working for the Nilsson Rafter-E-N Ranch, Bascom happened to read a story in a western magazine about Native American Jim Thorpe. Thorpe had been working as a horse wrangler, but got fired. The camp cook gave him some advice - go to school. Thorpe took that advice, went to school, excelled in sports and became an Olympic champion.
Jim Thorpe's life touched Bascom. "I felt like I had walked in his boots," Earl said. "Like Jim Thorpe, cowboy life was the only life that I knew. But what about my art, what about art school?"
Wanting to be an artist since childhood, Bascom filled the pages of his school books in the one-room school house he attended with cowboy scenes. His desire to be a cowboy artist was greatly enhanced after seeing art works of the two great icons of Old West art, Charles M. Russell and Frederic S. Remington - both cousins to his father, John W. Bascom (Remington and Russell were both related to Bascom through their mothers, Clarissa "Clara" Bascom Sackrider Remington and Mary Elizabeth Mead Russell, respectively). Both Remington and Russell were artists that spent time in Canada producing art. In the late 1920s, Earl worked on a ranch south of the Sweetgrass Hills in Montana that was once owned by the artist Charlie Russell and only a few months after Russell's death.
Charles Russell was on the Knight Ranch when Bascom was working there, and had drawn a sketch on the bunkhouse wall and also finished a large oil painting of Raymond Knight on his favorite mount, Blue Bird, roping a steer.
Although Bascom was educated in one-room school houses and only completed one full school year, never finishing high school, he never lost his desire to be an artist. He subscribed to a correspondence art course wherein both Russell and Remington gave instructions on their drawing techniques. "Through those art lessons these two masters of western art were my first real art teachers," Bascom recalled. "In fact the only instructions I ever had in western art were from Remington and Russell."
Even though he had no high school diploma, the Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah accepted him as a student in the fall of 1933. "There I was a 27 years old college freshman who hadn’t been to school in years," Bascom recalled. "I felt like a wild horse in a pen." But as a BYU student, he was persistence, taking every art course the college offered. He studied painting and drawing under professors E.H. Eastmond and B.F. Larsen, and sculpture under Torleif S. Knaphus.
In the summertime between school years, Bascom was a rodeo contestant where he gained notoriety as a cowboy artist and rodeo champion. He interrupted his college education in 1934 with the intent to compete at the World Championship Rodeo in London, England.
During his freshman year of 1933-34, Bascom won the Studio Guild Award for the best student art work of the year. He won that top art award again in 1936, as well as the Honorable Mention Award. He was a member of the BYU Art Club and the Canada Club as well as the Delta Phi fraternity. He was a popular entertainer with his cartoon drawings at the University Dames Club of which his wife Nadine was a member. He graduated from BYU with a degree in Fine Art in 1940. His fellow art students voted him "most likely to succeed" as an artist. He was a member of the Brigham Young University Alumni Association and elected to the BYU Emeritus Club in 1990.
Later he attended classes at Long Beach City College, Victor Valley College and the University of California Riverside.
In 1917, Bascom saw his first Hollywood movie "The Silent Man" starring William S. Hart. Earl and his older brother Melvin were extras in a silent movie in 1920 being filmed in Lethbridge, Alberta. In 1924, a team of palomino horses from the Bascom Ranch was used by Hoot Gibson in a Roman race in the movie "The Calgary Stampede." Earl later worked in the movie industry with his brother Weldon Bascom in the 1954 Hollywood western, "The Lawless Rider", starring Weldon's wife Texas Rose Bascom. Earl was one of the outlaws in the movie. Weldon was the sheriff and one of the stuntmen.
Bascom worked as a miner in the Old Gray Mine, digging coal, near Maeser, Utah in the winter of 1930.
After graduating from college, Bascom and his wife moved to California. Retiring from rodeo after one last season, he pursued his art career and ranched. Earl Bascom and his brother Weldon Bascom worked on a ranch in Perris, California which was formerly owned by Louis B. Mayer of Hollywood's MGM Studios. Earl also worked on the Rex Ellsworth Ranch in Chino, California. Earl was a distant cousin to Mitch Tenney who was Ellsworth's horse trainer.
