Dakota Datebook

Rodeo #1

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Two of North Dakota’s best known cowboys were born on this date. Both have been inducted into the ND Cowboy Hall of Fame.

In 1905, John ‘J.C.’ Stevenson was born in a sod house south of Leith, the son of a cowboy who specialized in roughstock – to you non-cowboys, that’s bucking broncos and bulls.

When J.C. was still just a kid, his father would send him on horseback to buy horses and then trail them back to Carson. J.C. had a knack for selecting and breeding superior stock, and his keen eye led him to become one of the state’s leading rodeo livestock producers, as well as rancher, livestock marketer, rodeo producer, pick-up man, announcer, rodeo judge, stock contractor, cattle buyer and local auctioneer. He was also on the board of directors when the North Dakota Rodeo Association was founded.

His Brahman bulls were legendary, with names like Funeral Wagon, Yellow Jacket, Peacemaker, Ink Spot, High Horns, Yellow Jacket Junior, and Widowmaker. Among his best bucking broncos were I Walk Alone, Lost Memory and Big John.

In 1974, J.C. took the risk of producing the first State Prison Rodeo in Bismarck. It was a resounding success, and he continued producing rodeos there until his death in 1980. A year later, the State Penitentiary arena was dedicated to him.

J.C. was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2001.

The other birthday cowboy was James Taillon. He, too, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001, in the Western Arts and Entertainment category.

Known to his friends and fans as “Cy, the golden voice of professional rodeo,” Taillon was born in 1907, northeast of Cavalier, the youngest of 10 children.

By age 6, Cy had become a violinist; he also learned to play the piano, guitar, tenor banjo and xylophone. But it was an unforseen talent in front of a microphone that led Cy into radio announcing. From radio, Montana cowboy Leo Cremer lured Cy into rodeo announcing, on which Cy once commented, “Leo kept telling me it could be a challenging and profitable field. I told him I’d do six rodeos for him through the summer. Instead, I wound up with engagements extending over 10 months, including such rodeos as the one at Chicago Stadium. By then, I was sold on my job.”

Cy’s first rodeo was in Minot in 1927. Until then, announcers had used an old style ‘corn comedy’ approach. But Cy decided to use a ‘straight man’ style; it is now felt that his concise commentary, precise grammar and distinguished dress and grooming brought dignity to rodeo.

“I always swore if I ever announced a rodeo, I’d try to present the rodeo cowboy as an athlete instead of as a bum,” Cy said. “I want(ed) to explain their way of life, their standard of manhood, their patriotism.”

He announced his first National Finals Rodeo in 1959, and went on to do it eight more times. He also announced for the Denver National Western for 33 years and also for the San Francisco Cow Palace for 30 years. In 1965, Cy was named Rodeo’s Man of the Year and received the International Rodeo Management Award.

Happy birthday, cowboys….

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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