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Phil Baird: Looking back at early days of the Indian rodeo circuit

The following story was researched and compiled by Phil Baird for the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

A drawing of Tom Three Persons, the 1912 bronc riding champ at the first Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Alberta, Canada.

Looking back at the early days of Indian rodeo
Researched and compiled by Phil Baird, Sicangu Lakota

In 1912, the Rosebud Sioux Reservation town of White River, S.D. held its first Independence Day celebration with bronco busting, roping contests, and a “sham” battle by the local Indians. The Sicangu Lakota Indians had already planned a huge celebration, and a town meeting of non-Indians decided to join and “cooperate with our Indian brothers.” There was a heavy rain the first two days of the 4-day event. Ned Bearheels won the cowboy race. On Sunday evening, July 7th, a nearby cyclone did some damage in town.

At the 1912 Standing Rock Tribal Fair held in Fort Yates, Martin Medicine of Wakpala remembered winning the saddle bronc riding contest. The U.S. army veteran would later become SRST chairman, serving 1944-1945 after 15 years on the Tribal council.

At the first Calgary Stampede Rodeo (1912), Blood Indian cowboy Tom Three Persons, 24, of Standoff, Alberta claimed first in the bronc riding on September 3rd after riding the famous bucking horse of the time, Cyclone, to the required standstill. He won the world bronc riding championship title, a hand-made saddle, and $1,000. According to historian Morgan Baillargeon, Three Persons was the only Canadian to win first place at the 1912 Calgary Stampede.

American Indian rodeo cowboys George Defender, 28, and Howard Wanna were reportedly entered at the first annual Beulah, N.D. rodeo held in 1919. One of the organizers, Ed Boland, provided a brief history about the beginnings of the rodeo to the Beulah Independent newspaper. Other organizers included A.D. Brown and George Slowey. Some of the contestants were Charles Blake, Ben Jones, Jack Nagel, Max Siegel, Chet Smith, Frank Two Bears, Billy Walton, Carmichael boys, and the Packineau boys. The bucking horses used for the rodeo came from the old HS Ranch operated by Gordon Schaffner.

Adam Marshall of Rosebud, S.D. won the saddle bronc riding at the 2nd annual Frontier’s Day & Roundup, August 18-20, 1920 at Interior, S.D. A $2,000 bucking horse contest was advertised. Some of the 80+ bucking horses came from Ramsey Watkins. Contestants included lady bronc riders. Cowboys and spectators alike camped around the town for the celebration that featured exhibition dances by Oglala Lakota Indians.

Judges were John Craven, Kadoka; Johnny Mullen, Engle, N.M. and Frank Hart, Scenic. Dude Rounds was reported to have organized the huge celebration that ran out of water, food and gas for the audiences which had traveled long distances, some by Milwaukee Railroad, and camped near the rodeo arena.

Average winners: SB – 1. Adam Marshall 2. Ken Cooper, Ft. Pierre 3. Happy Burmeister, Los Angeles, CA. Ladies Bronc Riding – 1. Kitty Canutt 2. Princess Mohawk 3. Myrtle Cox. Steer Roping – 1. Hugh Strickland; 2. Chester Beyers; 3. John Craven, Kadoka; 4. Jack Close, Carter. Steer Wrestling - 1. Paddy Ryan, Ismay, Mont. 2. Jack Wells, Kadoka 3. Dutch Sidel, Geyser, Mont. Ladies Indian race – 1. Esther Quiver 2. Spotted Horse.

Native American contestants included Bob Brave Bird, Wasso; William Bull Tail, Cedar Butte; Bill Circle Eagle, Faith; Jason Elk Thunder, Cherry Creek; Alfred Fast Horse; Henry “Hank” Fogg, Bailey; Tex Janis, Pine Ridge; Charles Little Dog and George Little Dog, Wasso; Charley Rock, Porcupine; Albert Whipple, Cutmeat; Alex Whipple, Wasso.

