The synonym for trailblazer in the Kainai Nation was Rufus Goodstriker?—?in rodeo, politics, boxing, chuckwagon racing, horse racing and spiritual healing.
Rufus was born July 26, 1924 to Frank Goodstriker Sr. and Marion Weasel Fat, and was one of the foremost Kainai athletes ever produced, at a time when Indian cowboys and horse race owners were not treated with respect.
To quote another trailblazing Kainai cowboy, two-time Canadian calf roping champion Fred Gladstone: “Many white cowboys used to complain about their treatment in towns and hotels… just imagine how we Indians felt!”
Rufus was a standout in many sports. He is still the only First Nations athlete to win the J.B. McDonald high-point award twice in a row (1957?–?1958) at the Calgary Stampede, an award going to the top aboriginal money-winner at the big show.
In 1960 at Foremost, a week before Willie Little Bear died at Calgary in the novice bronc riding, Rufus won the steer decorating in 2.7 seconds. “The next day I won the Raymond Businessmen’s Derby on the race track, and would you believe I was also in the last section of the steer decorating in the rodeo,” he told me as we sat in the old wooden grandstand at Whoop-Up Downs three decades ago. “When I backed into the chute I realized it was the same steer I had the day before in Foremost and I was on the same horse, Big Red, with the same hazer, Tom Duce. I nodded my head and put the ribbon on in 2.9 seconds.”
For many years Rufus was a top race horse breeder and trainer, really making his mark at the Raymond Businessman’s Derby, a B-track event of great distinction. During his era Rufus was driving chuckwagons in Calgary, the Cheyenne Frontier Days, Lethbridge and on other major tracks. It was a sport he took to with great enthusiasm and success. The Rufus Goodstriker Memorial Horse Race is run each fall at Whoop-Up Downs in Lethbridge to honour the accomplishments of this family patriarch and horseman.
Another of the early horsemen, Angus MacDonald —?the colourful, story-telling Angus was 87 in 2009 when he died?—?ran into Rufus in Calgary.
During World War II, the two soldiers crossed paths, and fists. “Rufus was in the military the same time I was and we were both fighters. I used to spar with him, despite the fact he was a light heavyweight and I was a welterweight. We sparred a lot and he was a good boxer, very scientific. A few years after the war, I was training horses in Calgary and one day, along came Rufus. We got to BS’ing about the old times and before long he asked me to train some of his horses.”
One of the Goodstriker horses Angus remembered was More Moolah, a stud Rufus had purchased in the United States and brought to the Kainai. Sweep Up, also a Goodstriker horse, won the vaunted Raymond Businessmen’s Derby in 1960, with Herman Eagle Plume aboard. In 1975, Rufus ran second, and then in 1978 Rufus brought Whistling Fred to Raymond and took the Derby again, with Alfred Blood aboard.
“I didn’t have the money for the good horses like the big time guys had,” Rufus said. “I mainly had three-legged horses we doctored up to run.”
As a boxer Rufus fought 34 times, 12 as an amateur. His only loss came as an amateur, to Laurie McLean of Lethbridge, later an Alberta judge. “Boxing was not a business for me, it was just a way to pass through the winter,’” Rufus said with a grin. He also played goal in hockey for St. Mary’s. “I had never skated before, so they put me in goal.” Fast hands and sharp eyes kept him in the game for years.
Rufus was first married to Christina and they had four children before her death, he then married Celina, with whom he had six more children.
Among his none-sporting accomplishments, Rufus spent 20 years as director of the Cross Bell Youth Camp and Dude Ranch and served with many tribal spiritual societies. Son Leon has completed a DVD about his father, Sacred Journey, documenting Rufus’ journey through life, centering on the Youth Camp.
It is said when Rufus was, in effect, the truant officer for the early residential schools, no one ran away on his watch?—?his horses were just too fast.
When Rufus retired from sports, he became a herbalist and a respected healer. He received several commemorative medals from the Governor General of Canada and also served as an RCMP Special Constable. His stoic features were ideal for Hollywood and he was a member of the Kainai Council. Rufus became the first elected head chief of the Kainai Nation in 1964.
Rufus Goodstriker died June 30, 2003. He is buried in the Blood Band Cemetery on the reserve near Standoff, Alberta.