Meet the REAL Kowboy Jake: Pete Clemons
Walking through downtown Kissimmee, it’s easy to spot the influence that ranching and the sport of rodeo have on this old kowtown. From the mini cowboy boots inlaid on the sidewalks to pictures of a cowboy riding a bronc built into the lamp posts, it’s safe to say that Kissimmee and Osceola County hold their cowboys in high esteem.
In May, more than 600 seniors graduated from Osceola High School after spending years at sporting events, and pep rallies alongside the school’s iconic mascot, Kowboy Jake. Many of those graduates have no idea that Kowboy Jake was drawn after a real Florida cowboy, much less one who is considered by many to be the best-known and best-loved cattleman in the state.
With high school graduations taking place and the 137th Silver Spurs Rodeo happening this weekend, we thought it was time to record this story for the history books, so we sat down with Otis “Pete” Clemons to hear about how he came to be the model for Osceola’s historic Kowboy Jake.
Originally born in Kissimmee to parents Oscar Clemons and Theressa Bronson Clemons (both of pioneer Florida cattle families), you could say ranching was in Otis Clemons’ blood. Growing up, Otis would help work on cattle ranches in Osceola and Highlands counties. Otis actually got his nickname “Pete” when his father was working cattle for Irlo Bronson, and Mrs. Bronson decided to start calling him Pete. He doesn’t know many who ever knew him as Otis, as most people just call him Pete.
Like a lot of teenage boys, Pete competed in many sports in high school. While he enjoyed playing baseball, basketball, and football, Pete’s favorite activity after school was – you guessed it – rodeo. Going professional at age 16, Pete was actually able to put himself through college with all the money he earned as a rodeo athlete (a whopping $75 to $100 per rodeo in prize money!). As a 10-time Florida rodeo champion, it’s safe to say that Pete was making a name for himself in the world of rodeo, at least in the southeast.
In 1949, Pete Hunt from the Kissimmee Chamber of Commerce asked Pete if he would represent the Kissimmee Jaycees at the National Jaycees Rodeo in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Honored by the request, Pete couldn’t refuse! So he bought a pickup truck and fixed it up to look like a chuckwagon for his westward journey. Pete’s friend Buster Kenton drew a cartoon of Pete and called it “Kowboy Jake”. In Colorado Springs, he won the All Around title, showing many of the western cowboys that Florida not only had real cowboys, but that we also knew a thing or two about rodeo.
“We drove from here to Colorado Springs and entered the rodeo there and it was limited to the members of the organization…[but] Larry and I [ended] up winning more money than any of the cowboys out west. That was kind of strange to ’em,” Clemons told us of his experience representing the Kissimmee Jaycees in Colorado.
When Pete returned from Colorado Springs, the Kowboy Jake character was adopted as the mascot of Osceola High School. Pete continued competing in rodeos until he was 37. During his rodeo career, he won eight Silver Spurs Rodeo All Around titles, and he even went to Argentina as the rodeo ambassador for the United States of America.
For over 60 years, Kowboy Jake has represented Osceola High School, Osceola County, and the United States as a force to be reckoned with in the rodeo world. Now, at 89, Pete lives in Okeechobee with his wife Susanne, and you can still find Pete managing the Okeechobee Livestock Market with his two sons, Jeff and Todd.