The Digital Journalist
Selected photos from Michael O'Brien's The Face of Texas.
© Michael O'Brien

Kevin Fitzpatrick/BANDERA - "Cowboy Kevin" Fitzpatrick, 41, can do just about anything with a rope. Besides lassoing horses, bulls, people, and anything else that moves, he can transform a rope into a beautiful, soaring butterfly. (Appropriately, the trick is called the "Butterfly.") His "Ocean Wave" is just that--a dramatic, rolling rope wave, crashing into shore. His "Rollovers" and "Flataround" are equally sublime. When he attended the Guinness Book of World Records Show in Germany a while back, he tied the reigning European champion with his "Texas Skip," completing 79 in-and-out loop jumps in 56 seconds before stepping on his rope on the 80th jump.

"I'm a cowboy," says Fitzpatrick, the son of an accomplished horseshoer and rodeo rider, who often stands or does handstands on his horse while performing. "That's all I do, is rope and ride."

Fitzpatrick, raised in Phoenix, AZ, moved to Bandera, TX just after high school. He followed his father, Bud, who had moved back to his native state after working for years in California.

"My dad was a rodeo rider in the 30s and 40s," says Fitzpatrick, who worked with his father shoeing race horses when his dad slowed down. "He used to gallop racehorses and ride bucking horses and bulls. He competed in the world finals of bull riding at Madison Square Garden in 1943. Roy Rogers was there."

Fitzpatrick hired on at a series of dude ranches. Then he got his own horse, a two-year-old quarter horse named Wetback-- "Wet," for short. With visions of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry in his head, he spent his free time with Wet, learning how to ride and rope.

Eight years ago, Fitzpatrick had gotten so good at roping--and so in demand as a performer--that he quit his regular job in pursuit of his art. He and Wet, now 22, make a living traveling around to rodeos, conventions, stock shows, schools and birthday parties. They even appear in occasional ads.

"I have the most complete life of anybody," says Fitzpatrick, who lives on 37 acres in the hill country with his wife, three children, half-dozen cows, three horses, one dog, one cat, and one fish. "I get the best of every world, and I make people happy."