People in the Turtle Mountains have been racing horses for decades. Many still talk about the informal tracks in the hills, and some families have been participating in the sport for generations.
The home-grown horse racing, called bush meets, provided weekend entertainment after a hard week’s work on Turtle Mountain ranches. Jim Davis, of the Turtle Mountains, remembers his father, Russell Davis, developed a half-mile track on the family ranch, holding races there on Saturdays and sometimes Sundays during the summer months.
People drove their teams to the races, removed the harnesses and then raced those horses. Sometimes 80 horses converged on the ranch, including thoroughbreds, Shetlands and work horses.
The rodeos led many local people into professional horse racing. Russell’s dad, Robert Davis, was probably the first Native American in North Dakota to race thoroughbred horses in the 1950s and ‘60s.
The early meets were a forerunner of today’s Chippewa Downs, started 60 years ago in Belcourt. The Downs holds races in June each year and offers pari-mutuel betting.
From the tracks of generations ago to today’s Chippewa Downs, horse racing is still a major aspect of the Turtle Mountains horse culture.
Dakota Datebook written by Cathy A. Langemo, WritePlus Inc.
ND Cowboy Hall of Fame Cowboy Chronicle – June 2010
ND Racing Commission – 2013 racing schedule