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Rodeo & Cotton

My first rodeo was in Willits on the 4th of July sometime in the late 1940’s. My grandfather took the family to see the Willits Frontier Days Parade and Rodeo. So, before we get too far into this story let’s get the correct pronunciation of rodeo. There is no “a” in rodeo. So, you say row-dee-o, not row-day-o. I do not remember the rodeo first hand but my father had an 8mm movie camera and took some shots of a trick rider and some cowboy getting bucked off. Several years ago, I had the 8mm tape put on a DVD disc so seeing the scenes revived my memory. I was always going to make a copy of the disc and send it to Lee Persico up in Willits to keep with other memorabilia. Unfortunately, the October 2017 fire took the original film and the disc, so no history of the rodeo from me in the 40’s.

In high school I enrolled in the Agriculture classes. The curriculum included what they refer to as your student occupation experience which included raising some sheep. As an FFA member I could enter two market lambs in the Junior Grand National Livestock Exposition and Rodeo at the Cow Palace held each spring in San Francisco. After judging the market lambs, they were sent to an auction and shortly you would receive a check. Now for a kid from Hopland going to the Cow Palace is a life changing experience. At that time the agriculture classes were all male. Housing was easy, we all bunked together in some unused horse stalls. We all brought sleeping bags and put them on a mattress on single spring beds. One of the rodeo activities that you could participate in was called the calf scramble. I signed up along with 50 or so other high school guys. At an announced time, all 50 of us would run after a calf, and if you could hold onto the calf for a short time you got a ribbon. I did not hold onto a calf and so no ribbon. I tried all four years I showed there, but no ribbon.

It was when I served on the Board of Directors for the Sonoma-Marin Fair that that I met up with Cotton Rosser. Cotton’s company, The Flying U produces rodeo’s all across California and other western states. The Flying U started in 1930 when J.C. Sorensen partnered with Evert Colburn. Cotton and I both always attended the Western Fairs Association annual convention. On alternate years it was held in Reno, where the annual Reno Rodeo is held at the Nevada State Fairgrounds. He has produced the rodeo in Reno for over 50 years. I was at the rodeo in 2018 when they presented him with an award for his 50 years of production. I have also been able to sit in Cotton’s box for the rodeo. The seats are right next to the bucking shoots. I might add here that Cotton will be 92 in August. He was born Horton Alexander Rosser (Cotton) in Long Beach, California. He has taken so many falls from his horse I can’t recall the number. He also owns a country clothing store in Marysville. called “Cotton’s Country Corral.” In addition, he produced a book in 2007, appropriately titled “Million Dollar Memories - Fifty years with Cotton and the Flying U.” 

Just a few years before the book was published 2007 Shirley and I were at a benefit dinner for the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation. Anytime you are invited to a benefit dinner it is going to cost you extra money. One of the live auction items were two tickets and accommodations for two nights at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December. This event is like the Super Bowl of rodeos. All of the high point cowboys work all year long to be able to participate in the ten-day event. I saw the item come up for the bidding process and was waiting with baited breath. I thought it would be great to attend. The bidding started and, in the end, I won (or bought) the tickets. I paid just about equal to a ton of grapes. The seats were donated by a fellow graduate of the leadership program, Leanne Rutherford. Her relative E. Rutherford was in business with Cotton many years ago. 

Years rolled by and I stayed in touch with Cotton through the fairs and phone calls. Any time I wanted to attend the Reno Rodeo I would call the Flying U office in Marysville and see if any tickets were available. I would never ask for tickets on the weekend.

I attended the 100th anniversary of the Reno Rodeo last year. I again got tickets from the Flying U office. My very good neighbor John drove me up. We made a three-day affair out of it leaving on Sunday. I had tickets for the Monday night’s performance. Late June in Reno has to be the best of times for the weather. Evening temperatures hover around the low 70’s and no wind. Rodeo week brings an entirely different group of people. Lots of stars and stripes clothing, cowboy hats and western boots. The evening is strictly a family affair. John and I had pre-arranged to connect with another Rodeo supporter Lloyd Stueve, from Oakdale. Oakdale is the self-proclaimed cowboy capital of the world. Lloyd enjoys rodeo as much as I do. 

The Reno Rodeo Association knows how to put on a show. They open with old glory, followed with the national anthem and then a prayer. They also know how to give back. At one of the recent rodeo’s all of the work force in the arena wore pink shirts in salute to breast cancer research. The following year all of the work force wore purple shirts in support of men’s prostate cancer research. I can relate to both of these diseases. My way of supporting both of them was to try to purchase each last year’s shirt. This was not as easy as it sounds. Cotton did not know how, but suggested that I call the rodeo office. It took several calls but I finally contacted Ken Miner, Specialty Sales chairman. He would do the best he could. Shortly after I received in the mail a pink Reno Rodeo shirt. It comes with the rodeo monogram on the right side. Ken could not locate a purple shirt for me. I was most appreciative for the pink shirt and told Ken I would look him up at this last year’s rodeo. I would be the guy in the pink shirt. The cost of the shirt was a Jim Beam over (rodeo talk). We arrived early to eat at a food court just behind the grand stand. The court offers everything from corn on the cob to pickled pigs’ feet. We wandered through the court to find the rodeo store where we could find my new shirt friend. Sure, enough he was right there at the Reno Rodeo Specialty Store. We all introduced each other to Ken and wife Marianne. I immediately offered to pay my debt to society and buy Ken and his wife a Jim Beam over. Then the horror set in that there was no Jim Beam bar, only Jack Daniels. This was Jack Daniels night and all of the work force were wearing Jack Daniel’s black rodeo shirts. While John went over to the bar to get a couple of Jack’s for Ken and Marianne, she was shuffling something around. Surprisingly she had a purple shirt for me. She had found Ken’s purple shirt from the previous year, washed it, ironed it and had it for me. Ken and Marianne are right up there with motherhood and apple pie. On the way out of the rodeo I had bought a black rodeo shirt.

All three of us enjoyed the rodeo and returned to the Nugget to have a drink and turn in.

I decided a few months ago I would purchase tickets for this year’s rodeo. I could get tickets in the ADA section and have a better view. In one of my calls I thanked Cotton for all of the tickets he had given me over the past few years. 

P.S. The Reno Rodeo for 2020 has been cancelled!

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