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Cook recognized by Roughrider Commission

Longtime rancher, rodeo contestant, saddle maker, and teacher Rex Cook of Dickinson, is being recognized for his lifetime achievements by the Dickinson Roughrider Commission.

Cook is receiving the 21st annual Rodeo Rancher of the Year award during the Roughrider Days Fair and Expo. Rodeo committee members Arnie Binek and Leon Kristianson are making the presentation during the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) rodeos Thursday through Saturday, June 29-July 1, in the Dickinson State University Arena.

We look for a man who symbolizes the western way of life, said Binek. Rex has a lot of history. Ive known him a good part of my life.

When we started, a lot of these people didnt get recognized for what they do in the western world. These people dont go out to rodeos for the big money. They dont have time, theyre running a ranch, said Binek.

Rex has helped more people in the rodeo world than you can imagine, he said. He taught horsemanship at college and helped with rodeo at the college. He still rides three or four horses a day that hes breaking or training.

Binek and Cook became friends while both were teaching in the Dickinson Public Schools.

I got to know about his love of rodeo. He still helps ranchers brand cattle in the spring. Anytime he gets the opportunity, hes there, he said.

Whenever given the chance, Cook, 78, teaches other people about cow cutting, team roping or training horses.

He wants to see this cowboy tradition live on, said Binek.

When they present the award, most of cowboys at the rodeo will know him, from here to Texas. As far as a horse dealer, he rides these horses, trains them and sells them, he said.

Cook grew up about 25 miles north of Sentinel Butte, the son of homesteaders Taylor and Evelyn Cook.

They raised a lot of horses, both work horses and saddle horses. They raised cattle. My dad farmed some, he did a little bit of everything, said Cook.

His favorite time was when four or five neighbors got together for the spring and fall horse roundups.

It was pretty much open range and all the horses were together, he said. That was a lot of fun while I was growing up.

The horses were corralled and separated by brands. The colts were branded and broken for riding.

In those days, breaking horses was a lot faster. They threw them down, tied them up and saddled them. They didnt spend a lot of time getting them gentle. That came along later, he said.

Cook doesnt remember how many horses his dad and Uncle Ted owned in partnership.

In 1934, my uncle sold 1,200 head to the canners and still had hundreds of horses left. In the 1930s, horses werent worth anything, he said.

Cook said the familys homestead shack is still standing.

My sisters and their husbands have that land. I own some of the ranch land. Ive owned land since I was 14 years old and kept buying some more, he said.

I broke my first horse to ride when I was 12, he said. When I was 14 I went to work for a neighboring rancher (Richard Moore). He had about 1,000 head.

We used work horses all the time when I was growing up. All the farming was done with work horses, he said.

Cook graduated from Sentinel Butte High School in 1945 and he was approached about teaching at a country school the following fall. He accepted the job and received an emergency teaching certificate from Dickinson State College during the summer session.

I was 17 years old. The school was about 45 miles north of Medora on the Little Missouri River, he said.

Cook graduated with a four-year degree in education from DSC in 1950. He taught school at Hettinger and served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He was stationed with civil affairs in Japan. Returning from military service, he managed a freighting business and helped start a clay plant.

He taught English and history at Dickinson High School from 1958-60, and returned to teaching in 1966. He taught at Dickinsons South, Berg and Jefferson Elementary Schools. He taught two more years at DHS and retired in 1989.

All during that time when I was teaching, I was still branding cattle, rodeoing and raising cattle, too, he said.

He continues to help with spring branding, specializing in roping the calves.

Its always been a social, fun thing because youre with friends who like doing the same thing, he said.

Cook started roping around 1952. He was among those who promoted team roping as a rodeo event. His first team roping partner was Merle Aus, Glendive, Mont.

He and I went to quite a lot of ropings together. We won the first roping event we entered. That got us started, he said.

Cook said he and Tex Appledoorn produced the North Dakota Team Roping Championship. The event was held in 1958-59 at Belfield.

Team roping was fairly new at that time. Now its really popular, he said. Calf roping is still my favorite. The horse really has to be good.

Cook also trains and sells cutting horses.

A cutting horse is a horse that will sort cattle, he said. Every roundup boss had a cutting horse. Each rancher might have four or five different brands. A good horse is a necessity for doing that. In the 1940s, they made a contest out of it and set up rules.

In a cutting contest, the rider has 2½ minutes to ride and sort cattle. Judging is based on how well the horse works.

Nowadays, certain blood lines of horses have more ability to be cutting horses, he said.

Cook keeps his horses in a stable on the east end of Dickinson.

If youve got a horse, youve always got one for sale, he said.

He tries to ride every day and still competes in cutting horse events. He recently won first place at a competition near Dickinson. Hes a member of the North Dakota Cutting Horse Association and the National Cutting Horse Association.

Cook and Gary Gabrielson also teach a horse training clinic during the state fair in LeMars, Iowa. The next clinic is the end of July.

Cook has judged many horse shows throughout the years in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

One of the highlights was judging the National Foundation Quarterhorse Show in Grand Island, Neb., and the Regional Foundation Quarterhorse Show in Ashville, N.C., he said.

Cook also continues to team rope with different partners. He generally heads while his partner heels.

It takes practice, a good horse and luck. All kinds of things can happen. When I was younger, I traveled around North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, he said.

Cook enjoys attending rodeos, both as a contender and as a spectator with his wife, Ann. They have two children. Son Brian and Jennifer Cook live in Denver, Colo., while daughter Sally and Jerry Reichert live in Glendive, Mont.

The Cooks have four grandchildren, one (Andy) who is training horses in Dickinson.

During the winter and evenings, Cook works as a saddle maker and serves on the board of the North Dakota Arts and Humanities Council. As a master saddle maker, he gives saddle lessons throughout the year.

Ive been doing saddle work since 17. I made my first saddle in 1948. I make one or two a year for family and friends, he said.

Cook is looking forward to the PRCA rodeos in Dickinson. Its an opportunity to become reacquainted with friends hes made throughout his many years.

Serving on the Rodeo Rancher Committee for several years, Cook had several names picked out as the 2006 winner.

I never expected to win. I always figured the award was for somebody else.