- Author: Kaila White
- Category: History
- Issue: Nov 2011
From the 1930s through the ’50s, one Arizona family dominated the local rodeo scene. Raised by a father who worked at Dobson Ranch when it was a massive cattle ranch and farm, the Finley brothers – Luther, Larry and Frank – learned horse culture quickly.
Training at the Finley family property in east Mesa, each of the sibs embarked on careers as rodeo stars: Luther “Chipmunk” Finley won the world championship in wild-horse racing twice; Larry was the 1947 world champion in bareback riding; Frank took All-Around Champion titles in Nevada, Detroit and more. Together they competed at national venues such as San Francisco’s Cow Palace and New York’s Madison Square Garden, giving the East Valley a name in the rodeo world.
Eventually, each man embraced a life outside rodeo. Larry pursued bit acting and appeared in dozens of movies, including The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing with Burt Reynolds and The Cowboys with John Wayne. Frank moved on to a different beast – he became a pit boss for Las Vegas casinos. Luther became an engineering professor at Arizona State University and ended up back in Dobson Ranch with his wife, Meity.
After Luther died in 1992, Meity spent years trying to share the brothers’ story, which is now spotlighted at the Tempe History Museum, where The Finley Boys: Arizona’s Royal Family of Rodeo can be seen for free during regular hours through February.
“The exhibit speaks to the ranching heritage in Arizona,” says Josh Roffler, the collection’s curator. It features photographs, artifacts, a children’s dress-up area with a toy bronco and puzzles, and even a video of Larry’s acting chops. For more information, visit tempe.gov/museum.