Tony Bell’s Life After Bull Riding Included A Civil War Wedding

Editor’s Note: Tony Bell of Harveyville, Kansas, was born with partial spina bifida and imperforate anus. Doctors removed his tailbone right after birth and gave him an ostomy and later a colostomy. Doctors at Bell’s birth predicted he never would walk, he only had about 2% bowel control, and doctors didn’t believe he would survive past his 1 year-old birthday. According to Bell today, “All the odds were against me, and doctors told my parents that they’d better not get attached to me, because I wouldn’t be around for very long.” So, from birth,Bell had to learn to fight to survive. Part 5 of a 5-part series.

Tony Bell realized that being a special education teacher was something he could do for the rest of his life.

Tony Bell realized that being a special education teacher was something he could do for the rest of his life.

After bull riding, I began to pursue my singing career. I also took a job at Developmental Services in northwestern Kansas, working with special needs children. I found this job to be incredibly rewarding, and I decided that being a special needs teacher was something I would love to do for the rest of my life. I worked really hard to get a special education degree. I got almost all the way through with my special education degree when my dad called and asked me to come home to help run the family farm, because he was having some health issues. My dad said, “Tony, you’ve got to promise me you’ll go back and finish college later, before I’ll let you come home. Otherwise I’m not going to let you come home.” So, I made the promise. I left everything I had going for me at college, went home and helped on the farm until my dad got better. As soon as Dad got healthy, I started taking classes online to get my special education degree. Today in early 2012, I only lack 8 hours of classwork and doing my student teaching to complete my degree.

We all know that life often has weird twists. While at Coffeyville Community College, I took a course called Living History, where students were invited by the professor to join this class. The professor selected the students to participate who were really interested in history. In the class, we learned about the Civil War. We also learned about one specific battle of the Civil War, what strategic moves were made during the battle, and what the lives and times of Union soldiers were. Then at the end of the class, we lived the lives of Union soldiers for 4 days. During that time, we marched from Coffeyville, Kansas, almost to Cherryvale, probably about 15 miles away, up the old railroad tracks. We were ambushed from time to time by reenactors who posed as Confederate soldiers, and we set up picket lines and camp. We ate salt pork, hardtack biscuits and jerky like Union soldiers actually did during the war. We had to make our own reloads for our blackpowder rifles. This experience was amazing for me. During this 4 day reenactment, one of the Confederates we were “fighting” against, stepped off his horse and hurt his knee. So, we stopped the entire reenactment, and I could see that man was really hurt.

Tony Bell enjoyed living like these Civil War Soldiers. He learned a lot and became passionate about history.

Tony Bell enjoyed living like these Civil War Soldiers. He learned a lot and became passionate about history.

Three years ago, I was singing with my dad and two other guys in a barbershop quartet at a festival, Santa Fe Trail Days in Trinidad, Colorado. A fellow there doing cowboy reenactments recognized me, and immediately I recognized him as the Civil War reenactor I’d helped when he hurt his knee. He came up to me and said, “You’re the guy who helped me up off the ground during the Civil War reenactment.” He invited me to join his Civil War reenactment group. In Civil War reenactment lingo, he’s known as the muleskinner. He drives four mules that pull a Civil War 9 pound parrot cannon. His name is Dr. Boo Hodges from Salina, Kansas, and he owns the cannon. Today I’m a part of his cannon crew. We have several other Civil War reenactors who go to different battles with us. We’ll be in Shiloh, Tennessee, around the end of March and the first of April, reenacting the Battle of Shiloh.

My wife, Lisa, and I got married in period costumes at a Civil War reenactment. She was one of my longtime friend’s little sister. She calls me her old man (I’m 30), and she’s 22 years old. When I have a difficult time getting out of the bed due to all my bullriding injuries, she kiddingly says, “You’re going to become an old man, long before I become an old lady.” Lisa and I decided that we wanted to have a marriage ceremony that was completely off the beaten path, and we wanted to have a Civil War wedding during the Wilson Creek reenactment. The evening after the main battle, we returned to camp and used a preacher who participates in Civil War reenactments to marry us. All of us were dressed in Civil War clothing, as were all our attendants. We got married right in the middle of the Union Camp, and after the ceremony, we walked through a bayonet arch.

Lisa and Tony had a marriage ceremony that was completely off the beaten path, they had a Civil War wedding during the Wilson Creek reenactment.

Lisa and Tony had a marriage ceremony that was completely off the beaten path, they had a Civil War wedding during the Wilson Creek reenactment.

My wife and I really like doing Civil War reenactments. I’m looking forward to my future, finishing my special education degree and becoming a special education teacher. I worked part-time when I returned home to help my dad with our school district in special education, and the school board wants to hire me once I receive my special education degree. I’ve learned to marry my love of history and Civil War reenacting with my future as a special education teacher. I have a great future ahead of me, and I’ve had a colorful past in the rodeo. I’m looking forward to living a long life with my wife and my 2 year-old son Remington. This past year, we started a guided deer and turkey hunt operation on our land and also will be offering coyote and pheasant hunts. I’ve ridden on the wild side, and now I’m ready to live the life of a father, a farmer and a hunting guide. Life is really good, and my future is bright.    

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at

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