Cowboy and his stories

BUHL – Stanley Potts takes a breath and plops into his gray chair.

He rubs his hands on his blue Wrangler jeans and adjusts the collar to his tan button-down cinch.

Well, where does he start this conversation? Tough decision when listing 89 years of memories.

You can start with his many dances with death. A fall in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest resulted in 23 broken ribs, a punctured lung, and nearly every other injury and left him stranded in the woods for 26 hours before being rescued via helicopter.

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Or maybe his adventures as a private pilot included many unexpected landings and unexpected situations.

But perhaps it’s more appropriate to start with the cycle of events that introduced Potts into Idaho history—the rodeo, where he, McKay’s Jerry Twitchell, and Salmon’s Stanley Allen became the first Idaho cowboys to compete in the National High School Finals Rodeo.

The 75th National High School Finals Rodeo will begin Sunday in Gillette, Wyoming, with more than 1,700 contestants from 44 states, five Canadian provinces, Australia, Mexico and New Zealand.

This is retirement and life in the last few years. Potts’ wife Joy passed away in November 2021. A cat accompanies him. This explains the living room paper plate of cat food on a newspaper.


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‘my life story’

Potts lives a few miles north of Buhl in a cozy house with a wooded living room.

Sometimes he stops and asks you to repeat yourself. His hearing aids won’t always do the trick. But, boy, his memory is very sharp. Just like his shot from 44 years ago in the making.

These stories are not new. He has told them many times around campfires and dug them into several books about his life.

Just an old cowboy spinning tales of rodeo, ranching and hunting.

“Deal with me,” he said, “you’re going to hear a lot of crazy things because this was kind of the story of my life.”







Stanley Butts, Cowboy Legend

Stanley Potts talks about a book he wrote in his home north of Buhl.


Drew Nash, Times News


On the way to Augusta

Rodeo news traveled slowly in 1952.

Potts didn’t learn a thing called National High School Finals Rodeo until a trip to Downtown Mackay, his hometown.

Find out about such an event on a large poster near the clock tower. The words sounded strange to Potts considering he was unaware of the National Rodeo for high school students. So, he called the phone number listed and provided a few prerequisites—a letter from the headmaster to verify grades and three photos sent to Boots’ rodeo producers competing at his events: shoveling, calf roping, and bareback riding.

He passed those tests, borrowed his new blue Chevy pickup and headed toward Augusta, Montana, site of the 1952 finals.

“Augusta, Montana, is a city of about 250 people,” Potts said. “How they wore that, I have no idea. Podunk hamlet.”

The city now hosts an annual PRCA rodeo in June.







Stanley Butts, Cowboy Legend

Stanley Butts talks about his rodeo days at his July 5 home in North Buhl.


Drew Nash, Times News


Traveling to Augusta ended up without issues but Potts was banking on luck to propel him through the competition. He did not own a bulldozer horse and was hoping to find someone to lend him one.

Allen offered his horse, Popeye, but the favors did not pan out. Potts needed Hazer, a cowboy on a horse galloping along the road, and asked a rodeo volunteer for help.

“My first directive, I’m all out and I’m about halfway there, and God, I look back,” he said. “No haze. He was lagging behind so I had to pull myself back on the horse. The leash was loose in the paddock so I rushed over to the far end and got him down through the fence. Get down and pick him up.”

Potts said he did not remember the official time but estimated it to be 60 seconds. Different results for his next run. Six seconds. Eleven second place average. The day after a herd of calves are doing their best in the training pen.

“Their son was like a herd of pigs,” Potts said. “They were on top of me. When I got out there, my glasses were shattered. Cow(s) on my pearly white shirt. It didn’t really look good.”

This cup is still in his house.







Stanley Butts, Cowboy Legend

Stanley Butts captured the high school rodeo championship in 1952 in Augusta, Montana.


Drew Nash, Times News


Success followed in his other events, with second and third places in the first two outings of the bareback ride. There is a photo from one of his rides at the Potts house, as well as many other memorabilia from the rodeo.

Potts also competed in the calf romp but did not place.

