Nita Brooks Lewallen
Cowgirl Hall of Fame, Ex 1943
Nita Boyd Brooks Lewallen was born in San Angelo, Texas, in 1923. As a young girl during the hard, lean times of the 1930s, she worked on her family's 30-section ranch south of Sweetwater. With an inherent love for horses and a determined and dedicated spirit, Nita won her first competition saddle at the age of 12 in the Double Hearts Rodeo in 1935. She continued as a serious youth competitor on the rodeo circuit throughout the Southwest.
In 1940, Nita enrolled at Hardin-Simmons University and became one of the first Six White Horse Riders. At the end of the 1940 semester, Nita withdrew from HSU due to the death of her mother, and returned to the campus in 1941. From 1941 to 1943, she was named Freshman Favorite, found time to teach horsemanship while studying business administration, rode with the Six White Horses, and competed in rodeos.
As World War II intensified, Nita began working on her personal plan to help with the war effort. Knowing the Army Air Corps needed women fliers to ferry aircraft into the war zones, she began taking flying instruction and soloed after only four weeks. Her most difficult problem was working out a schedule for riding her horse to the airport, flying, and then galloping back to school. She earned her "airman" certificate and was well on her way toward catching up with her brother Charles, who was completing his instructor rating, when she was selected to ride as a Ranch Girl Honor Guest in an exhibition at the 1943 World Championship Rodeo in Madison Square Garden.
Although she loved the University, she could not pass up this opportunity, which ultimately changed the course of her life. There she would meet and work with cowboy star Roy Rogers for an entire month in New York, and then represent the Southwest for two more weeks at the Boston Garden Rodeo.
While in New York, Nita met Louis Brooks, the 1943-44 World Champion All-Around Cowboy. The couple married in 1944 while Louis was still a professional cowboy. Louis was later inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame at Oklahoma City's National Cowboy Hall of Fame.
When Nita was devastated by her mother's death in 1940, her father, believing that owning land could solve any problem, took her to see a beautiful ranch with a spring-fed valley. She loved the property, and her father made a down-payment for her on the land right then.
By the time she entered Hardin-Simmons, she was already a successful cattle woman, raising Aberdeen Angus cattle on the ranch. After Louis retired from the rodeo circuit, he and Nita continued to develop the property and focused their attention on managing the ranch's horses and cattle.
Through the 1950s, Nita and Louis trained and bred thoroughbred Quarter Horses. After Louis's death in 1983, Nita and her son Louis Jr. honored her husband's wishes to carry on the horse business, maintaining the partnership they had established with Taylor Made Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. The following year, Coax Me Chad, one of the horses Louis and Nita had bred, finished second in the Kentucky Derby. Her most successful horse, Sam Who, won six of 12 races in 1989.
In both 1991 and 1993, Nita was named Texas Breeder of the Year by the Texas Thoroughbred Breeders Association, and in 1990, was appointed to the association's board of directors.
In 1992, she received the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders of America's prestigious Texas State Breeder of the Year honor, presented at Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. She has also been honored with the USDA Soil Conservation Award and the Goodyear Award for Rancher of the Year.
In 1997 Nita was inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, which recognizes "women who have distinguished themselves while exemplifying the pioneer spirit of the American West." It is the only museum in the world dedicated to honoring and documenting the extraordinary accomplishments of women of the American West.
In 1990, after seven years as a widow, Nita married G.K. Lewallen, owner of a Stephenville western store who was a champion bull, saddle bronc, and bareback rider from 1937 to 1956. G.K., was also inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame at Oklahoma City's National Cowboy Hall of Fame. In 1998, both Nita and G.K. were inducted into the Cowboy Walk of Fame in Stephenville.
Nita and G.K. live in Stephenville, but Nita still devotes much of her time to the Sweetwater ranch where she and her family continue to raise cattle, sheep, and thoroughbreds. Her daughter, Leigh Brooks Odom, is an artist and lives in California. Nita has two granddaughters, two grandsons, and two great-grandchildren.
Throughout her many accomplishments, Nita has been described a caring and sincere woman with a soft-spoken, kind manner, and a genuine modesty.
It is the high honor of Hardin-Simmons University to recognize one of her own and to formally induct Nita Boyd Brooks Lewallen into the HSU Hall of Leaders.