Bringing back rodeo heritage, Interior Frontier Days Rodeo

Grand entrance ... Ronnie Gartner, carrying the United States flag, was flown in to the rodeo arena. He then mounted a horse brought in by other mounted flag bearers. The armed services were honored before the 2011 Interior Frontier Days Rodeo.

Some of my most treasured childhood memories of the Fourth of July are of attending the rodeo in Interior.

This rodeo, which began in the 1920s, grew to be the second largest rodeo in the world. By the time I was born, the rodeo wasn't as grand as it was at its peak, however, it was still one of the most respected, well-run rodeos of the 60s and early 70s.

I wasn't aware of any of that. All I knew was it was a big day for my family. It was a day when we got to wear brand-new clothes, a day where we got to bug our parents for money for the concession stands, a day of conning someone into giving me a horseback ride, a day we spent anticipating the dark so we could wave our sparklers into figure eights, a day when we stood in awe of all the cowboys brave enough to come barreling out of a chute on a mean-spirited, bucking horse or a raging, bucking bull, a day when I envied the cowgirls racing around barrels and charging toward the finish line, a day when we finally went to bed well after dark when my legs would ache from all the frenzied running from one end of the rodeo grounds to the other.

Interior, a town whose sign boasts of a population of 57 people, quit hosting a rodeo in the late 70s. For whatever reason, maybe it was a tradition that needed to take a rest.  Fortunately, the rodeo now called the Interior Frontier Days Rodeo has been revived in the last two or three years.

My family and I attended the revived rodeo this past weekend and we weren't disappointed. It had everything the rodeos of my youth did, plus more. New since my last rodeo there, women were now competing in roping contests individually and as teams.

This small-town rodeo committee devised the grandest entrance to a rodeo I've ever witnessed. The announcer built up the crowd's anticipation by telling everyone to watch for an incoming helicopter due to arrive at the opening of the show. Right on time, a helicopter was spotted in the sky heading toward the arena - first just a speck, growing bigger and bigger, until hovering right above the arena and landing in the center, it's blades stirring up dust, it's motor at a deafening roar, when out stepped a cowboy carrying the United States flag to a cheering crowd. The helicopter left the arena, then out on a horse rode a young cowboy carrying a South Dakota flag, leading another saddled horse toward the man holding the United States flag, who then mounted the horse.

The announcer introduced other cowboys who rode into the arena one by one, each carrying a flag of all the different branches of the armed forces. As each cowboy rode in with their flag, the theme song from that military branch played over the speakers. It was, without a doubt, the most patriotic grand entrance I've ever witnessed, proving that not only can a small town revive a past tradition, but that they can outdo what's been done before.

When the rodeo announcer introduced the cowboy who came out of the helicopter as a Vietnam vet, I was proud to see my uncle, Ronnie Gartner, holding that American flag he fought so hard for. Not only did he fight for it, he was wounded severely for it, for this country of ours. You could tell the crowd was touched and humbled, both the locals all knowing Ronnie and the visitors, just as moved.

After the event, I overheard my uncle tell my mother that the helicopter ride brought back a lot of memories and my heart went out to him, as I know many of those memories were horrific events he lived through. I may not always agree with my uncle's opinions, but I am proud that he and many other Vietnam veterans fought for all our rights to express them.

I am also very proud of the people of this tiny town of Interior and all their successful efforts at reviving an old tradition - the Interior rodeo. Judging by the large crowd who attended the rodeo on the fourth, this tradition may continue on for many decades. Kudos to the cowboys and cowgirls who did an excellent job of putting on an entertaining show!

(Weatherbee was born in Kadoka in 1958 and lived in Interior part of her childhood. She presently lives in Rapid City.)