The American Legion sponsored the 4th annual Frontier Days Roundup rodeo, August 23-25, 1922 at Interior, S.D. Native American cowboys competing in the bronc riding included Ed Arcoren, Guy Lambert, Alex Larvie, and Yellow Thunder. Lambert took second in the bareback riding. Iron Crow and Jake Herman were entered in the calf roping. Rodeo judges – Toots Ayres, Belle Fourche; James Wilde and Frank Hart, Scenic.

American Indian cowboys showing up at the 1927 McLaughlin, S.D. Fair and rodeo: Martin Medicine, Sam Looking Back, Joshua Spotted Horse, Joe Marshall, Dan Uses Arrows, Joe Good (Voice) Elk, Sam Long Feather, Sam Cadotte, One Feather, Jerry Agard, Bill Eagleman, Jim Kills Alive, Leonard Fox and Henry Ankle.

Rodeo cowboys of Ziebach County’s Cheyenne River Reservations (1920s): Buster Lafferty, Steve Arpan, Dick Dunn, Barney Meland, and Beanie Shannon. It was reported that Syd Nordvold won the bronc riding three consecutive times at the Dupree, S.D. rodeo. Notable bucking horses included “Sausage” (Wilber Rudy, owner) and “Croppie” (Art Bentley). (PB/South Dakota’s Ziebach County, History of the Plains, Ziebach Co. Historical Society, 1982, pgs. 202-218)

A large meeting of the Council of American Indians was organized by the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce on July 30 - August 2, 1929 in Rapid City, S.D. The purpose of the gathering was to identify issues important to Indian tribes (e.g., education, employment for youth, and conversion of Rapid City Indian School to a sanitorium). Robert High Eagle served as temporary chair. Presiding congressional representatives included Senator Peter Norbeck and Congressman William Williamson.

An all-Indian rodeo using Russ Madison stock was held Tuesday afternoon, July 30th at the Alfalfa Palace Fairgrounds. Contestants included Ray Eagle, Tom Bowman, Paul Fills Pipe, and Moses Two Bulls. Among the horse racers were James White Bear Claws, Wonder Bear, Eagle Shirt, Mable White Magpie, Ella Kills Warrior, Pipe on Head, Percy Kills Warrior, Rose Black Feather, Nellie Spotted Bear, Lousita Eagle Hawk, Kate Looking Cloud, and Margaret Uses Arrow. There was also a 15-member all-Indian band.

At 8th annual Days of ’76 rodeo held August 6 - 8, 1931 in Deadwood, S.D., there were several Native American events. Day One: Indian men’s race – 1. Willie White Bear; 2. Frank Bear Nose; Indian females’ race; –1. Julia Bear Nose; 2. Ida White Magpie; Teepee race; 1. Susie Kills Alone & Julia Bear Nose 2. Julia Spider Backbone & Alice White Magpie. Day Two: Indian men’s race – 1. David Little Bear 2. David Mesteth; Indian females’ race – 1. Julia Bear Nose 2. Ida White Magpie. Day Three – Indian men’s race – 1. Little Bear 2. Mesteth. Indian females’ race – 1. Mrs. Little Bear 2. Mrs. Mesteth. Teepee race – 1. Jennie Hawk & Mary Make Shine 2. Julia Kills Alone & Julia Bear Nose. Eddie McCarty/Verne Elliott stock.

On North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, the “Shell Village Cowboys Society” was organized to hold weekly practice rodeos beginning in the spring and continuing through the summer. In April 1933, contestants included Tom Birdbear, Charles Birdsbill, Joe Black Bear, Buster Bracklin, Tom Bulls Eye, George Dragswolf, Jim Driver, Albert Fox, Guy Fox, Minot Grady, Benedict Grant, Gary Jerome, Dan Manyribs, Francis Stevenson, George Wolf and Richard Wolf. Zeibach Co. rodeo cowboys (1940s): Chauncey Mandan, Lee Garrett, Johnny Iron Lightning, Delbert “Bud” Day, and Steve Charging Eagle. (PB/South Dakota’s Ziebach County, History of the Prairie, 1982, pgs. 202-218)

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