GUNNISON, Colo. – This community in the middle of the Rocky Mountains is a true rodeo town, and the evidence is proven each July during its Cattlemen’s Days celebration.
The people in this town of more than 6,600 love their annual rodeo, and so do the cowboys that compete for a living. Further evidence was issued last week when the Cattlemen’s Days Rodeo was nominated for the PRCA’s Medium Rodeo of the Year.
“I think this nomination is a real big deal for the people in Gunnison,” said Brad Tutor, first vice president of the Cattlemen’s Days volunteer committee. “We have a lot of big rodeo fans, and this is the highlight of the year. It’s the biggest event Gunnison puts on.
“For us to be recognized for our sponsors, for our community and for everyone that puts this thing on means something.”
It’s been almost 25 years since Cattlemen’s Days received a nomination for top rodeo, and only five events across the country are up for the honor in each size category: small, medium, large outdoor and large indoor. In essence, PRCA members have selected Gunnison’s rodeo as one of the top 20 in North America.
“It’s quite an honor to be nominated again,” Tutor said. “What it really says about our committee is that we build a lot of relationships with our contractors, our stock contractor, our announcer, our secretary, our clowns, our bullfighters, our photographer and all those that come in and help us with our rodeo.
“Building those relationships really helps. We have great communication with those experts, and we ask what we can do to help them do what they need to do.”
Besides the rodeo’s nomination, there are several other parts of the 2022 Cattlemen’s Days that are also recognized by the PRCA, including Stace Smith Pro Rodeo, which is up for Stock Contractor of the Year; secretary Amanda Sanders; timer Shawna Ray; and photographer Robby Freeman.
Gunnison’s designation is also a tribute to local organizers who have overcome recent challenges while also working to produce an event for the community.
“This is what the people on our committee love to do,” Tutor said. “I think it’s a combination of things. A key reason, I think, is the fact that we put on a rodeo in 2020 during the COVID year. We worked tirelessly. We put that on for the people who compete in rodeo or work in rodeo to have a place to make a living.
“They remember it. Then, putting on good rodeos the next two years has really paid off for us. Those people haven’t forgotten us. More than half the rodeos in a normal year were canceled in 2020, and there were still many that didn’t happen again in 2021. By us being able to have our rodeo stay continuous, we made a statement to our community and to the people in rodeo.”
The previous two years saw record numbers of competitors making their way across mountain passes to be sure to be part of Cattlemen’s Days. In 2022, the numbers were still big, with more than 400 cowboys and cowgirls hoping to win the title in their respective events.
That field included more than a dozen world champions who accounted for 24 Montana Silversmiths gold buckles. A couple of them came away with the wins in Gunnison: Team roping heeler Patrick Smith, a two-time world champ, was part of the winning tandem in team roping with Tanner Tomlinson, while 2012 titlist Mary Walker earned a share of the barrel racing crown with National Finals Rodeo qualifier Jimmie Smith.
Other NFR qualifiers who claimed the championships in Gunnison were bareback rider Tilden Hooper and bull rider Jeff Askey.
“We had the best stock contractor in rodeo in Stace Smith, the best announcer with Andy Stewart, a past winner of Secretary of the Year with Amanda Sanders and last year’s Photographer of the Year in Robby Freeman,” Tutor said. “We draw the best of the best that the PRCA has to offer. I personally think it’s the best rodeo Colorado puts on. We’re proud to be nominated.
“I want to commend the committee and commend the volunteers who come in and help us. The people that dedicate their time and their lives get the kudos for this nomination. They deserve it for all they do to make our rodeo so successful.”