WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Anthony native Nancy Gates calls herself a “rhinestone cowgirl.” She began traveling in 1963, competing in rodeo competitions all over the U.S., winning a total of 23 saddles.
Growing up in Anthony, Gates’ father owned a ranch, helping her get involved in rodeo. She learned everything from barrel racing to pole bending and rope tying.
She stopped competing at 18 years old but kept her prizes over the years.
In the late ’80s, she moved to Boone, North Carolina, and married Doug Stanbery.
“We lived from paycheck to paycheck. I married for love, you know,” said Gates.
She said they were only married for nine months until Stanbery died during an accident at work in 1990.
Stanbery was a saw miller working with a truck of logs when it happened.
“He started pulling on the chains to make sure the chains were secure on the truck. They broke. Doug seen it happen. He pushed this 18-year-old kid out of the way, saved that kid’s life, and he was killed immediately,” said Gates.
Gates was forced to face a new life as a widow with two young children.
“My dad, I mean golly, if it wasn’t for him, well my mom too, they were the backbone to my success,” said Gates.
To make ends meet, she decided to sell her 23 saddles to a local leather shop.
“It was pitiful. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do,” said Gates.
Gates was reunited with the first saddle in 2015.
Her son-in-law had some help from a friend who found her 1968 championship saddle on eBay. He surprised her with it for Christmas.
In the summer of 2022, another saddle surfaced in Mountain City, Tennessee.
A man by the name of Greg Pope saw a saddle at a friend’s father’s house and purchased it for $300. Little did he know that it would end up being Gates’ 1969 championship saddle.
Nancy Gates’ 1969 champion saddle (KSN Photo)
“This thing was in the center of the room, and it was his showpiece of his western collection, just a beautiful thing,” said Pope.
He knew it had a backstory.
“Like this is more than money. This is something really special,” said Pope.
He decided to post the saddle on Facebook to find the owner. Eight months later, Gates’ old rodeo friend recognized it.
“I hit him up. I said, ‘That is my saddle.’ I said, ‘How did you find it?'” said Gates.
The two connected, both overjoyed.
“Whatever you want for it, I’ll give. He says I’m just going to $300. The shipping was more than the saddle basically to get it back out here,” said Gates.
She now has her 1968 and 1969 Queen of Hearts saddles, she said there is no other like them.
“I’m in awe. I just can’t believe that this has happened, that I’ve got two saddles back,” said Gates.
A full circle reunion, bringing back the memories of her days as a rodeo queen.
She never thought anyone would find her saddles.
Gates hopes another person will see one and she could find more, but she said she is happy with these two as they are the most significant.
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