In 2003, Ed and Manda Bricker weren’t looking for a project. They owned a in Rush Springs, Okla., and already had all the projects they could handle. What they were looking for, though, was . Ed was overrun with responsibilities and he needed a hand. That’s when the Brickers and 18-year-old James Marker found each other.
“He was forced to leave home at an early age and he didn’t come with a whole lot,” Manda remembers. “He and Ed spent a considerable amount of time together each day and developed a father-son kind of relationship based around cattle.”
James shared Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with the Brickers. Though not legally, they all but adopted him as a son—and he became like an older brother to the Brickers’ daughters, Gracie and Sophie. For seven years, he was the son Ed and Manda never had—and never knew how much they wanted. When they left the place in Rush Springs for a new opportunity in Cherokee, there was no question that James would make the move, too.
“When we left Rush Springs, he wanted to come with us because he wanted a better life than what he currently knew,” Manda says. “Anyone who wants a hand up deserves one.”
James was an integral part of the Bricker’s Working Ranch Cowboys Association rodeo team, as well, riding broncs for Alfalfa Land and Cattle. The Brickers helped him establish a line of credit and Marker was buying some cattle, looking to get a start of his own. He even had a girlfriend, and the relationship was getting serious.
“He was learning what it took to be self-sufficient,” Manda says. “Things were really starting to fall in place for him. He was putting away his childish behaviors and starting to become a man. He was coming into his own.
“That was the shocking apart about his death. Right when he had turned that corner and was starting to bloom, he was taken from us.”
In December of 2010, a fire erupted in the house James was living in. He died of smoke inhalation. The Brickers were devastated.
In the wake of his death, the Working Ranch Cowboys Foundation reached out to offer any financial assistance the Brickers might need: funeral costs, headstone, anything. While the Brickers could cover his final expenses, that offer became the impetus for the perfect way to remember James.
“It set off a desire for us to give back,” Manda says. “We know that cowboys are not good about having insurance policies or saving accounts. Sometimes when disaster strikes, they’re not prepared to deal with it financially. Coming from our community, we don’t wait for the government to come save us, we help our own.”
With the help of the local community, they held the James Marker Memorial WRCA Ranch Rodeo. All the proceeds—some $10,000—went straight to the WRCF’s crisis fund. The next year, they had it again and topped that figure.
Now, the Brickers sponsor the WRCF’s largest annual scholarship and it’s given in James’s name. The only requirement is that the recipient be looking for a way to better their situation and willing to take a hand up.
“His legacy is: If you want to do better, you can,” Manda said. “It’s about lifting people up and making good choices. There are those around us who we need to lift up. They’re part of our community and we need to step in.”
If you want to step in and become a member of the WRCA and donate to the cowboy community in crisis, visit wrca.wildapricot.org/Donate