Click the image or use the arrows to see more photos of the Cody and Dave Morris during the Blue Moon rodeo.
COLUMBIA FALLS – Sitting in the bleachers at the Blue Moon rodeo arena, Dave Morris grins and casually recalls the time when a raging bull ripped apart his sternum.
“I got horned in the chest,” Morris says. “It broke my sternum completely off and folded me up inside. The doctor cut me up and put me back together.”
Morris tells this story as if remembering a family picnic. It’s a moment nestled sweetly in his memory, an enduring reminder of his bullfighting days years ago. He gets giddy just thinking about taking on a bull. That’s why he quit going to rodeos after retirement. He’d sit in the stands and start feeling the itch.
“I wanted that adrenaline rush again,” he says. “It’s an adrenaline rush you can’t quite explain.”
Today, the itch is fulfilled vicariously and he couldn’t be happier about it. His 21-year-old son, Cody, is carrying on the family’s bullfighting tradition and the proud father is right there on the arena’s sidelines, helping out when needed but no longer dodging bulls.
Dave Morris likes to go to rodeos again.
“To see Cody out there – it makes a papa proud,” he says. “I don’t know of any other father-son bullfighters around.”
If you’ve ever wondered who those crazy guys are at rodeos who jump in front of a bull to distract it after the rider is bucked off, here they are. They are Dave and Cody Morris, father and son. They are passionate about what they do. And they are bullfighters, not rodeo clowns.
Years ago, a single person often played both the bullfighter and rodeo clown roles – as protection for the bull rider and entertainment for the crowd. But today, the Morrises said, if a rodeo has a clown, entertainment is his sole job. A bullfighter has his own job, and it’s vital. He saves the bodies, and occasionally the lives, of vulnerable riders who have been flung from their bull.
“You sacrifice your body to save theirs,” Dave said. “Hence the scars.”
If it weren’t for his heritage, Cody Morris might be an unlikely candidate for bullfighting. In 2008, he graduated from Whitefish High School where, he says, “there aren’t many cowboys.” He played football and wrestled, but didn’t participate in rodeo. Whitefish, Dave notes, isn’t much of a rodeo town.
“We’re one of the last ranching-farming families in the town,” Dave said.
But Cody was born with bullfighting in his blood, even if his father had already been retired for years by the time the boy got interested in rodeo. Cody recalls being enthralled with a videotape called “Wrecks of ’96,” a compilation of bulls throwing riders, with bullfighters undoubtedly playing a prominent role.
“I watched it over and over,” Cody said.
The summer after high school graduation, Cody started hanging out at Blue Moon rodeos as often as he could, dropping hints that he was interested in bullfighting. Two experienced bullfighters – Mike Anderson and Zack Lytle – got the hint and “took Cody under their wing,” Dave said.
When Cody’s time came, Dave wasn’t sure if the boy was ready, or maybe just wanted an excuse to get back out there. Either way, Dave decided to suit up and help Cody out, jumping back in the arena “for the first time in 20 years.”
“It went well, but then I broke my ribs later that summer,” Dave said.
Battered and bruised, Dave retired once again. But Cody was just getting started.
Surrounded by longtime bullfighters like his father, Lytle and Anderson, young Cody quickly made a name for himself in the Northwest Montana rodeo circuit. Within a couple of years, stock contractors were seeking him out, knowing he could handle himself around their bulls in the heat of the moment. They traded in one Morris for another without missing a beat.
“Every time I went to a rodeo, everybody talked about how good dad was and they asked why he quit so early,” Cody said.
Cody now works every weekly Blue Moon rodeo as the lone bullfighter. For bigger weekend rodeos around the region, he often teams up with one other bullfighter. Cody is requested for rodeos at the Majestic Valley Arena, in Hot Springs, Eureka and Browning.
“The contractors are all talking about his abilities,” Dave said. “One contractor told me Cody doesn’t have to stay here at the Blue Moon. He can go anywhere he wants to.”
Dave takes comfort in knowing that Cody is armed with excellent coaching and modern protective gear. Even if he likes to tell his own war stories, Dave doesn’t want Cody to have to visit a surgeon.
“When I started, I had no formal coaching,” Dave said. “All I had was people telling me to go out there and stand in front of the bull.”
Bullfighting is a labor of love and, frequently, pain – “you get stepped on all the time,” Cody said. In the winter, Cody has worked rodeos until 11 p.m. only to wake up at 2 a.m. to begin plowing snow.
But Cody has bigger ideas in store. Someday, he hopes he’ll make enough money from bullfighting that he won’t have to wake up early to plow snow, or do anything else for that matter. Someday, he’ll be a professional.
“I’d like to see if I can make it that far,” he said. “You take small steps along the way.”