by Kendra Santos, PRCA Director of Communications | Sep 22, 2015
Deadwood deserves a line on everybody’s bucket list for the beauty of the Black Hills alone. It’s been on mine for decades now, and I finally got my chance this summer. I knew it was a cowboy favorite, based on the 15 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rodeo Committee of the Year awards, which are voted on by members. The Deadwood Days of ’76 Rodeo picked up four straight Small PRCA Rodeo Committee of the Year (for rodeos with less than $3,000 added per event) awards from 1998 through 2001, and has swept the Medium PRCA Rodeo Committee of the Year awards (for rodeos with $3,000 to $9,999 added per event) since that category was created in 2004.
The Days of ’76 each summer celebrate this scenic Dakota Territory. The first Days of ’76 celebration, rodeo and parade was held in 1924, and this year’s 91st edition of the tradition-rich, tiny-town treasure was held July 21-25.
The gold rush of 1876 attracted the likes of gun-fighting gambler Wild Bill Hickok and frontierswoman and scout Calamity Jane to Deadwood, and today the entire town is a Registered National Historic Landmark. Hickok met his maker while playing poker in Deadwood on Aug. 2, 1876, when a buffalo hunter by the name of Jack McCall, AKA Crooked Nose Jack, shot him in the back in Deadwood’s Saloon No. 10. Hickok held aces and eights in his hand of five-card draw, which is why that’s now known as the “Dead Man’s Hand.” McCall was tried twice, hanged and buried with the noose still around his neck.
Deadwood’s been special to this sport since the start. Who better to explain why generation after generation of rodeo cowboys and fans feel that way than some of South Dakota’s most legendary native sons and ProRodeo Hall of Famers? Bareback riding big dogs Marvin and Mark Garrett, the bronc riding Etbauer brothers, all-around timed-event great Paul Tierney and four-time World Champion Bulldogger Ote Berry will have a special spot in their hearts for Deadwood ’til the day they die. Here’s why…
Marvin Garrett, who won four world bareback riding titles in 1988-89 and 1994-95 and was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1998, was born in Belle Fourche, S.D. At 52, he now lives in Rozet, Wyo., 14 miles out of Gillette. He runs bucking horses and drives big equipment at a coal mine. He just built an indoor arena, and his old Dream Team of traveling partners—Marvin, brother Mark, Ken Lensegrav and Larry Sandvick—plan to hold a bareback riding school there this Nov. 13-15.
“Every state has rodeos that stand out, and in South Dakota, Deadwood and (the Black Hills Roundup in) Belle Fourche stand out in my mind,” Marvin said. “You get back to the roots of where rodeo started, and there’s just a different feeling at certain rodeos.
“As a kid going there and watching Deadwood, then later on competing there, I think of the old wooden chutes. The red diamond with the 76 in the middle will always be special to me. They’ve renovated the arena, but they kept it Old West. A lot of rodeo towns don’t capitalize on their history, but Deadwood does. Cheyenne does. Fort Worth does. It’s all grown up now, but Fort Worth’s an old cattle town at heart. The more a city backs where they came from instead of trying to change with the times, the more respectable they are.”
Naturally, maximizing added money means the most to cowboys trying to make a living. But it’s not the only thing that factors into their gut feeling about a rodeo. “Deadwood sits in that canyon in the middle of the Black Hills,” Marvin said. “The beauty of it is something else, and people are attracted to that, whether you’re talking about prospectors and the gold mine or cowboys and the rodeo. Rodeos that stick to their Western heritage are cool, and us cowboys recognize that.”
Marvin’s personal Western heritage dates back to Deadwood. “When I was young and started to ride bareback horses, they had a night rodeo up there,” he said. “A guy who raised bucking horses and had some really good ones put it on. When I was just getting to where I could win, I went up there religiously every time they had it. I was working in a sawmill in Hulett, Wyo., up by Sundance, and the owner would let me off early so I could go make that rodeo in Deadwood. I’d go up there all the time.
“I remember one time I had a flat tire on my ’69 LeMans on the way up there and photo finished it. I had a Chris LeDoux tape in the eight-track player, and I was listening to his song ‘Photo Finish’ when it happened. My mom (Mary) had just gotten done telling me, ‘Boy, Marv, maybe you shouldn’t go up there every time and save your money.’ I said, ‘No, Mom, it’s about to happen.’ That’s when I won it the first time. It cost 40 bucks to enter and you could only win about $90. But the mental payoff was huge, and the confidence builder it gave me to keep pursuing a career riding bucking horses was everything.”
