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Sutton Rodeo & Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Celebrate 40 Years

by Amanda Radke
for Tri-State Livestock News
The Sutton family. Left to Right: Jim, Julie, Kim, Steve, Alyssa & Brice Sutton, Amy, Steven & Shaden Muller; Roz Beaton & Brent Sutton
Sutton Rodeo Family

There’s no doubt about it — the Sutton name has become synonymous with rodeo across the nation.

This year, this elite South Dakota rodeo family will celebrate its 40th anniversary of running the PRCA rodeo that accompanies the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo, and the Suttons plan to commemorate the special occasion with plenty of surprise performances at the 2017 event.

“To celebrate our 40th anniversary, we’re bringing some special events to the rodeo schedule,” said Kim Sutton, Sutton Rodeo publicity and marketing. “Attendees will be able to watch freestyle bullfighting, North American trick riding, mounted shooting, bull teeter totter and wild horse racing this year. These events both honor our history and promote the future of this rodeo. We are always looking for ways to make the show bigger and better, and we look forward to many more years with the Civic Center.”

This year the rodeo takes on a new identity, as Rodeo Rapid City. It will run Jan. 27-Feb. 4, still in the Barnett Arena at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. Nominated 17 times for the PRCA’s “Large Indoor Rodeos of the Year,” winning in 2002 and 2003, this annual event, together with the Black Hills Stock Show, brings hundreds of thousands of people to the Rapid City area each year.

Despite the wild success of the stock show and rodeo, it sprung from humble beginnings and an idea brought to life by rodeo stock contractor, Jim Sutton.

“Jim approached the Civic Center about bringing a rodeo to town, and at first, they were pretty horrified about putting dirt in the building,” said Sutton. “The first year started with two performances and only 200 people in the crowd. The next year, Jim introduced the Wrangler rodeo bullfights, and the crowds loved it. We doubled attendance that year and again the following year. It quickly expanded from two performances to a nine-day event. This has been a great venue, and we’ve enjoyed the opportunity to roll out new PRCA programs over the years in this arena.”

The third generation of stockmen in his family, Jim inherited his passion for rodeos from his father, James H. Sutton, Sr., and grandfather, Edwin Sutton.

“In 1926, Edwin hosted a rodeo on his ranch near Onida, South Dakota,” said Sutton. “He was the first in our family to be a rodeo producer. We’re really proud of our family business and what it has grown to.”

What started as a fun hobby on the ranch quickly grew to a sustainable business when Edwin teamed up with George Fairbanks to begin a touring rodeo. The Great Depression shut down rodeo productions for a spell, and they didn’t start back up again until the mid-1940s.

In the 1950s, James advanced the family business when he entered into a partnership with Erv Korkow and performed at the first National Finals Rodeo in Dallas, Texas in 1959. In 1968, Korkow and Sutton split, and James joined Edwin in forming what is now the Sutton Rodeo Company. Since then, Sutton Rodeo stock have been selected to perform at 54 of the 56 National Finals Rodeos. In 1982, James was the first stock contractor to be inducted into the PRCA Hall of Champions in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Jim and his wife Julie followed suit in the family business, expanding operations even further with an increased emphasis on stock production as well as bringing innovative ideas to the arena, including fun and entertaining openings that aim to wow and delight rodeo fans. Jim has been nominated four times as Stock Contractor of the Year and originated both the Wrangler Bullfights and the Bailey Baily-off at the rodeo in Rapid City. Julie has dialed in her talents promoting the Sutton Rodeo Company and serving as a rodeo secretary and NFR timer.

Jim’s son Steve and his wife Kim also joined the family business as co-owners of Sutton Rodeo. Steve was named NFR pickup man in 1978, 1981, 1986, 1993 and 1995. He joined the PRCA in 1976 and became an official stock contractor in 1982, making him the fourth PRCA contractor in the Sutton family. With a passion for raising high-quality bucking stock and producing top-notch rodeos, Steve was inducted into the Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center as “Present Cowboy Great,” in 2010. Kim wears many hats for the rodeo company, timing at the NFR five times and working in the areas of publicity and marketing.

“Our kids, Amy, Brent and Brice, are the fifth generation and are all part owners of the Sutton Rodeo Company,” said Sutton. “They all have ag degrees and bring new and creative ideas to the business. I love having them be part of the business; they are forward-thinking and are always looking for ways to improve things while also respecting our history.”

Amy is an NFR timer and the office manager for Sutton Rodeos, Inc. Meanwhile, Steven works with the livestock and rodeo production. Their son Shaden, age four, makes the sixth generation of the Sutton family to be involved in the family business.

“Shaden attended his first rodeo at just eight days old,” said Sutton. “He was born in January, and at his first BHSS, he wore a onesie that read, ‘This ain’t my first rodeo.’ We have a million fun memories of our family working together at Black Hills Stock Show. Our kids grew up helping at rodeos with anything and everything from untying calves to carrying flags. We work together as a family, and I value that we can work and play together.”

Brent started his rodeo career as a pickup man in 2004. He became a PRCA contestant in 2007 and has worked as the assistant NFR chute boss the last three years.

Brice works in livestock and rodeo production and joined the PRCA ranks in 2010. Brice and wife Alyssa welcomed a new baby, Ruby Belle, in December, joining Shaden as the sixth generation of the Sutton family rodeo enterprise.

Sutton Rodeo Company serves as the primary stock contractor, promoter or rodeo committee for seven South Dakota rodeos and one in Minnesota, including Rodeo Rapid City, 40 years; Crystal Springs Rodeo, 63 years; Sitting Bull Stampede, 52 years; Corn Palace Stampede, 51 years, Northfield, Minnesota, 32 years; Onida, 28 years; and Brookings, 17 years. The family business also contracts an additional 8-10 PRCA rodeos with livestock including Cheyenne Frontier Days, Days of ’76, San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo, Justin Boots Tour Finale, Badland Circuit Finals, Ram National Circuit Finals and WNFR in Las Vegas.

With the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center also celebrating its 40th anniversary, attendees can look forward to an exciting commemorative event produced by the Sutton Rodeo Company.

Craig Baltzer, Rushmore Plaza Civic Center executive director said, “It’s always amazing to see a ranch family from South Dakota operating as a family business. Every member is involved in the rodeo in one shape or form; it’s extremely impressive how they work together as a family to put on such an excellent rodeo. They’re a huge name in rodeo, and they are located right here in South Dakota.”

This year’s rodeo features seven events, five performances and cowboys and cowgirls vying for more than $200,000 in prize money.

“I don’t think anyone could have ever dreamed how big this event would grow to, but the Suttons had a vision, and it’s amazing how big of an economic impact the rodeo and stock show has for the Rapid City community,” said Baltzer. “The Suttons are pros at what they do, and we hope to continue the relationship with them for the next 40 years.”


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