The rodeo spirit
A cowboy's thoughts
by C.O. Bymark | August 9, 2005
The spirit of our early American pioneers still lives on in the soul of today’s cowboy, biker, trucker, logger and the many other self-disciplined, self-motivated, stand up individuals who are always there for the person who needs a helping hand or the child who just needs someone to count on.
Another one of these arenas that brings this spirit to mind, is the sport of rodeo. The foundation of the sport was fueled by friendly competition among cowboys, at the end of a hard week or dusty trail drive, to blow off a little steam and have some fun and see who was the best at bronc riding, steer-wrestling, bull riding, etc. The sport of rodeo started back in the early days of our American west and is still strong and growing in today’s culture.
The last week in July brought the 50th anniversary of the North Star Stampede, held in Effie, Minnesota. This year being the 50th anniversary, there was an old timers rodeo for all the cowgirls and cowboys who wanted to give it one more try before hanging up their spurs.
Mr. Howard Pitzen, the grandfather of this rodeo, is a horseman, rancher, stock contractor, author, rodeo announcer, grandfather, great grandfather and a title that he probably covets more than all else, a cowboy. And in a cowboy’s mind, a real gentleman.
This rodeo isn’t like most rodeos; it has the same seven events every rodeo has and then some. The two additional events, you only see on occasion in rodeos, are the wild horse and wild cow race. Rodeo is a very dangerous sport without these two being added, but at Effie, they still thrill the crowds.
All the sactioned rodeo rules still govern the seven events and the judging is still by qualified rodeo judges. But, the one thing that makes this rodeo special is the old west setting, the huge arena for camping and the permanent rodeo chutes and arena. This all leads to a wild and unforgettable time, not to mention the livestock, which are huge and dangerous.
As I remember old rodeo stories, my memory becomes very adventurous. The song writer, poet, singer Billy Joe Shaver, once wrote, “I write because I love it and it’s the cheapest psychiatrist there is.” Well, I write, not because I love it so much, but it’s cheaper than my psychiatrist.
I started to write cowboy or western poetry back when I was riding bareback and bulls on the weekends. I remember one time back in 1993, at the Isle rodeo, Cimarron Pitzen (Howard’s son) was the stock contractor. Ted Moore and I were riding bareback and we were up, as I recall Ted had a pretty good ride, then it was my turn and my draw that day was a big paint horse named Teepee Creaper and less than a second out of the chute, I was flying backwards, my legs splitting in the air (make a wish). Ted caught the event with his camera.
Then comes the other rodeos, which I can’t or won’t forget. Jose Chaves, a cowboy from Mexico, at a little town just outside Albuquerque, New Mexico (Rio Rancho) is one of those memories I won’t forget. Jose got head butted by a big nasty bull, and if I remember right, the bull knocked him out cold. The EMT’s were right there and took him to the hospital. We were all pretty worried and feared the worst. He was hit real hard, but by the end of the rodeo, here comes Jose ready for some more fun and games. (Some cowboys are tougher than others) Circa 1963.
I remember when R. C. Carlson and I were riding for R.N. Bar Rodeo Co., at a rodeo in Cottage Grove, MN, and the bareback event was held up for a short time, probably due to an accident; the chute boss had all the contestants loosen up their cinches. When it was finally time to ride again it was my turn and in the rush to proceed with the show, I forgot to tighten up my horse’s cinch. The first two jumps out of the chute were ok but then as the horse started to run out, my riggin started to slip and so did I. About half way down the arena, I found myself holding on to a riggin that wasn’t holding onto the horse. My free hand eventually dragging in the dirt and me about to eat some. But that night at the rodeo bar, I covered the mechanical bull and had a great time but no prize money.
There are good times in rodeo. The accidents are just part of the sport, the old saying states, ‘If you’re going to be around livestock for any period of time, you’re going to get hurt. It’s just when and how bad.’ The sport is the greatest and the people you meet and have friendships with, are the best ever. It’s the kind of sport where everyone is trying to win but will take the time to help out his or her competition, if they need help.
I remember my final ride. It was in Lakefield, Minnesota. I usually tried to ride Saturdays or Sundays but for some reason Friday looked like it could be done, so I scheduled myself for a Friday entry. Well, construction is not predictable and instead of finishing early, things were not getting done on time and the day got longer and longer. By the time I picked up my tools and threw my riggin bag into my truck and left for the rodeo, I was running late. Then came a stop for gas and a flat tire and thinking Lakefield was Lakeville, well I’ll put it this way, by the time I got to Lakefield, my bull was being loaded into the chute and I only had time to pay and pray. I had missed my bareback ride. I just had time to put on my impact vest, my spurs and the riggin on the bull. Two seconds later I was asking Sam Scott, a friend and arena judge, to help me out of the arena. I was pretty sure the good Lord had one hand on me and Sam had a hold of the other.
What had transpired in those two seconds was that the bull had spun coming out of the chute, I couldn’t keep up with him and I wound up under the bull when his two hind hooves came down on my chest, breaking all my ribs and puncturing both of my lungs. Breathing became a priority and there was very little to be found. A thirty-five mile bumpy trip to the hospital with a tube sticking down my throat and the EMT’s saying ‘hold on, we’re almost there’ we arrived at the hospital. The doctor in attendance said, “There’s nothing we can do for him here.” The next thing I remember was beating the blades off a helicopter.
I spent the next three weeks on life support, while my ribs knitted themselves back together. Trudy Bunge, Bill Kangas and Ben Horton drove down to Sioux Falls, SD to see me. The switch board at the trauma center was lit up for so long from cowgirls and cowboys trying to find out about my condition, that the hospital had a hard time getting other calls in. But thanks to some great EMT’s, surgeons, nurses and support staff (also my cousin Kathy) a year later, I rejoined productive society.
There are so many stories connected with the sport of rodeo and the contestants, stock contractors, judges, bull fighters and all the supporting players. These are just a few that happened to me. I was very lucky. A few of my friends lost their lives in rodeo mishaps. Scott Allen Raasch lost his life when a bull crushed his head while training for a rodeo in June 1995, just a few days before I got hurt. Also, three time world champion bull rider Tuff Hedeman underwent constructive face surgery when he was head butted by a bull in 1995.
Back to the North Star Stampede now. It all started in 1955 and many a cowgirl and cowboy have walked, ridden or ran through these gates. I have as well with many of my friends. The events are always different but strangely the same, year after year. But no two rodeos or rodeo years are the same. The contestants and the livestock always change. It’s like life, every day will give a new chance to win or loose (although winning has a better feel to it). Playing the game fairly is what it’s all about. It’s the cowboy way.
The North Star Stampede is special, due to the fifty years of history that goes with the rodeo. There was the usual dancing and bending of elbows after the rodeo, the campfires and telling of stories – true and adventurous – but in the end, a great time was had by all and next year will probably be just as fantastic. This year was special, history was made and friendships were renewed and that’s what rodeo is all about. Till next time, I’ll see you down rodeo road.
This article first appeared in the August 9, 2005 issue of the Voyageur Press.