NRCA Celebrates 75th Anniversary  |

NRCA Celebrates 75th Anniversary 

Kaycee Monnens Cortner for Tri-State Livestock News
Hulett, Wyoming’s NRCA rodeo in 1974. Tom Stanley | Courtesy photo
Hulett, Wyoming’s NRCA rodeo in 1974. Tom Stanley | Courtesy photo

The Northwest Ranch Cowboys Association was made for the little guy, the rodeo athlete that also has a day job. Founded in 1947, the NRCA allowed gifted rodeo athletes a chance to compete on the weekends when they could not meet the travel demands of professional rodeo. 75 years ago, several rodeo cowboys gathered in Gillette, Wyoming to organize the newfound NRCA, giving it a name that would forever be a reminder that the men and women who worked and ranched during the week also deserved a chance to compete. This year’s Finals will be held where the NRCA began: Gillette, Wyoming on Nov. 18-20th. 

Dick Mader, one of the founding members, was certainly one of the first presidents, though the exact facts of the early presidencies are unknown. He served from 1951 through 1955, at the very least. Other well known presidents of the NRCA include Bud Day, Don Nixon, Albert Proctor, and Butch Webb. Gerald McInerney is the longest standing president, having served 18 years from 1990-2008.  

To wit, the NRCA is the oldest amateur rodeo association in the country, being formed just 10 years after the PRCA, or Cowboys Turtle Association, as it was called then. The NRCA has had its share of difficulty, but persevered throughout the decades. McInerney said he remembers the association “going broke” on at least three occasions. In 1973, the Finals rodeo was held in Miles City and all of the stock, pickup men, and help were donated because the association could not afford to pay. The NRCA finds stability in hosting the Finals in the same location for several years in a row. Though the 2022 membership numbers are down due to inflation and high fuel prices, good seasons will bring the membership to nearly 500 members.  

Based on the NRCA’s publication, The Piggin’ String, in 1969, the Finals rodeo was held in Belle Fourche Sept. 6-7. Pete Longbrake won the saddle bronc riding average, which paid a tick over $100. Don Nixon won bull riding; Sid Thurston won tie-down roping; Gene Griffis, bareback riding; Mary Ketchum, barrels; McInerney and Rathbun, team roping; Larry Hollenbeck, steer wrestling; and Albert Proctor (men’s) breakaway. The average price of fuel that year was $.34 per gallon.  

Mike McInerney, the current president of the Association and son of former president Gerald, remembers growing up around NRCA rodeos and watching his dad compete before entering himself. It was the era of traveling in cars and bumper pull trailers, sleeping in the back of the pickup at rodeos, high-crowned hats, and live bands and dances every weekend. There was often team tying instead of team roping, and a traveling trophy was awarded each year in memory of Lyle Bush for a cowboy that won the most money in two of the three riding events. Up until the 1970s each NRCA rodeo was two days at each location, so the festivities were shared by all on Saturday nights.  

Now, there are several NRCA rodeos per summer weekend, and contestants enter using an entry system, rather than calling the local rodeo secretaries who used pen and paper. Many well-known rodeos were started and/or maintained due to the NRCA. Sheridan was one of Gerald’s favorite rodeos, and was the largest amateur rodeo in the country before becoming sanctioned by the PRCA in 1967. In recent memory, Kadoka and Wall, South Dakota have also become ProRodeos.  

The purpose of the NRCA was to provide opportunities for the weekend cowboy to compete for high purses, despite not being able to chase the professional circuit. Clinton Foster | Courtesy photo
The Northwest Ranch Cowboys Association celebrates its 75th anniversary in the location of its founding: Gillette, Wyoming. Clinton Foster | courtesy photo

The NRCA is remarkable due to the opportunities it gives to women to compete. It, and the South Dakota Rodeo Association, are the only two known amateur associations that can boast of having all four women’s events: barrel racing, goat tying, breakaway roping, and mixed team roping. Current President McInerney believes that the future of the association lies with the youth. If a young person holds a National High School Rodeo Association or 4-H Rodeo card, they are allowed to enter NRCA rodeos. When scheduling the Finals, the board is careful not to conflict with youth or college rodeos. Many world champions began their careers with the NRCA rodeos, such as the Garrett brothers, Clint Johnson, Lonnie Hall, and more.  

The NRCA’s unique sudden-death finals makes it possible for any of the seasonal top-12 competitors to win the championship saddle, which is in keeping with its aim of giving the working man or “underdog” every chance to win. It was a rule instituted by Butch Webb, according to Gerald McInerney. Points are carried into the Finals based on position coming in (1-12), and awarded based on placings in the rounds and average. The year-end champion, the person with the most money won throughout the year, receives the buckle.  

The 75th NRCA Finals will be celebrated in several ways: commemorative buckles, a live band on Friday and Saturday nights, and the flags carried by the four known surviving presidents, including McInerneys, Franklin Manke, and Casey Olson. The rodeo will begin Nov. 18 with a performance at 6 p.m. Beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday, a breakaway and team roping jackpot will preface the performance, which is at 6 p.m. Sunday, a barrel racing jackpot begins with exhibitions at 7 a.m., with the final performance to follow at 1 p.m. Tickets can be purchased on the Cam-Plex website or at the door.  

Tom Stanley | Courtesy photo
Tom Stanley | Courtesy photo
Youth are the future of the NRCA, according to the Board of Directors. High school and 4-H rodeo competitors may enter these amateur rodeos without paying for a membership. Tom Stanley | Courtesy photo
Goat tying was the first women’s event added after the barrel racing. Today, women can compete in four total events, including these, breakaway roping, and mixed team roping. Tom Stanley | Courtesy photo
Hulett, Wyoming’s NRCA rodeo in 1974. Tom Stanley | Courtesy photo
Hulett, Wyoming’s NRCA rodeo in 1974. Tom Stanley | Courtesy photo