The legacy that is Cactus started 25 years ago when a couple farmers and a NFR rodeo cowboy had the idea to start a team rope company. Little did they know two and a half decades later, their brand would be one of the most recognized and valued names in the entire western industry.
“Cactus” Jack Stephenson grew up ranching, training horses, and rodeoing in south Texas. His list of his accomplishments in the rodeo arena are many, including a trip to the NFR where he headed for his son Jacky. Jack also won the very first George Strait Team Roping Classic with Jacky and then won it a second time with Rich Skelton. That was the first time George gave trucks to the champions. While in the middle of rodeoing, breaking colts, and riding feedlots, “Cactus” Jack as they called him, also thought it would be a great time to start a rope company. He needed some help for his big idea to get kicked off, and ended up calling on two good friends; Joe Mathews and Mike Piland.
Before Mike got the call from Cactus Jack, he and his partner were farming, ranching and ginning cotton in the Winter Garden area south of San Antonio, Texas. When Jack approached Mike and Joe about the idea of a rope company, none of them had any idea how to make a rope, but they decided to give it a go. With that Cactus Ropes was born.
“The guy pulled up and unloaded about 50 million pieces out of the back of his truck and trailer and then just drove off!” Mike said. “We bought this old string twisting machine and it was the most complicated thing I’d ever seen! It didn’t have an instruction manual, parts list, or nothing!”
Mike and Cactus Jack, with lots of help from Barry Berg and others, got the twisting machine up and running and eventually started producing their first rope; the Bad Boy. Jack’s other son Robb was the first to learn to correctly coil the ropes and was instrumental in creating a rope that felt good to the customers.
“Allen Bach was the guy who helped us tweak the body and feel of those first ropes until we got them just right” Jack said. “We pulled another kid out of the feedlot (Barry Berg) and he came on board to tweak the machinery, work with Allen, and help test all the new ropes.”
Fast forward to today and Jack is still roping and training horses around Pleasanton, Texas. Mike still goes to the rope shop every day, Robb is still on the rope floor coiling away, and that kid they pulled out of the feedlot, Barry Berg, is now the General Manager of the whole business.
Through some purchases and acquisitions, the Cactus brand also grew into one of the largest saddle companies in the United States, as well as becoming a household name in leg protection and horse blankets. Cactus Saddlery now builds all the PRCA World Champion saddles, WNFR Average Saddles, The American Saddles, World Series Finale saddles and also supplies American Made trophy products to most all major roping and rodeo associations in the country. Cactus Gear has a full line of leg protection and equine products that are used by horse owners of all disciplines. Cactus also produces the full line of Trevor Brazile’s Relentless products including ropes, sport boots, saddles, tack and pads. Many other professionals look to the Cactus brand including barrel racers like Fallon Taylor who partnered up with Cactus to design and introduce the Dynamic Edge line of tack, pads, leg protection, and barrel saddles. HeelOMatic Training Systems also joined the team along the way, and the top Cactus Cowboys in the game, such as Clay O’Brien Cooper, Chad Masters, and Jake Long are constantly helping with ideas and designs that will help ropers with practice and horsemanship.
The Cactus story is one of passion, drive and vision. Jack, Mike, Barry, the Cactus Crew, and everyone over the 25 years that had a hand in building the company are proud, honored, and humbled to be associated with a brand that has stood the test of time. If you are ever in south Texas around San Antonio, come on over. Mike will tell you the whole story and you will more than likely end up in the rope room with Barry and Robb swinging the newest innovation in nylon and poly technology.
Written by: Dru Stewart