By Katy Nesbitt and Haley J. Bridwell
for Chief Joseph Days Rodeo
Photography by Angelika Ursula Dietrich
The 2019 Chief Joseph Days Rodeo pickup men Matt Twitchell and Mitch Coleman are familiar faces at the Harley Tucker Arena – two men skilled at handling livestock inside and outside the arena.
Hailing from the great rodeo state of Utah, Twitchell was the recipient of the inaugural “Pick up Man of the Year” award at the National Finals Rodeo in 2015 and 2019. The accomplished cowboy said he started riding colts and roping at the age of 14 under the tutelage of pickup man Virgil Neves.
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“Virgil taught how to make money and work hard without having a real job,” Twitchell said.
Lewis Field, another professional pickup man and rodeo coach at nearby Utah Valley University, encouraged Twitchell to attend college on a rodeo scholarship. A year into his college career as a bareback, saddle bronc and bull rider, he said he had his first opportunity to work “picking up.”
Twitchell said, “Lewis had gotten hurt in a snowmobile accident and was unable to work as a pickup man during our rodeo practices at school, so he asked me if I would try it. I really think he just could see that my ability as a pickman was going to go farther than my rough stock riding.”
Twitchell started traveling with Lewis Field and Bob Marriott on long drives across the West to rodeos where he was doing driving and chores. Every now and then he would get to fill in as a pickup man.
“Sometimes I would go with Bob just so he would have someone to talk too,” Twitchell said. “We may start out in Nephi, Utah and I would drive clear to LA.”
Eventually, he gathered a handful of his own jobs. In order to get steady work Twitchell said he courted the infamous Cody Night Rodeo in Cody, Wyoming. during their summer series.
“At one point I worked 84 performances in a row in Cody. After that, there always seemed to be a pickup man jobs available,” Twitchell said.
To supplement his rodeo work, Twitchell worked as a cowhand.
“Ranching on the desert not only kept my cowboy skills sharp, but also kept my horses in shape. It was good to get a break. Sorting cows and riding pastures refreshed both my horses and I mentally. If you ain’t a good cowboy, you ain’t a good pickup man.”
After getting his teeth knocked out while preparing to ship cattle to market, Twitchell got a call from Evelyn Kirby, a stock contractor. She needed him to work a Utah rodeo the next night. He was back in business and his reputation preceded him to the next job. In 2010 Tim Bridwell of Growney Brother’s Rodeo Company hired him sight unseen.
Just three years later Twitchell had his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo showing in 2013.
“I do this (job) because I like it, not for the awards I could win or the money I make.”
Molalla, Ore. cowboy Mitch Coleman helps runs his family’s ranch in the Willamette Valley when he’s not working as a pickup man on the rodeo circuit.
Like Twitchell, Coleman was a competitor before he became a pickup man, riding every event except bareback in high school and at Weatherford College in Texas.
“I didn’t ride bareback because it would beat the piss out of me. It’s hard on your body and I couldn’t do other events,” Coleman said.
Hanging out at the St. Paul Rodeo and Canby rodeos as a kid, Coleman said he met stock contractor John Growney who let him rope bulls starting at the age of 10. Picking up lead from there.
“I picked up my first guy at St. Paul in bronc riding when I was twelve years old. I’m 33 and I’ve been picking up ever since,” Coleman said.