Leaving a Legacy: Raymond followed the Sutton legacy before him, left his own legacy
The Sutton name is tied to many notable livestock enterprises: some of the finest rodeos produced, the oldest privately-owned bison herd in America, quality Quarter Horses, and, at one point, the largest Hereford bull sale in America. Most of this was established and enacted by either Raymond Sutton Sr. or his father Edwin and carried out by his family. For his vision and creativity, Raymond was honored as a rodeo promoter at the 29th Annual Casey Tibbs Foundation Tribute Dinner last Saturday.
Raymond was born on the home ranch west of Agar, South Dakota, in 1906, as the third son of Edwin and Jessie Sutton. He took a strong interest in anything livestock-related. His particular talent was training heavy horses to drive and light horses to ride.
In 1911, Edwin introduced bison to the ranch after trading a Hereford bull for two bison cows and a bull. Raymond drove the bison as well. Unbroken yearling bison were a specialty act in rodeos by being hardnessed to a chariot, testing how long a man could last in the single wagon.
Edwin and Raymond also used the chariot for mule races; Raymond and one of the hired hands would race teams of mules against each other.
"Raymond was the cowboy of the family," his daughter-in-law Georga said. "His father Edwin was always looking for some way to make money."
So, in the mid 30s, the Sutton/Fairbank Rodeo Company was established. Raymond competed in bareback riding and bulldogging, the only brother to rodeo. He paid the price, however, getting bucked off at a rodeo, breaking his left hand and ending his violin playing.
"The partnership was successful for a number of years, but as the Great Depression deepened, the rodeo company was dissolved," Georga, who married Ray Jr., said.
Having said he would marry before he turned 30, Raymond married Beulah Cass on his last day as a 29-year-old. He continued his father's lead and established Raymond Sutton Rodeo Company thereafter.
In the early 1940s, Raymond Sutton Rodeo Co. had contracted a rodeo in Minneapolis, but when a conflict arose with the planned facilities, they seamlessly moved the event to St. Paul.
"Raymond took not only stock, but also a number of Native American dancers from the neighboring Cheyenne Agency as another specialty act," Georga said. "The rodeo went well and the gate looked to be profitable, but when Raymond went to settle up, the rodeo promoter that held the contract refused to pay."
He claimed that the contract had been breeched due to the change of location, so Raymond was forced to sell the livestock he had brought in order to pay everyone and get them back to South Dakota. This resulted in the disbanding of his rodeo company.
"For eight years, he worked his ranch and rebuilt his finances," Georga said. "In the mid 1950s, he joined with his brothers and Erv Korkow to form the Sutton/Korkow rodeo company. He was in the rodeo business again."
He had also joined the ranks of another business in the meantime: Quarter Horses. In 1948, Raymond and his brothers found an opportunity during the drought in Texas to buy a handful of well-bred Quarter Horse mares, the first of their kind on the ranch. Prior to Quarter Horses, the Suttons raised heavy draft-type horses, but seeing a change in trend with the ever-growing popularity of mechanized machines, the Suttons sent a whole train load, the largest of its time, of heavy horses to Chicago.
The first Quarter Horse mares foaled in 1949, and the Sutton's first production sale was in 1951, and the herd grew to include stallions from the lines of Three Bars, Poco Bueno, and many more.
Prior to acquiring Quarter Horses, in the late 30s, Raymond had a horse named Dude that he discovered was quite a jumper. That proved handy for practicality and entertainment purposes.
"Dude started off as a saddle horse on the ranch. There were miles and miles of fence and few gates in between, and so Raymond figured that if he put a coat on the fence, Dude would jump it," Georga said. "At the rodeo, he used to jump over three horses or steers packed together. It was a very popular act."
Many approached Raymond with offers to buy Dude, but he had always turned them down. One day, he went to his stall, only to discover he was gone. They never did find him.
Similar to discovering Dude's jumping talents, Raymond founded the Sutton bucking horse lines. Raymond had a palomino stallion Plaudits Sun Top that had been registered in the Palomino Breeker's Association but didn't pass inspection to be registered by AQHA.
"He tended to throw colts that bucked," Georga said. "Two of his sons became national bucking horses of the year. Some of his colts started out as saddle horses on the ranch but later bucked cowboys off in the rodeo. At the end of the ride, they pulled the flank strap off and rode them out of the arena."
When Raymond grew tired of rodeoing every weekend, he gave his partnership portion to his brother James and concentrated instead on building his horse and cow herds. James' son, grandson, and great grandsons still successfully manage Sutton Rodeo Co.
Raymond was a caring, humorous man who passed away in 1993 at the age of 86, but he is still fondly remembered by those close to him.
"When I was going to country school, we got to get out of school to go to the buffalo roundup," said Mark Byrum, who grew up neighboring the Suttons. "They would have the cowboys horseback bring in the buffalo up out of the river brakes on to some flatter ground, then there would be a bunch of old guys and other people in pickups that helped herd the buffalo into the pens. My mom would always tell me whatever I do, do not get in the pickup with Raymond. Guess who I always rode with!"
Byrum bought his first horse from the Suttons at the age of 10. He still owns several Sutton-bred horses, who he has named James, John, Raymond, and Lyle, all Sutton men.