Mary took her kids—Marvin, Mark, Juan, Javon and Marlene (brother Kurt DeYoe came along a little later, and has served five tours as a tank commander in the Army)—to Deadwood to watch her brothers and their uncles, Bud and Kenny Day, compete.
“That’s what we lived for—to rodeo,” Marvin said. “And Deadwood was a big part of those years where we got introduced to bareback riding, so it’s got a big place in my heart. I won Deadwood in 1983, when I had my permit, so I filled my permit at Deadwood. I had a little paint horse of Sutton’s they called Juicy Fruit. He wasn’t one of the horses guys wanted, but with all the excitement of getting my permit and wanting to fill it, that horse obliged me, circled around to the right and I won Deadwood. I waited and got my card that next year, in 1984, and ended up winning rookie of the year. So that was a really cool day for me.”
Marvin split the bareback riding title with Mark in Deadwood another year, but laughs to this day that little brother took the trophy spittoon awarded the champ, “and is still one up on me there.”
Marvin was born in South Dakota, then the family moved to Aladdin, Wyo., after his fifth-grade year. So he basically feels a dual-citizenship bond with both states. “South Dakota’s always been a great place to live, as is Wyoming,” he said. “I feel really fortunate to be in an area where I like the country and the kind of people who live up here. People help their neighbors. They’re good Americans. I’m pretty proud of the people who live in this area, and I’ll always try to live up to the history here. I try to live every day like it’s my last. That’s how I rode. Safetying up was not my style.”
Little brother Mark Garrett just turned 50 on Aug. 19, and earlier this month joined Marvin in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. Mark was born in Gettysburg, S.D. He now hangs his hat in Belle Fourche, where he rides a few young horses. If his memory serves, Mark won Deadwood, “Three times or better. Kenny (Lensegrav) won it a bunch, too. That was our rodeo.
“Deadwood was always one of my favorite rodeos. The committee there was always really good, and that was one of the first rodeos down in the United States where you’d show up and see four or five stock contractors at that son of a gun. They’ve always gone out of their way for the cowboys.”
Mark’s most memorable ride in Deadwood happened one year on a sorrel-and-white-paint Korkow horse. “I can’t remember his name, but he went to the Finals several times in the bareback riding and bronc riding, and he was a fun-feeling, high-leaping, good bugger. I won Deadwood on him one year, and that’s the ride that really stands out in my mind. He went out there and angled straight across the arena. He jumped and kicked, and was hanging in the air for what felt like forever.”
Mark, who won the world in 1996, shares Marvin’s pride in their native South Dakota, where Deadwood’s one of several crown jewels for cowboys. “I grew up in this country and it’s dang sure home,” Mark said. “There are so many good people here. There are everywhere, but I know a lot of them here. I love Deadwood. It’s a scenic, beautiful part of the country with so much history. Back in the day, it was a rough little town. And it’s always been something special as a rodeo town.”
Billy Etbauer, 52, and Robert Etbauer, 54, were both born in Huron, S.D., and grew up with the third over-the-top-talented brother in the notorious Etbauer Gang, Danny Etbauer, 50, in rural Ree Heights, S.D. “It’s just a little stop in the road, but it was home,” said Billy, who won world titles in 1992, 1996, 1999, 2000 and 2004, and like Robert, who won gold buckles in 1990-91, was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2012.
Billy’s based in Edmond, Okla., now, where he raises and trains horses, hauls his family to barrel races and ropings, boards recipient mares for Embryo Transfer Services and continues to ride for the Express Ranches brand.
“Deadwood takes you back to the old cowboy days,” Billy says. “When we’d go to the rodeo in Deadwood, we were never sure there wouldn’t be a gunfight when we got there. That rodeo always takes you back to the old days. There are still gunfights in the streets of Deadwood, and it’s such pretty country that you can see why the outlaws hung out there.
“I like everything about that rodeo, and I always had a lot of family and friends around there at that one. It’s just always been really cool. The money always comes into play. It was one of the better rodeos when I first got started, and it always kept getting better.”