During World War II, Bascom worked as a shipfitter in the Long Beach shipyards building ships for the war effort. He attended Long Beach City College, taking a class on blueprint reading in order to qualify for the job at the shipyard. As such, he was a member of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers. After the war, Bascom worked for the Flying V Ranch before entering the booming construction industry, first working in the plumbing trade and then the plastering trade, joining what is known today as the Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association of the United States and Canada. As a plastering contractor, he plastered houses in some of the first residential tracts in southern California. He plastered California Mormon churches in Chino, Ontario, Palmdale, Ridgecrest, Trona, Hesperia and Victorville. Bascom's most ornate plastering work was on the Los Angeles Mormon Temple, wherein his former art professor Torleif Knaphus sculpted the twelve oxen that hold up the baptistery.
Later, Earl Bascom and his son-in-law Mel Marion worked with Roy Rogers being filmed for TV commercials for the Roy Rogers Restaurant chain. The restaurant chain was then owned by the Marriott Corporation. When the Roy Rogers Riding Stables operated in Apple Valley, California, managed by Mel Marion and later Billy Bascom, Earl and his son John worked there wrangling horses and driving the hay wagon.
Earl and his son John were in the television documentary "Take Willy With Ya," a tribute to the life of rodeo champion Turk Greenough and his rodeo riding siblings and family members.
In 1966, after getting his teaching certificate from Brigham Young University and teaching art classes as a student teacher at the Springville (Utah) High School held in the Springville Art Museum, Bascom taught high school art classes in Barstow, California at John F. Kennedy High School and at Barstow High School. He also served as president of the High Desert Artists (now Artists of the High Desert), and later as president of the Buckaroo Artists of America.
With his classic cowboy look and dressed in his authentic cowboy attire, he was a popular art studio model. Other artists who associated with Bascom were Bill Bender, Charles LaMonk, Leslie B. DeMille, Glen Turner, Cecil Smith, Trevor Bennett, Ray Bennett and Grant Speed.
Earl Bascom was a published historian with his writings on cowboy and rodeo history printed in books, magazines and newspapers. He was a member of the Western Writers of America association. His first-known published writing was in 1926 for the Cardston newspaper, narrating a week-long trek into the Canadian Rocky Mountains that he and his friends took on horseback and pack horse. He was interviewed on radio and television. He was a popular lecturer on pioneer and cowboy history at schools and other academic centers.
Earl also assisted his nephew Billy Bascom in teaching horsemanship, as well as cowboy and rodeo history at the Victor Valley College in Victorville, California. Earl Bascom was later inducted into the Victor Valley College Alumni Hall of Fame having taken art classes at the college when it first opened.
Bascom became internationally known as a cowboy artist and sculptor with his art being exhibited in the United States, Canada and Europe.
He was honored by the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Artists Association as the first rodeo cowboy to become a professional cowboy artist and sculptor. He was the first cowboy artist to be honored as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts of London since the society's beginning in 1754.
In the summer of 2005, the week-long Earl W. Bascom Memorial Rodeo was held in Berlin, Germany during the German-American Heritage Celebration where his cowboy art was exhibited as an honor by the European Rodeo Cowboys Association for Bascom's worldwide influence upon the sport of rodeo. "It was an honor to memorialize Earl Bascom," said Steve Witt, vice-president of European Rodeo Cowboy Association. "The rodeo equipment he designed back in 1920s has had an influence on rodeo worldwide."
Equestrian historian Kathy Young said, "Earl Bascom was noted for bridging two worlds, that of rodeo competition and western art."
On July 24, 2014, Bascom was made the international honoree of the National Day of the Cowboy and given the "Cowboy Keeper" award.
In June 2015, Bascom was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, as the first rodeo champion ever honored and given Canada's highest sports honor as a "Canadian Sports Legend."
"As a Canadian rodeo athlete and cowboy artist, Earl Bascom is a national treasure," stated Helena Deng, senior curator of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.
"Bascom's incredible achievements are now to be shared with all Canadians in perpetuity," said Mario Siciliano, president of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, "inspiring generations of Canadians in sports and in life."
Always one who had deep thoughts and religious leanings, Bascom was ordained a Latter-day Saint Bishop and Patriarch later in life.
As an historian, Earl Bascom was one of the founders of the Canadian Rodeo Historical Association and a life member of the Rodeo Historical Society headquartered in the National Cowboy Museum of Oklahoma City.
Bascom died at the age of 89 on his ranch in Victorville, California, August 28, 1995. During his funeral services on August 31, 1995, Bascom's emerald green coffin, decked with his ranch saddle and red roses, was transported by wagon and team to the Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Apple Valley, California for interment.
