COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – ProRodeo Hall of Fame rough stock cowboy Alvin Nelson, the first world champion saddle bronc rider from North Dakota, died early on Dec. 23 in Grassy Butte, N.D. He was 80.
During a 20-year PRCA career, Nelson won his gold buckle in 1957, a reserve world championship in 1960 and claimed two average crowns at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (1961-62) – winning two rounds each time.
He finished among the top 15 saddle bronc riders in the world eight times from 1955-66, including five qualifications for the Wrangler NFR (1960-62, 1964 and 1966).
His 1957 world saddle bronc riding title ended a string of six consecutive titles won by fellow ProRodeo Hall of Famers Casey Tibbs and Deb Copenhaver.
He also was the all-around champion of the 1961 Wrangler NFR and three times finished among the top 10 in the all-around world standings, including a fourth-place result in 1957 and a fifth-place in 1955, a year in which he also finished fifth in the bareback riding world standings.
Nelson was one of five children born to Mobridge, S.D., ranchers Tobias and Agnes Nelson, the descendent of Norwegian immigrants. In 1950, at age 16, he left the family ranch and competed in his first rodeo, in Java, S.D. The slightly-built, skinny kid (5-4, 140 pounds at his peak) won the cow riding and $17. A career was born.
“It wasn’t much,” Nelson told an interviewer in 2009, “but it sure was lots easier than milking cows all week for maybe less money. Winning also made me want to enter more rodeos for fun and maybe even more money.”
Just two years after that first ride on a cow, Nelson won the National High School Finals Rodeo saddle bronc riding title in Augusta, Mont.
In 1953, he moved to western North Dakota and began rodeoing professionally with brothers Jim and Tom Tescher. His specialty was saddle bronc riding, but Nelson also competed in bareback riding and bull riding, and was known for his furious spurring style.
Nelson was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2004, and is also a member of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, the South Dakota Hall of Fame and the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame.
He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Kaye, a former Miss Rodeo North Dakota, and their son, Louis.
The funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Dec. 31 at the First Lutheran Church in Watford City, N.D.
Courtesy of PRCA