Robert, who’s been coaching at Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell, alongside honorary fourth Etbauer brother Craig Latham the last several years, misses the rolling hills and green grass of Ree Heights and looks back fondly on his South Dakota youth. Danny lives in Goodwell, too, starts a lot of colts and, like his brothers, is always happy to help the kids trying to follow in their famous footsteps.
“We went to Mount Rushmore and some of those tourist places when we were kids, and had a lot of fun,” Robert said. “When we were rodeoing, we looked forward to Deadwood every year. It’s part of our home state, and the committee and town have always gone to a lot of work to keep their part of history going. They’ve put in a lot of time and went to a lot of expense to keep the tradition alive as they always kept improving the grounds and arena.”
One ride really stands out for Robert at Deadwood, though it wasn’t for fame or fortune. “I think I was still on my permit, and I got on an eliminator of Brookman’s, a hard-to-ride son of a gun,” Robert remembers. “A cameraman was in the arena with a TV camera on his shoulder and he was dragging a power cord. He was right in our path, and that horse I was on went at him, bucking the whole time. I thought we were going to hit him every jump, but somehow that guy stayed on his feet and never got bit, kicked or pawed.
“The whistle blew, and when that horse hit the old crow’s nest that had plywood up above it, all that plywood fell down on me and that horse. We finally got out of the storm, and the pickup man got me off of him. I don’t know that I won any money, but it was pretty entertaining and it was a ride I’ll never forget. How nobody got hurt I will never know, but I do know I’ll never forget it.”
Robert’s not sure he’d survive the winters at this stage of the game, but really misses the South Dakota summertime. “We enjoyed every bit of growing up there, and we still have a lot of friends and relatives in South Dakota,” he said. “Deadwood’s a town with a lot of history in it. We heard stories about it when we were kids, then we got to live it as cowboys.”
All three Etbauer brothers are proud of their humble beginnings in South Dakota, and through their fairytale success that humility never wavered. Though they all live far from where they grew up, the ranch is still a beloved part of the family. “South Dakota’s full of good people, and you get to play cowboy there on a daily basis,” Billy said. “A lot of bronc riders (the likes of the legendary Casey Tibbs) and great cowboys in every event come from that country. I’m grateful I got to play cowboy growing up, and am glad I got to grow up in a place where neighbors still help neighbors.”
Paul Tierney, the 1979 world champion tie-down roper and 1980 world champion all-around cowboy, was technically born in Kearney, Neb., but since he’s spent two-thirds of his life living in South Dakota he’s like Marvin in claiming two states as home. Paul, who was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2008, attended college at the National College of Business in Rapid City and never left.
These days, Paul lives in a little country town down by the southern edge of the Black Hills called Oral, S.D. He raises cows, and they train horses as a family—wife, Robin, and kids, Paul David, Amy and Jordan, included. Paul’s other son, Jess, just married wife Teresa in July, and does the same on his own place. At 63, Paul is still in prime shape and continues to compete in the Badlands Circuit.
“I go clear back at Deadwood,” Paul remembers. “We used to have a college rodeo at Deadwood in the spring, and nine days out of 10 it rains that time of year, so it was always a muddy mess. One of the many improvements they made there over the years is completely redoing their ground, so it can take a lot of water and still be good. I love that they’ve left their old-style wood grandstand as is, because that’s a historic grandstand. The committee respects all the history, and has done a great job of bringing that rodeo along, raising their purse and improving it. They’ve catered to the cowboys since I started going to Deadwood 40 years ago, in 1975.”
Paul kick-started his professional cowboy career with a third-place bulldogging check at Deadwood in 1976, 100 years after the town was founded. “I rode (four-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo steer wrestler) Fred Larsen’s horse, and it was my biggest check to that point. The stars were in town, and little old beginner Paul Tierney won third on Erv Korkow’s big, grass-fed steers. That’s a happy memory from my meager beginnings.”
Paul says the beauty of the Black Hills and the “banana-belt weather” were his two biggest draws in setting down permanent stakes in the Mount Rushmore State.
“They take care of business at Deadwood, and they even have a (Days of ’76) museum on the grounds that’s a tribute to the South Dakota cowboys,” he said. “It’s just a great, historic rodeo in a great, historic town. Deadwood’s a rodeo from yesteryear that they just keep making better.”