In 1994, Bascom was commissioned to design a rodeo belt buckle for the National Finals to commemorate the 70th year of the rodeo bareback rigging which Bascom had designed and made back in 1924. The production manager said, "Bascom's buckle was one of our most popular pieces and the most historical."
United States Congressman, the Honorable Jerry Lewis, said in 1995 in "A Tribute to Earl Wesley Bascom" as printed in the Congressional Record, that Earl Bascom was a "cowboy hero and a true inspiration...(who) lived one of the most interesting lives ever known in modern cowboy history."
Paul de Fonville, curator of the Cowboy Memorial Museum, gave tribute to Earl Bascom as "one of the great pioneers of rodeo - a cowboy through and through."
The American Cowboy magazine and others have called Earl Bascom a "Renaissance Cowboy" - one who was a main contributor and participant in the renewed interest in cowboy life including the sport of rodeo and western art.
Bascom is listed among the Famous Cowboys - Legends of the Old West.
Cowboy celebrity Roy Rogers, who worked with Earl Bascom in TV commercials and was a collector of Bascom art, once said, "Earl Bascom is a walking book of history. His knowledge of the Old West was acquired the old fashioned way – he was born and raised in it."
"Earl Bascom's 2013 induction into the Rodeo Hall of Fame is one of the top honors bestowed upon a cowboy," said Pam Minick, president of the Rodeo Historical Society. He is credited with designing the first side-delivery bucking chute in 1916, and then the first reverse-opening side-delivery chute, the first hornless bronc saddle, and the first one-hand bareback rigging. A member of the Cowboys' Turtle Association, he won bareback and saddle bronc titles across North America."
In 2016, Earl Bascom and his brother Weldon were the first rodeo cowboys to be given the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame Ken Stemler Pioneer Award. At hall of fame ceremonies, director Kent Sturman declared Earl Bascom to be a "true rodeo pioneer." He recognized Bascom for "his complete dedication to the sport of professional rodeo spanning several decades; for his contributions as a rodeo equipment and gear inventor and designer; for his innovation and foresight as the ‘Father of Modern Rodeo’ and the ‘Father of Brahma Bull Riding’; and for his contributions as a rodeo athlete and champion, producer, stock contractor, announcer, clown, trick rider, historian, author, artist and sculptor, and western movie actor that helped advance the development and success of professional rodeo."
"Earl Bascom is the Michael Phelps of rodeo," stated Ken Knopp, historian of the Mississippi Rodeo Hall of Fame. "With a stack of honors to his name, Bascom remains the all-time leader in the sport of rodeo." Bascom and Phelps are actually distant cousins, both being descendants of New England founder Thomas Newell and Rebecca Olmstead.
Cowboy historian Stan Paregien said, "Earl Bascom was one of the last great cowboys of the Old West era and became internationally known for his western art and sculpture, as well as for his rodeo equipment designs and inventions."
Author of Rodeo History and Legends, Bob Jordan, said, "The Bascom boys helped shape the sport of rodeo more than any other family in the world."
Earl Bascom was chosen by the Toronto Star as one of 150 of Canada's greatest athletes, including Wayne Gretsky and Steve Nash, to represent Canada during its 150th year (1867-2017) of Confederation. Sports writer Kerry Gillespie wrote, "Angry bulls to wild horses, there wasn't anything on four legs that Earl Bascom couldn't get the better of..."
Bascom is known as an innovator and designer of rodeo equipment and rodeo gear. His inventions include:first side-delivery bucking chute (1916) at Welling, Alberta (assisted by brothers Raymond, Melvin and father John W. Bascom)
first reverse-opening side-delivery bucking chute (1919) at Lethbridge, Alberta (assisted by his father John W. Bascom)
first hornless rodeo bronc saddle (1922) at Lethbridge, Alberta
first one-hand bareback rigging (1924) at Stirling, Alberta
first high-cut rodeo chaps (1926) at Raymond, Alberta
rodeo exerciser (1928) at Raymond, Alberta
first night rodeo held outdoors under electric lights (September 24, 1935), at Columbia, Mississippi
first use of brahma bulls in rodeo at Columbia, Mississippi, 1935
first permanent rodeo arena with bucking chutes and grandstands in the state of Mississippi (1936) at Columbia, Mississippi