WRESTLING FOR MONEY: Nebraska steer wrestling events are big draw for cowboys
With the Buffalo Bill Rodeo going on in North Platte, the Melvin-Swanson-Halligan Steer Wrestling Jackpot in Sutherland, and the Garrett Nokes Memorial Steer Wrestling and Breakaway Jackpot in McCook, there’s plenty of chances to win money in the Cornhusker state.
Dru Melvin has helped organize the Melvin-Swanson-Halligan Jackpot for the past seventeen years, in part because his dad, Wayne Melvin, is one of the three for whom the memorial is named. (Melvin, Swede Swanson and Harrison Halligan, all who have passed, were good friends and competed together.)
Being a jackpot, anyone can enter, ages 18 and up, and a lot of the cowboys who will steer wrestle at North Platte come early to compete in Sutherland.
It gives steer wrestlers from across the nation more of a reason to come to Nebraska, because there are three events within 85 miles, and the chance to make seven runs: two in McCook at the Nokes Memorial, three at Melvin’s event, and two at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo.
For cowboys, competitive runs equate to chances to win money.
And if a cowboy does well at the Melvin-Swanson-Halligan, he advances to the Match of Champions, which is five more competitive runs.
“Where else can you go and run from seven to twelve steers, all within seventy miles?” Melvin said. “It’s seven chances to make money in three days, and that’s unheard of, and if you advance to the match (of champions, you could have a bonus five runs.”
The jackpot has a laidback vibe, Melvin said, in part because it’s prior to the busy summer rodeo season. “When I was rodeoing full time, it was our last fun deal before it got serious and we were gone for eight weeks.”
Cousins Rhett Witt and Tucker Ravenscroft are part of the tradition of Nebraska bulldoggers (as steer wrestlers are often called).
The young cowboys, 20 and 19 respectively, will compete at all three events.
Their mothers, Michele Mulligan-Witt and Shannon Mulligan Ravenscroft, are sisters to Nebraska steer wrestler, Sean Mulligan, a National Final Rodeo qualifier.
The young men watched their uncle Sean pro rodeo, and was around when Sean and his steer wrestling friends traveled through. “When they’d stop through, the environment was awesome,” Witt remembers. “We dreamed of being those guys, on the road all the time, getting to bulldog.”
Witt just completed his welding associates degree at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyo.; Ravenscroft just finished his first year at the same school. Witt will return for two more years of college, working towards an equine science associates degree. Both men compete in college rodeo.
Witt, who is the 2020 Nebraska High School Rodeo Association steer wrestling champ, graduated from Valentine High School in 2021. Ravenscroft graduated from Cody-Kilgore High School in 2022.
Witt is in his second year of PRCA rodeo; Ravenscroft just started. The two travel together and help each other out.
Rodeo competition scratches the competitive itch both men have.
Ravenscroft was part of the Cody-Kilgore High School football team that won the 2021 six-man state title.
“I loved football,” he said, “but I love steer wrestling more.”
He considered playing college football and got some junior college offers, but rodeo won out.
“I told myself, if I make the National High School Finals Rodeo (in 2022), I’ll commit to bulldogging, and I did, and I love it. There’s no sitting on the bench in rodeo.”
Tucker’s older brother, Tyler, is also a steer wrestler but won’t compete in North Platte; he will be helping at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo.
While Witt and Ravenscroft are at the beginning of their rodeo careers, Dru Melvin is getting towards the end.
The 40-year-old from Hebron, Neb., has had a good rodeo career, having competed full time for years, qualifying for seven Prairie Circuit Finals, the Canadian Finals rodeo once, and two Wrangler National Finals Rodeo
Now, with a fulltime job and five kids with wife Brittany, he rodeos closer to home. He’ll compete at all three events next week.
“I’m one of the old guys on the list,” he joked. “I still have fun and still have a good horse, so I feel like it’s still fun.”
The Melvin-Swanson-Halligan Memorial also includes the Ote Berry Tour Stop, a competition for those 18 and under. The Memorial is free.
The Buffalo Bill Rodeo is June 14-17 at the Wild West Arena in North Platte.
Melvin, Witt and Ravenscroft will make their first run during slack, the extra competition that doesn’t fit into the evening performances. Slack is at 8 am on June 14-15.
The evening performances begin at 8 pm on June 14-17. Tickets range in price from $11-$24 and can be purchased online at NebraskalandDays.com, at the NebraskalandDays office, and at the gate.
For more information and a complete schedule of NebraskalandDays events, visit the website or call the office at 308.532.7939.
–Buffalo Bill Rodeo