Ote Berry was born in Rapid City, and the caboose of Buster and Mary Lou Berry’s six kids was raised in the rural Badlands ranch country of Scenic, S.D. He worked his way out of the hay fields wrestling steers, and won world titles in 1985, 1990-91 and ’95 before being inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1998.
Ote traveled the better part of his competitive career with the ultimate icon in his event, Roy Duvall, and has been like a brother and a son to both Roy and his brother Bill in Checotah, Okla., since buying his place there with bulldogging earnings from his first NFR, which he won, in 1985. These days, Ote’s hauling and hazing for up-and-coming bulldoggers, thanks to a friendship and partnership with another old bulldogger friend, Brandon Turney. Ote’s still based in Oklahoma, but his memories of growing up a ranch kid in South Dakota never fade.
“When they think of South Dakota, most people think of bronc riders,” said Ote, who rode horseback miles each way to the one-room school house on Kube Table near Scenic alongside his brothers, Bruce and (NFR bulldogger and judge) Wade, and sisters, Deb, Roxanne and Tracy. “But those bronc riders were ranch cowboys, too, just like the rest of us. That’s what I was most proud of growing up on a ranch—being a cowboy first. The Badlands is big ranching country, and wide-open cowboy country.”
One of Ote’s earliest memories from Deadwood was being tossed up in the air and caught—over and over again—by Hall of Fame cowboy great Dean Oliver. Ote grew up playing with his brothers and sisters under those grand wooden stands that are still there at Deadwood, and will always hold those happy memories dear. To this day, you won’t catch Ote sitting with his back to a door, and that all started with hearing all about the legend of Wild Bill Hickok up in Deadwood when he was little.
“I remember loading up in a car with a two-horse trailer on the back with Mom, Dad and all six of us kids, and heading to Deadwood,” Ote remembers well. “That wood grandstand is huge, but when you’re a little guy it seems even bigger. There were Indian dancers, re-enactments of Wild Bill getting killed, and oxen pulling wagons, all at the rodeo.
“For me, the biggest highlight of all was meeting the cowboys. Guys like Dean Oliver were so nice to me, and I was the kid who asked all my heroes for their autograph. My dad was a circuit cowboy, and the big rodeos for me back then were Deadwood, Belle Fourche, Rapid City and St. Onge. I asked (1970 World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider) Dennis Reiners for his autograph at every one of those rodeos one summer. I remember Reiners telling me one time, ‘Hey, kid, you just got my autograph last week.’
“I knew from the time I was a little kid that I loved rodeo and everything about it, and that I wanted to be a cowboy. I looked up to all the cowboys, not just the guys in the timed events. My dad got the (ProRodeo) Sports News, and my brothers and I read those things cover to cover, and looked at every picture before we could read. I can remember Descent, maybe the greatest saddle bronc ever. I got to see him buck, and he was as much a superstar back then as some of the cowboys, like Larry Mahan and Freckles Brown.”
Ralph White was a rancher neighbor when Ote was a kid, and Ralph’s five kids and the six Berry kids accounted for 11 of the 16 who attended that one-room school house. Ote remembers Ralph buying him and Ralph’s daughter Loretta cotton candy at Deadwood one year. “The stands were packed, we got cotton candy all over everyone around us, they scooted back to get away from getting so sticky, and Ralph got more leg room out of the deal,” Ote remembers.
Ote won Deadwood riding Roy’s horse King and placed there a lot throughout his legendary career. But Ote’s favorite memories happened outside the arena there. “I pulled in there one year in the middle of the night with Roy, we slept in the camper and got up early that next morning for slack,” Ote said. “We were the only ones up, and it was just getting daylight. I looked up at the ridge above the arena, and a great big buck was standing out on a point looking down on the town, like he was the king and it was his town. Then he turned around and disappeared back into the forest. I’ll never forget that.”
Like most Hall of Famers, Ote won ’em all when he was hitting it hard in his heyday. But home really is where the heart is. “Deadwood’s two or three hours from where I grew up in Scenic, so when I was rodeoing hard it always felt like going home to go to Deadwood,” he said. “There’s just something about that rodeo—the scenery and setting, the weather, the town. It’s not one thing, but a whole bunch of things that make that rodeo great every year. I love that the old timers and people I grew up with are still always there at slack every year. Deadwood’s a great rodeo reunion every summer, and I don’t think that’ll ever change.”
Courtesy of PRCA