Saturday, July 20, 2024

A good turnout: Memorial jackpot bulldogging attracts top pro steer wrestlers

A good turnout: Memorial jackpot bulldogging attracts top pro steer wrestlers

MEXICAN SPRINGS, N.M. – The Native Bulldoggers Memorial Jackpot held its annual event for the eighth time on Saturday afternoon.

It drew 44 entries as the event paid tribute to past steer wrestlers within the Navajo Nation. The jackpot was held at the Norman Bates Arena in Mexican Springs.

“We didn’t have it for two years because of Covid, but we brought it back,” said committee member Benny Yazzie Jr. “We do this to remember our Native bulldoggers. They did a lot for our sport.”

Yazzie, 52, added that another important purpose of the jackpot was to get the area youth involved as the number of bulldoggers has dwindled over the decades.

“We want our youth to be a part of this because there’s hardly any youth that want to steer wrestle,” he said. “As a group we’re trying to bring bulldogging back to the reservation.”

Barry Grass, the second-president of the NBMJ committee, concurred. The 62-year-old cowboy got his start in 1982 and he recalls having at least 40 steer wrestlers that entered at some of the smaller shows.

For rodeos like the Keith J. Boyd Memorial and the Ralph Johnson Memorial the numbers peaked at around 60 bulldoggers.

“I think from 1982 to 1986 were really the prime years,” Grass said. “I remember in 1982 at the tribal fair (Navajo Nation Fair) we got like 110 doggers to where we got some cowboys up north as far as Canada. We would get above 100 doggers all the way until the mid-80s.

“Man, when I first started in 1982 there was a rodeo every weekend that you go to that was close by,” he added. “Even through the winter, Window Rock had a lot of indoor rodeos going on and McGee Park in Farmington had its indoor rodeos. There were rodeos happening every weekend, and back then I was rodeoing full-time. There was always a good turnout.”

Grass says the number of bulldoggers dropped slightly when he left the sport in 2002.

“The time that I retired there was still a decent number,” Grass said. “I think the tribal fair was getting at least 80 bulldoggers back then. But the prime was in the early 80s to the mid 80s when we would get over 100 bulldoggers at the tribal fair. We would start on Monday and end on Sunday.”

And while the NBMJ entered its eighth year, the jackpot got its roots started in the early 1980s in Grass’ hometown of Shonto, Arizona. Back then it was known as the JR Roan Memorial Bulldogging.

But after a few successful runs, the event ceased until it was started up again in 2015 by the current group.

“We had the Shonto jackpot going for about five years,” said Grass, who is full Navajo. “We had a good turnout back then, but we stopped because everyone got too busy with work and their families.”

The current group is headed by Norman Bates, a former steer wrestler. The committee is eight strong and includes Sheridan Jodie, BK Bates, Calvin Murphy, Lenora Jodie and Mike Yazzie.

Like the previous years, the jackpot is open to the world as some of the entries included some of the top steer wrestlers in the PRCA ranks like Stetson Jorgensen and Dirk Tavenner.

The PRCA cowboys that made the trip were also entered in last week’s Home of the Navajo PRCA Rodeo held in Window Rock.

“We had a lot of the pro rodeo guys show up,” Mike Yazzie, a committee member said. “I think having the jackpot the same weekend as the pro rodeo really helped because we had a good turnout. The guys really like it.”

Through fundraisers the committee raised $8,000 in added money for a total payoff of $21,200. In addition to prize money, the jackpot event awarded a saddle to Jorgensen the overall jackpot winner. Currently, the Idaho cowboy is sitting at No. 3 in the PRCA world standings with $55,879 won.

“All the money that we collected from the sponsors and the money that was raised we gave it all back to the cowboys,” Mike Yazzie, 59, said. “We don’t keep nothing, and we don’t make any money off of this. Everything is paid out to the cowboys.

“We all know the struggles of being a cowboy,” he added. “This is our way of trying to help them out by giving everything back to them.”

With 44 paid entries the event exceeded last year’s numbers of 36 contestants.

“This is the most we’ve had,” Benny Yazzie, 52, said. “Hopefully, the youth will see all the money that is being paid out.

“We got some of the top names in the PRCA here,” he added. “This gives our youth and our people a chance to see them up close. Hopefully, it inspires the youth to give bulldogging a try.”

Jorgensen, who hails from Blackfoot, Idaho, won the average race with a 14.13 aggregate. He captured first-place in the first and third rounds with a 3.71 and 4.84 effort. He also placed second in Round 2 with a 5.58 run.

“It was a great a bulldogging,” Jorgensen said. “It had $8,000 added money and it had 44 guys entered, so it paid really good. I’m glad they changed the dates for the Window Rock rodeo so that I could make this work to come here.”

The four-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier felt that he drew three quality steers, but they were “a bit tricky.”

“They were older steers, and they had little tricks to them, but I ride good horses,” he said.

About The Author

Quentin Jodie

Quentin Jodie is the Sports Editor for the Navajo Times. He started working for the Navajo Times in February 2010 and was promoted to the Sports Editor position at the end of summer in 2012. Previously, he wrote for the Gallup Independent. Reach him at


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