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Holten: Greatest show on the terrestrial sphere

Do you know much about rodeo? No? That’s OK, but it is surprising.

It’s surprising how little North Dakotans actually know about a sport that is one of the most attended in the world, just behind soccer, by both city dwellers and country folk. One that has flourished in our backyard for so many decades and that has so often been dominated by our very own people, nationally.

Back in the ’50s and ’60s, from New York to Los Angeles, our own Alvin Nelson, the 1957 saddle-bronc riding champion, and his band of buddies — including Jim and Tom Tescher, Duane Howard, Dean Armstrong, Joe Chase and more — were the coolest guys in rodeo.

Then, perhaps the greatest saddle bronc rider of all time came along. His name is Brad Gjermundson and he won everything there was to win in rodeo in the ’80s, long before he ever put a razor to his face. Even Ronnie Reagan knew him and wrote him a letter and that was when Ronnie was sleeping in the White House.

Picture this: Ronald Reagan sitting down and writing to our own Brad Gjermundson right after he got off the phone with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. That’s pretty heady stuff.

“Who are you writing to?” Nancy asked him.

“That cowboy from North Dakota with the really quick feet,” Ron said.

“Oh, do you mean Brad Gjermundson?” Nancy asked.

“That’s the one,” Ron said.

Meanwhile Wayne Herman, our 1992 world champion bareback bronc rider, who when was asked recently in an interview how he got into rodeo said that he didn’t really get into rodeo. He simply did in the arena what they were already doing at the ranch.

That’s America to its core, isn’t it?

“Son, you need to go a bunch of rodeos,” someone said to Herman.

“I do?” Herman said. “Why?”

“Because,” they said, “you’re good.”

“I am?” Herman asked.

Sure enough, he was.

“We’re losing some of that in America,” Herman said. But not in North Dakota, huh? North Dakota is still America as long as we’re producing Hermans, Gjermundsons, Nelsons and more cowboys who pop out of nowhere and go to the top.

It is also interesting to think about how many North Dakotans have never been to the community of Medora. After all, one quick exit off of Interstate 94 and a jaunt over the hill will earn you a panoramic view good enough to make the rest of the state look like an asphalt parking lot in south central Los Angeles, by comparison.

In fact, there are few other places like it in the state or the nation for that matter, except for the rest of the Badlands.

Still, there are more license plates from Minnesota parked on Medora’s streets on an average weekend than from North Dakota and those Minnesotans have more than 10,000 lakes to frolic in. Do they know something we don’t?

Now you may not know who Nishan Panwar is and neither did I. But I liked something he said, so I did a little research.

It turns out he is a software engineer, web designer and a prolific poet who graduated from Garhwal University in India and said, “People say you do not know what you have got till it is gone. Truth is you knew what you had. You just never thought you would lose it.”

Well guess what? We lose something every day and that’s what makes it so special.

This upcoming Saturday, you can kill two birds with one stone: You can appreciate rodeo and visit Medora while attending the Medora Badlands Classic World Class Bucking Horse Futurity.

You’re going to see rodeo in pure form featuring a lot of young up-and-coming riders, spirited young bucking horses, some North Dakota rodeo legends and a man who thinks he really is Teddy Roosevelt, all in a majestic Badlands setting.

As Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

Be a little daring this weekend. Enjoy the best of North Dakota.

Holten is the editor of The Drill and the executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. Email him at