One of the nation’s oldest continuous rodeos, the Mandan Rodeo became famous in the 1940s as part of the ‘big loop” that included Cheyenne Frontier Days and the Calgary Stampede.
However, the event dates back to 1879 when a baseball game and pony races marked the 4th of July. The first bronc busting match performance was in 1885. In 1895, the Morton County Fair Association dedicated money to build a fence and oval race track in south Mandan. The facility was rebuilt by the CCC in 1938 1939.
As vice president of the State Fair Association and a prominent horse rancher from Flasher, Stephen P. Weekes was key in the event’s development, along with his sons, Steve and Charlie, and his son in law, Max Theil, who created the Heart River Round-up. In 1923, ‘Badlands Bill McCarty helped create the Mandan Roundup.
During the 1940s, the Mandan Rodeo Association, headed by Frank Wetzstein, organized a high class production, with top cowboys like Toots Mansfield, Gene Ross and Casey Tibbs and celebrities like Gene Autry, Rex Allen and Wild Bill Hickok.
In 1951, 11,000 people attended the July 4th performance, where stock was provided by Leo Cremer of Big Timber, Montana, and J.C. Stevenson, Carson, North Dakota. It became a Rodeo Cowboys Association sanctioned event until 1969, after which it was sanctioned by the North Dakota Rodeo Association. Now, it is a PRCA event.
The Mandan American Legion ran it in 1954, and the rodeo was the “Biggest Fourth of July Show in the U.S.” Stock was provided by Buetler Morgan of Elk City, Oklahoma, and the prize money increased to $4,500. After two years, the Legion turned the event over to the Mandan Jaycees.
In the early 1970s, stock was provided by the Figure Four Rodeo Company, Watford City, and, in the late 1970s, by Figure Four, Joe Berger, George Bruington and Jim Mosbrucker. Prize money by 1980 was over $20,000.
In 1989, the Mandan Jaycee Rodeo was a highlight of North Dakota’s centennial festivities. It also marked the last performance at the old rodeo grounds, which had served the event faithfully for 110 years. Today, at the Dacotah Centennial Park, the event continues to touch the lives and hearts of many people who recognize and appreciate the area’s rodeo traditions.
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