Butch Kelly (Kelley) Bronc Rider – Butch Kelley Subject of Artwork by Famous Artist James Bama

By Mike Bowen

Co-author, We Found the Lost Sand Creek Site

Butch Kelley was the subject for a piece of artwork by famed western artist, James Bama, in the early 1970s. The piece is called, “Butch Kelly (Kelley) Bronc Rider.” 

The artwork appeared in the magazine, Southwest Art, in 1980. 

“James Bama was an iconic western artist of modern times,” commented renowned local artist, Justin Young. Bama “captured contemporary western people,” including cowboys. “He’s really well known.” 

Kelley worked as a reenactor in several movies and TV shows. He played one of the Cavalry soldiers that was riding on horseback, racing towards Michael J. Fox, in Back to the Future 3. There is a scene with Fox jumping down into a small cave, out of the way of the approaching soldiers. Kelley can be seen riding right over the top of the cave where Fox was standing. 

Butch competed in rodeos in Wyoming, Colorado and even into Canada in Calgary. 

“Bama would go around rodeos, take photographs and take it back to his studio. From that photograph he would make an oil painting,” Kelley said. The artist approached Butch at a rodeo in Cody, Wyoming and asked if he could do some artwork of him. 

“I had to drag my saddle, my rig and bag, and everything up these long steps up to his studio,” Kelley said. Bama took a lot of photos and gave him $50 for his work. “I thought, oh boy, did I take him for a ride!” He later saw the picture of the oil painting on the cover of Southwest Magazine in May of 1980. “They sold this oil painting at an auction in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I also heard it was on a billboard in Houston (TX) but they put a mustache on me to get around copyright laws.” Copies of the picture were also on display in saloons across Wyoming, Kelley said. 

“The original oil paining sold for $32,000,” he further commented. “He paid me fifty and made thirty-two thousand. And I thought I was taking him for a ride! Little did I know.” 

He still has the chaps he wore for the photograph.

To see more information about Butch’s on-screen work and to see a picture and video of his scene riding over Michael J. Fox, see our blog here: ButchKelley

Kelley played an instrumental role in Chuck and Sheri Bowen’s Sand Creek site discovery. He identified the most important artifact of all, a piece that could only be from the battlefield location. 

The same piece was also identified by Dr. Doug Scott, the National Park Service Sand Creek lead archaeologist, in 1999. He was in the Bowens’ home and spent several hours there looking at and identifying hundreds of artifacts. He tried to not show much expression with what he was looking at, but this piece caused him to show his hand. 

Dr. Scott’s visit was documented with a VHS camcorder. We will be posting this video soon.

The account of Butch identifying the artifact is in chapter seven of our book, We Found the Lost Sand Creek Site. The account of Dr. Scott is also in chapter seven. It includes the full account of all of the artifacts Scott identified.  

To learn about this Sand Creek artifact and its significance to the site discovery, check out our book. This artifact and all of the others the Bowens found provide clarity on how spread out the events were at Sand Creek. No period artifacts have been found below that bluff where the National Park Service says the event took place. According to George Bent and soldier accounts, the Indians fled the village when they saw the soldiers approaching from several miles away. These accounts line up with where artifacts were found. 

We Found the Lost Sand Creek Site is the most well-documented book on Sand Creek. The book is centered around a firsthand account of discovery by Chuck and Sheri Bowen. We only used eyewitnesses, period documents, and period maps for our research. Most books on Sand Creek don’t cite any sources at all—when they do, they often don’t cite any eyewitnesses. The eyewitness accounts don’t line up with the traditional massacre story. How can we know which account is true? The artifacts are the tangible pieces of physical evidence that tells a factual story without any emotion involved. 

Butch Kelley played one of the biggest roles with the Lost Sand Creek Site. The artifact he identified leaves no doubt as to the actual location of the 1864 Sand Creek event. It is such a monumental find, and the story it tells cannot lie. What is that story? 

You can learn more about us, our Sand Creek discovery and book on this website. 

Check out photos of artifacts here:

There are over 100 photos of photos and maps in our book, We Found the Lost Sand Creek Site

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