Dean Oliver grew up dirt poor in Idaho. When Dean was 11, in 1940, his father was killed in an airplane crash while hunting coyotes with a partner over the Arco desert. That left Dean’s mom struggling to feed seven kids. So, Oliver dropped out of school during ninth grade in Nampa to help supplement his mother’s income and, frankly, because he couldn’t stop thinking about being a cowboy. It seemed like an impossible dream for a frail kid with a speech defect that caused him to pronounce rodeo and rope as wodeo and wope.
He couldn’t pronounce those words the way they were supposed to sound, but he could rodeo and he could rope. He first got his inspiration when he snuck into the Snake River Stampede and watched a little guy with glasses walk away with $300 in the roping competition. Starting with a beat-up mare he bought for $50, Oliver started to learn how to rope. He got pretty good at it.
He won his first professional roping competition in Jerome, Idaho, in 1952, and just kept on winning. He was the proclaimed the world champion calf roper in 1955. The frail kid from Idaho, by that time, weighed 200 pounds and stood at six three. Nobody cared how he pronounced rodeo.
Dean Oliver still holds the record for most world titles in calf roping with eight, including winning five straight from 1960-1964. He was crowned all-around world champion cowboy three years in a row, 1963-1965.