Pete Morrison

Cowboy Pete: Film Pioneer
By Edna Fiore

Pete Morrison, grandson of the founder of the town of Morrison, was a cattleman’s ideal all around cowhand. He began his career as soon as he could sit a horse. By the time he was seven years old, he was trailing his father’s cattle from the Black Stag Ranch in the Red Rocks to summer pasture in Middle Park—and back—as a full-fledged cowhand. By the time he was a teenager, he had mastered all of the basic skills of cowpunching, including handling any size team that came his way.

He did attend school in Morrison and Idaho Springs when he had to, but his heart wasn’t really in it. By his middle teens he was driving teams for many of the mines north of Idaho Springs and doing a man’s job as motorman, driving the full length of the Argo tunnel. He also worked as hoist operator, topside helper, and general roustabout in many of the larger mines. He next turned out for railroading on the Colorado Southern Railroad, working his way up to a position as engine fireman.

In 1908 fate brought his true calling, when a movie company from Chicago began shooting western films in the Red Rocks area. Pete and his older brothers, Chick and Carl, were brought on board to provide livestock, do stunt riding, and double for the professional actors. Pete soon figured out that in two weeks of moviemaking he could earn as much as he did in a month on the railroad.

When movie director Frank Boggs returned to Colorado in 1910 for more filming, Pete and his brothers rejoined the moviemakers. When the filming here was finished, the Morrison boys moved on to Hollywood with them. Their first movie assignment was to ride shotgun and protect Universal Studios movie outfits on location near San Diego. It was here that Pete first met and soon married Lillian.

Pete did right well in the movies. He even had his own outfit, Lariat Productions, at Universal Studios. Between 1916 and 1928 he directed and played leading roles in many of his own films. All in all he made 204 films, both features and serials. He worked with all of the early Western Movie greats and rodeoed with the likes of ‘Hoot’ Gibson and ‘Bronco Billy’ Anderson.

Talkies came to Hollywood in 1927 and Pete was reduced to playing character parts in films such as Scarface and Cleopatra. He helped young John Wayne learn to ride horseback and was the twenty-mule-team driver in Wayne’s first major western, The Big Trail. Pete and his animals were great favorites of Charlie Chaplin. He ended his Hollywood career providing animals for Chaplin’s comedies.

Pete had purchased a ranch just east of Golden in 1926, and as the depression cast its pall over Hollywood he moved his wife Lillian and youngest son, Cliff, back to Colorado. He established a fine dairy herd and drove the impressive Tivoli Brewery Clydesdale teams in parades, at the Stock Show, and for other public functions.

Reprinted from the program for the 3rd Annual Morrison Cowboy Celebration, 1998. Copyright to the author.

Addendum by editor: Pete was visiting his son in Hollywood when he died on February 5, 1973. He is buried at the Golden Cemetery with Lillian and the rest of his illustrious family.