Sutton family roots deep in BHSS Rodeo |

Sutton family roots deep in BHSS Rodeo

Yvonne Hollenbeck
for Tri-State Livestock News
Cowboy Poker is one of the many crowd-pleasing events Sutton Rodeo has facilitated during the Black Hills Stock Show rodeo. Photo courtesy Sutton Rodeo

Without a doubt, one of the main reasons for the success of the Black Hills Stock Show Rodeo is the result of the hard work and dedication of South Dakota stock contractor and rodeo producer, Jim Sutton of Onida.

After the completion of the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1977, the center became home to some of the country’s greatest venues. The grand opening event on June 21, 1977, was a concert by Elvis Presley that was filmed for a CBS television special. Elvis died Aug. 16, 1977, this being one of his last concerts. The special was aired in September following his death.

After the building’s completion and opening, Jim Sutton approached the Civic Center directors with the idea of holding a rodeo in the building during the Black Hills Stock Show. They decided to lease Sutton the building to produce a rodeo in 1978. Jim invited the Central States Fair to move their cattle show to the building and have the event under one roof. In 1981 they accepted the offer and the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo, as we know it today, was born.

Jim Sutton was no stranger to producing rodeos and this first indoor event at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center was no exception. Because a rodeo event such as this was new to the area, Sutton took great effort to promote this event and insure its success. At a cost of $1,000, he brought Larry Mahan, who was rodeo’s icon at the time, to entertain with his singing talent during an intermission. In addition, the best contract acts, clowns and bullfighters were brought to Rapid City to perform. Mr. Sutton personally took these performers, along with rodeo queens, announcers and other personnel, to shopping centers and places where people gathered in an attempt to further promote the rodeo. Of course a close relationship was formed with the area news media, and the added support of radio, television and news publications helped considerably. The rodeo was a success and has seen substantial growth since the 1978 production.

The following year, an invitational bullfight competition was held, a first of such event, and a number of the world’s best bull fighters were on hand for what was to become an exciting event to be added to a number of large venues throughout the nation, including the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. The Black Hills Stock Show Rodeo proved to be a pioneer in many successful events to be copied and held throughout the world of rodeo. Other attractions added through the course of history of this rodeo was the Bailey Bail Off, a High School Match of Champions, Native American Rodeos, Bull Teeter Totter, Pyrotechnics and laser shows; and who can forget the Rodeo Style Poker Game?

Although it seems hard to imagine, each year the rodeo continues to get bigger and better as the Sutton production continues to add new and exciting events. Not only has the Black Hills Stock Show Rodeo received multiple nominations, but has been named the prestigious “Indoor Rodeo of the Year” two times. Because of the success of the rodeo, along with all the other attractions and events involved, the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo is the second largest tourism event in South Dakota, second only to the Sturgis Rally.

Which began through the hard work, imagination, and determination of one man, Jim Sutton, the Black Hills Stock Show Rodeo remains in the capable hands of Sutton and his entire family, all of who have had a big part in the success of the event, and will continue to do so in 2016.