Dean's Bucket List

  • Rodeo performers
    Melissa Navarre preforms Roman Riding at Nebraska's Big Rodeo in Burwell.

    A rider attempts to stay on a saddle bronc at Nebraska's Big Rodeo in Burwell.



    In Burwell, the Rodeo Will be Big


    Nebraska’s Big Rodeo in Burwell is the largest in the state. When I first saw the NBR letters for the rodeo, I thought the B was for Burwell. But, it’s for Big.

    It’s big in many ways.

    Since 1921, Burwell has hosted this event with only a brief hiatus during World War II. The facility is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The huge wooden whitewashed complex with its covered grandstands is well maintained and looks like it popped right out of a western movie.

    “We’re more than just a rodeo,” explained Teresa Seidel of Burwell. Seidel is a volunteer who helps with marketing the event.

    “This is the best kept secret in Nebraska,” Mike Burham said. Burham is one of the rodeo board members. “People who come here are never disappointed.”

    Rodeo performers
    Slim Garner preforms as a rodeo clown at Nebraska's Big Rodeo in Burwell.

    A rider attempts to stay on a saddle bronc at Nebraska's Big Rodeo in Burwell.



    The rodeo is held in conjunction with the Garfield County Fair.

    When I arrived, there were young 4-H girls wearing gym shorts and cowboy boots pulling around large horses that towered over them. It was clear they were comfortable with the animals and the animals trusted those who were leading them.

    Young boys in Wrangler jeans practiced lassoing a roping dummy. Others sheared sheep or fed animals. No one had a cell phone or was sending text messages. Kids were too busy doing things and talking with one another.

    The rodeo started at 7 p.m. with the grand entry. This was a parade of royalty and special rodeo supporters.

    Once the rodeo started, the action was nonstop for two hours.

    It’s a combination of traditional rodeo events like bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, team roping, barrel races and bull riding. Included were unique events like chuckwagon races, a dinnerbell derby and a wild horse race. Throw in some specialty trick riding, clown acts and a drill team dance, and there is no down time between events.

    On a beautiful summer night, people from as far as Georgia enjoyed the distinctly Nebraskan rodeo.

    The dust flew as men, women and animals entertained and delighted those in the grandstands.

    The wild horse race in particular is a draw for Nebraska’s Big Rodeo. Teams of men attempted to saddle a wild horse and ride it once around the racetrack that encompassed the rodeo area.

    What sounds simple is anything but easy.

    Horses and men struggled to determine who’s in charge. After a short period of time, of the 10 teams that entered, only three men were able to ride around the track.

    The rest of the teams didn’t venture too well or the horses won that night.

    The last rodeo event was bull riding.

    The event staff offered me a ringside seat – literally a standing position right behind the bucking chute. This offered a unique perspective for taking photographs. It’s one thing to watch this event from the grandstand; it’s totally another to be so close that I could reach out and touch bull or rider.

    The intensity of the bull riders was palpable as they climbed onto the back of a 2,000 pound bull. The goal is to stay on for eight seconds. The riders tightly fastened one hand to the bull with a long braided rope. That’s all they get. It’s a risky sport and has been called the most dangerous eight seconds in sports.

    As one big bull and rider left the chute, the animal kicked the metal bars so hard it shook the platform.

    Rodeo performers
    Brian Schaefer of Pickrell gets some help from rodeo staff as he prepares to compete in the bull riding event at Nebraska's Big Rodeo in Burwell.

    The Ag Pro Insurance Team attempts to saddle a horse in the wild horse race at Nebraska's Big Rodeo in Burwell.



    To organize such a big event is a great challenge.

    Burwell is the only incorporated town in Garfield County with a population of 1,200 people. The total county population is 2,049.

    “It takes over 500 volunteers to pull off Nebraska’s Big Rodeo,” Burham explained. “At the peak of the event, we will have 20,000 visitors.”

    That means 25 percent of the entire county gets involved to make the rodeo happen.

    Apparently the residents of Garfield County have a big heart, appropriate for Nebraska’s Big Rodeo.

    “You’re going to be in awe. You’re going to need to see it twice,” explained Dale Seidel, another rodeo board member.

    It’s true. The rodeo has so much going on, moves so fast and is so “big” that it’s challenging to take it all in. For sure, it’s worthy of putting on your bucket list more than once.



    Chuck wagons race
    Chuck wagons race to the finish at the Nebraska's Big Rodeo in Burwell.



    Fremont Tribune








Copyright © Dean Jacobs 2015. All Rights Reserved.