f there was ever an event that drew contestants and crowds, it was the Sanish Rodeo, held for three days each July. In its short, seven-year existence, it became second in the state in prize money paid and second to none in the number of contestants competing daily.
The rodeo was initiated by a group of Sanish-area residents who formed the Sanish Rodeo Association in April 1947. The site – located southwest of the old Sanish Bridge or almost directly beneath the west portion of the Four Bears Bridge near present-day New Town, was leased from Flora Dawson and George Dragswolf.
The association had everything ready in time for the first rodeo on July 3-5, 1947. For the first year, $2,205 in prize money was offered and by the early 1950s prize money totaled $3,600. Attendance also grew, with 10,292 in paid admissions over three days in 1949.
The 1950 crowd was estimated at between 18,000 and 20,000 people. Sanish bronc rider Charles Hoffman was the top money winner in 1950, earning $229 in three days. In 1952, Jim Tescher won all-around cowboy honors and claimed $575.
The colorful pageantry of the Old West came alive at the Sanish Rodeo when hundreds of Indian families pitched tents, area bands marched in parades and performed concerts while promoters brought in specialty acts.
Construction of the Garrison Dam doomed the event, and the last Sanish Rodeo was held in 1953, with an estimated 15,000 people attending. The Sanish Rodeo had a short, but colorful, history that lives on in the memories of those who participated and attended.
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