South Dakota Boasts Three INFR Champions
To finally win the Indian National Finals Rodeo was to achieve a lifelong goal for Steven DeWolfe. The Bareback Riding gold buckle has eluded him for several years, but during the INFR at the South Point in Las Vegas Oct. 17-23, he drew four good bucking horses to help him earn the highest average score.
DeWolfe grew up in the heart of the Badlands of South Dakota, east of Buffalo Gap near a landmark called Cuny Table. He is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and comes from a family of rodeo champions. His paternal grandparents, Bob and Donna Shedeed, have been placed on the Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center Wall of Fame, having both won World All Around championships in 2005 in the National Senior ProRodeo Association, among many other titles. His maternal grandmother’s brother is Howard Hunter, of South Dakota bronc riding fame. Hunter was a four-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier, an INFR champion, and is honored yearly with a memorial bronc riding and a Tony Chytka bronze in the Days of ‘76 Museum in Deadwood. The latest INFR champion from his family was Wes Janis, a maternal uncle, who also won the bareback riding. “It was a big accomplishment for me, knowing that I have so many past champions in my family and was able to bring another world title home,” says DeWolfe.
DeWolfe’s rodeo career began just up the road from home, at the annual Three Mile Creek Rodeo Company Youth Rodeo Schools hosted by Dale and Mona Vocu. There in the hills of South Dakota, in an arena surrounded by his best boyhood friends, a dream was born in DeWolfe. That was 16 years ago. DeWolfe has also achieved his goal of making the Badlands Circuit Finals in 2015, but since then has been “chasing the Indian rodeos.” He travels all over the United States and Canada, and has won the Indian National Finals Tour for the past four years in a row.
DeWolfe is grateful for his dad, Stacy DeWolfe-Shedeed, who is no longer with him; and for his mother, Deborah Dewolfe-Shedeed, who is his biggest supporter. “Everybody in my whole family is super proud of me,” he says. The Indian National Finals Rodeos are special to DeWolfe because the competitors consist of those he considers his family. Traveling the country, he’s “met some amazing, beautiful people along the way and created a lot of lifelong friendships in the arena,” he says.
That sort of familial relationship with fellow competitors is what helped Tommie Kay Martin win her first INFR Junior Barrel Racing title, as well. Though she walked away clutching a gold buckle, her week was an emotional one. Martin and her gray mare, “Berrie”, won the first round to kick off the week, which was when Martin knew she had a chance to win it all. The second round was a “business run” and Martin put Berrie away in her stall as usual. When she returned a short while later, Berrie was three-legged lame.
The veterinarian was called. “ They did ultrasounds and x-rays and they couldn’t find anything. There was nothing we could really do,” Martin says. Most disappointing was that Martin was sitting well enough in the average that a world championship was just within reach. She only needed to make one last run.
Fortunately, two fellow competitors heard about Martin’s plight and each offered her a horse to run. “That’s when I wanted to go home, but I knew [Berrie] set me up perfectly to win it,” she says. Ultimately, Martin decided to run Shantell Brewer’s horse, Chic, knowing she ran to the left barrel first as Berrie does. Martin and Chic’s short round run was good enough for fourth in the round and helped Martin to win her first national title. Chic had already taken a victory lap around the South Point in her career. Three years ago, the sorrel mare helped Dupree, South Dakota’s Brewer to win the 2019 INFR Junior All Around buckle. Martin was able to jockey two horses to earn her title, a testament to her horsemanship.
The high school junior’s skill with horses may be inherited from her late father, Rodney Martin, who was known for horsemanship, starting colts, and cowboying. Martin remembers accompanying her father checking cows as a young girl. “He was hard on me, but it was because he wanted me to be good with horsemanship. I’m thankful for that now, because he taught me a lot,” she says. This gift is matched with her own hard work in the practice pen, with the help of her mother and stepfather in their arena at home. She and her brother, Rowdy, who also qualified to the INFR, carry on their father’s skill and native heritage.
After the INFR, Berrie was taken to Littleton Equine Medical Center in Colorado, where tests and scans were done once more without finding a definite answer. However, their best diagnosis is a hairline fracture on the pelvis (taking x-rays of a horse’s pelvis is extremely invasive and is usually avoided). Thus, Berrie will have the next four months off. Berrie was purchased from another South Dakota cowgirl, Kami Ireland, four years ago, and since then, Martin and Berrie have built an impressive resumé. They are South Dakota High School Rodeo pole bending champions and reserve barrel racing champions, INFR Tour Champions, and have qualified to the INFR twice.
A third event at this year’s INFR was won by another South Dakotan. Cash Wilson emerged the Saddle Bronc Riding champion, capping off his week with a whopping 80 point ride in the short round. Still, he won the title by just a point, beating out last year’s champion (and fellow South Dakota cowboy) Cole Elshere. For Wilson, it was also a family reunion after being away from South Dakota for a while, going to school at Tarleton State University and a summer pro rodeoing. His uncle Chancey Wilson of Muddy Creek Pro Rodeo had bucking horses at the Finals; his cousin Jeremy Meeks officially retired as a bronc rider during a special ceremony; and it was his little cousin Malcolm Heathershaw’s first INFR.
Wilson adds another title to his growing list, as he holds a South Dakota High School Rodeo championship, a National Little Britches Rodeo Association title, and was part of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Champion Men’s Team in 2022. Over half of the top eight saddle bronc riders were from South Dakota at this year’s INFR.
Other area average placewinners below.
1. Steven DeWolfe; Buffalo Gap, South Dakota
2. Bridger Amiotte; Wall, South Dakota
6. Rowdy Benson; Morristown, South Dakota
7. Greg Louis; Browning, Montana
6. Megan Small; Browning, Montana
1. Cash Wilson; Wall, South Dakota
2. Cole Elshere; Faith, South Dakota
3. Alan Kole Gobert; Browning, Montana
4. Kash Deal; Dupree, South Dakota
6. Kaden Deal; Eagle Butte, South Dakota
6. Britt Givens; Riverton, Wyoming
4. Shantell Brewer; Dupree, South Dakota
3. Preston Louis; Browning, Montana
5. Wynn Wells; Browning, Montana
7. Tahj Wells; Browning, Montana
8. Stran Smith; Eagle Butte, South Dakota
Junior Barrel Racing:
1. Tommie Kay Martin; Hayes, South Dakota
Junior Bull Riding:
1. Tahj Wells; Browning, Montana
Senior Team Roping Header:
1. Don Bettelyoun; Mission, South Dakota
Senior Team Roping Heeler:
1. Spider Ramone; Hays, Montana