“I screwed up my first two calves fairly well, but these kids from Texas…they hooked them up pretty quickly,” he recalled.

The Boots legend rodeo has only begun. Supply Augusta Potts with plenty of wall decor. Dozens of photos dot the bedroom walls, complete with Potts slanted captions scribbled in black permanent marker.







Stanley Butts, Cowboy Legend

Stanley Butts has photos of his rodeo days on the wall of his home July 5 north of Buhl.


Drew Nash, Times News


A year later, Potts attended the University of Idaho and competed on the rodeo team.

He became the 1953 Pacific Coast Conference All-Star for the Cowboys, thanks to a win in Kennewick, Washington. He walked away with “the loveliest saddle I ever saw”, which he later bestowed upon his first grandchild.

“I had the most amazing rodeo you could imagine,” Potts said.

Butts was inducted into the Idaho Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2006.







Stanley Butts, Cowboy Legend

A few of Stanley Potts’ accomplishments were seen on July 5 at his North Buhl home.


Drew Nash, Times News


Flying risks

Potts had no choice.

He needed to go back to Nevada. The guests were about to set out the next day for a mountain lion hunt led by Potts.

But here, he’s stranded in Hayward, California, with Joey and two of the family’s dogs.

Boots’ outfitting plane, 1964 Cessna 336-N 4633, sat in the hangar. She needed repairs. But the pieces were scattered on the floor of the barn. No chance of a scheduled flight.

Can he even make it to Nevada in time for the chase?

The hangar owner offered his Aztec plane to Potts. not important.

There were some obstacles in this endeavor. Potts didn’t have a multi-engine rating on his license and he sure as hell didn’t know how to fly an Aztec. Especially in a pitch-black sky.

“Don’t worry, I’ll show you how to fly it,” Potts recalled.

He did and the couple slammed into the air but then the windows started to ice and Potts didn’t know the solution. So, Joy points a flashlight at the clue, trying to figure it out.

They resolved it and landed safely in Wells, Nevada. But Joy threw some words to her husband.

He remembers her saying “Boots, we’ve done some stupid things in our lives, but this could be the worst”.

Hunting history

Potts became the first Idaho to complete the bighorn sheep grand slam, a successful hunt for four wild sheep in North America – Dall, Stone, bighorn and desert ram.

The Idaho Wild Sheep Foundation Hall of Fame recently honored Potts at its annual banquet “for his legendary contribution to the Big Horn Sheep of Idaho.” He gave his acceptance speech in front of over 800 people and received a standing ovation.

He has directed and outfitted 78 Big Horn Rams for customers all over the world.

“I have guided elk hunters, mountain lion hunters, and bear hunters,” he said. “Every creature I had in my area was legal to hunt.”







Stanley Butts, Cowboy Legend

Stanley Potts talks about a book he wrote in his home north of Buhl.


Drew Nash, Times News


Well…about that downfall.

Potts slipped and fell against a group of jagged rocks. One of his ribs pierced his lung.

Boots was rescued by a helicopter and sent to the hospital in Salmon. But his injuries were too severe and needed more advanced facilities. in Idaho Falls.

“Six days later, they got me out of there alive,” Potts said.

He chronicled the fall and a variety of stories in one of his books, The Potts Factor vs. Murphy’s Law.

He wrote the book on his hospital bed.

Boots factor

Drawn from dozens of encounters and stories, Potts’ book becomes a microcosm of Potts’ life. There is a common theme in these stories and their interpretation.

It’s the name of the book. Boots factor. How could everything Potts do go wrong in one way or another?

Page five of the book outlines Factor Boots. He explains Potts’ life in 31 words and laughs as he says it.

“A proposal that basically says if there’s a 50-50 chance of something going right – you can bet your sweet ass it’s going to go wrong nine times out of 10.”

He explains the mishap at the training pen, accidents, and all the unexpected drop-offs.

Adam Engel is the Times-News’ sports editor. He can be reached by phone at 208-735-3288, via Adam.Engel@magicvalley.com or via Twitter @AdamEngel9.

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