Tuffy Cooper was born November 7, 1925 in Lovington, New Mexico to Alaska J. Cooper (1894-1959) and Tommie Lou Bingham Cooper (1904-1990). His grandparents were James Wesley Cooper (1858-1941) and Iolia M. Weir Cooper (1868-1940) and Thomas Swindell Bingham (1872-1944) and Louella Mae Simcoe Bingham (1874-1950).
Tuffy’s fraternal grandparents came to New Mexico in 1906, settling near Monument. They had at least six children and his father Alaska was about twelve years old when they moved from central Texas. Tuffy said that the trip from Yatesville, Texas to Lea County, which would have been by covered wagon, took three weeks. When his father Alaska was a teenager, he had worked as a ranch hand on the Bingham place, where he likely met his future wife Tommie Lou. The Alaska Cooper family later owned their own ranch.
An obituary said Tuffy started competing in rodeo events in 1935, which would have been when he was about ten years old. In a 2008 interview, he did note that he took his first cattle drive when he was only five years old and recalled helping to drive 200 head of cattle from Monument to Knowles. Tuffy said that the trip took two days and nights.
He said that his experience on the ranch made him a better roper and also remembered an infestation of screw worms in the early 1940s when he and the other cowboys had to treat the cattle. He was only a teenager. Ranch help was hard to come by and the owner of the place hired Tuffy and his brother Jimmy because they were “the only boys in the country who can rope.”
When Tuffy was a student at University of New Mexico, he helped to found the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. He competed in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and won many roping titles as he competed in the calf roping, steer roping and team roping events. After his rodeo career ended, he was a spokesman for the PRCA and remained active in the sport by serving as a judge and rodeo announcer. He was also the author of a booklet of ranch and cowboy sayings called “If You Ride a Slow Horse, You Need a Long Rope,” which appears currently to be out of print.
Tuffy was always quick witted. Once at an event in San Angelo, Texas, the San Angelo Rope Fiesta, he was serving as a flagman for the team roping event. Someone complimented him on the paint horse he was riding. Tuffy said “Yeah, he belongs to Trevor (Brazile), but he’s mine as long as I can stay mounted.”
Tuffy was inducted into the New Mexico School Board Hall of Fame and was a founding member of the Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame. His many honors also include being named as an inductee in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and the Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame in Fort Worth.
Tuffy passed in 2013 and is interred at Prairie Haven Memorial Park in Hobbs, New Mexico.