RED LODGE — History oozes from every pore of the Home of Champions Rodeo.
From the long list of past, present and future world champions who have showcased their skills in the arena, to the horses and bulls that did the same.
The annual PRCA Home of Champions Rodeo has its own signature in the sport.
“The history and tradition this rodeo has in the state of Montana,” said Ty Erickson of what makes Red Lodge special among professional rodeo events.
The Helena steer wrestler had already competed in Red Lodge on Sunday morning, “At 7 a.m.,” he said and had also competed at the Cody, Wyoming, Stampede the same afternoon.
He was back in Red Lodge for the opening evening performance in support of traveling partners Clayton Haas and Dakota Eldridge, who were competing in the roping events.
Haas, fourth in the all-around standings, was entered in team roping with Polson’s John Robertson, while Eldridge was entered in tie-down roping. Following the performance in Red Lodge, Erickson and Eldridge were heading to Greeley, Colorado, to compete in the final round of steer wrestling. Eldridge is fifth in the all-around standings.
Erickson, a three-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier, currently leads the world steer wrestling standings with $110,789. Entering “Cowboy Christmas,” he had a lead of $34,789 over Tyler Waguespack, another traveling partner. Erickson was up early trying to add to his 2017 earnings.
“My first performance here, I placed,” Erickson remembered of that run in 2010.
“That’s the last time I placed here,” he added with a chuckle.
The 88th version of The Home of Champions Rodeo, which runs through Tuesday, opened under cloudy skies and steady breeze blowing across the arena. Along with the normal events, it is one of the few rodeos to also have wild horse racing.
Entries are up this year, getting a boost with Red Lodge being the last qualifying rodeo for the $1 million Days of ’47 rodeo event in Salt Lake City to be held later this month. Sunday night’s entries included eight-time world champion Joe Beaver (team roping with McCoy Profili) and his wife Jenna in barrel racing.
Origins of the rodeo date back to the 1890s when cowboys gathered at the railroad stockyard to ride exhibition broncs, according to the Home of Champions website.
Entry fees were first taken and payouts made in 1929. In 1932, the Red Lodge Rodeo Association acquired 180 acres where the current rodeo grounds currently sit. The website added that improvements to the sites were made in 1968 and 1976.
It has been sanctioned by the PRCA since 1945 and officially became the Home of Champions rodeo after hometown cowboy Bill Linderman won his second world all-around title and sixth overall. Linderman, the original “King of the Cowboys,” is one of few competitors to win world titles at both ends of the arena (steer wrestling, bareback, saddle bronc).
He is the namesake of the PRCA’s prestigious Linderman Award, given to the cowboy who earns the most money in events at both ends of the arena during the year.
The names and faces change with the years, but a constant has been the bucking stock of the Brookman Rodeo Company out of Wolf Point. ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee Marvin Brookman first brought his horses and bulls to Red Lodge in 1950.
Wieferich, who is also a first-grade teacher in Sidney, worked her first Home of Champions Rodeo as a sixth-grader. Being among the Beartooth Mountains was a change of pace from her home in Wolf Point.
“I remember feeding and haying, especially the haying,” said Wieferich, who with her husband Dave took over the Brookman Rodeo Company in 2004. “And gathering the horses and bulls while on horseback. But I definitely remember the haying.”
Those responsibilities have now been passed along to the Wieferich children: La Tasha, Tesa and Tate. Cathy Wieferich is now the rodeo secretary.
“Red Lodge has a great rodeo committee,” said Wieferich. “Everything has improved. There is more prize money now … more of everything. It is a very hard-working committee that wants to make things bigger and better. They’re always looking for new ideas.”
With the grandstands full, Doug Mathis has one of the best seats in the house from his announcer’s perch in the press box. From high up, he can see the entire arena and the mountains in the background. An airstrip sits behind the arena, with a few chartered planes waiting for the cowboys to finish their event so they can get to the next rodeo in a hurry during “Cowboy Christmas.”
Mathis will be there for two more performances, giving the fans pertinent information for each competitor. Mathis, of Cleburne, Texas, brings equal enthusiasm when introducing each cowboy and cowgirl, whether a world champion or just a rookie.
“There were nine world champions during slack and I lost track of how many National Finals Rodeo qualifiers,” he said.
This is Mathis’ 12th year calling the action at the Home of Champions Rodeo.
“No. 1, it’s the Fourth of July. Talk about patriotism,” said Mathis, carrying an overflowing binder with background information on every entrant and animal. “The town really gets involved with this rodeo. Every time I’m up in the press box, I look out and thank God to be an American.”
Mathis tries to connect the rodeo’s past — the legacies of the Linderman and Greenough families — with the rodeo’s present.
“There is major history with this rodeo,” he said. “You can follow the history of this rodeo from the pictures in the board room at the First Interstate Bank. Rodeos have changed. But this rodeo keeps that old western heritage and cowboy traditions.
“Every time my wife (Dee) and I come to Red Lodge, I think how blessed I am to work this rodeo.”