Thursday, July 5, 2001

Hawaiian cowboy, or paniolo, Ikua Purdy won the
steer-roping championship in Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1908.

Paniolo gets
monumental honor

Waimea residents will celebrate
the life and heritage of Ikua
Purdy with a new statue

By Rod Thompson

WAIMEA, Hawaii >> Hawaiian cowboy Ikua Purdy was big news when he won the world steer-roping championship in Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1908.

A few quick glances while driving through present-day Waimea will reveal an innovative hospital, astronomy headquarters, major shopping center construction and not much about the ranching history of the area.

Waimea veterinarian Billy Bergin and others want to ensure the town never forgets its cowboy origins.

By September of next year, they hope to erect a "heroic," 1 1/4-times life-size, bronze monument of Purdy on horseback roping a steer. The site would be an expanded minipark at the entrance to the Parker Ranch Center shopping complex under reconstruction.

"That's my heritage," said Robert K. "Sonny" Keakealani, one of the people working with Bergin in the Paniolo Preservation Society.

"I'm a paniolo (a Hawaiian cowboy). It's our tradition from way back in the 1800s," he said.

It's a tradition that began in 1832 when King Kamehameha III invited Mexican cowboys to teach Hawaiians to ride horses and rope wild cattle.

Artist Fred Fellows created this model of the 16-foot-high,
27-foot-long monument of Ikua Purdy that would be
erected in Waimea on the Big Island.

But it was a tradition unknown in 1908 at the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. Even today, the event is so important, it's called "The Granddaddy," Bergin said.

Hawaii rancher Eben "Rawhide Ben" Low paid steamer and train fares to the frontier event for Purdy, Archie Kaaua and relative Jack Low. They came in first, third and sixth in the steer roping.

But nearly a century later, the Hawaiian tradition was still unrecognized at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The museum had rodeo riders in its Cowboy Hall of Fame from across the West, even Florida and New Jersey, but none from Hawaii.

Art Waimea businesswoman and Paniolo Preservation Society member Patti Cook explained that a prospective honoree has to be voted into the Hall of Fame by members of the hall's historical society. Purdy supporters signed up nearly 200 new members at $25 a head, including Gov. Ben Cayetano, giving them the votes they needed to elect Purdy in 1999.

From the moment he formed the Paniolo society, Bergin wanted to erect a monument to Purdy, he said.

The natural person to create it was Fred Fellows of Sonoita, Ariz., a working cowboy and a working artist who had been visiting Waimea every year for two decades.

Fellows was already known for his creation of a detailed sculpture of the Hawaiian "tree saddle," based on Mexican saddles and different from American ones used in the West.

The monument envisioned by Fellows, 16 feet high and 27 feet long, would require at least $300,000 to create at a foundry in Kalispell, Mont.

To raise the money, Fellows suggested selling 100 "gallery-sized" models of the statue, 16 inches high, at $2,200. About 50 have sold since last year, half of them to collectors on the mainland, Bergin said.

Fellows also suggested selling 50 "museum-sized" models, 36 inches tall and 5 feet long, at $16,000 each.

Bergin hoped to have the first sample in Waimea in time for Fourth of July celebrations, but a delay means the sample will now be unveiled at a Sept. 2 food and fun event called "Real Beef by Real Cowboys."

Tickets, $30 in advance, will be available at 885-6707 after Aug. 1. For information on the monument, call Bergin at (808) 331-4666.

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