Imperial Valley College Journalism

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Brawley Cattle Call Rodeo: A Labor of Local Love


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By Naomi Klockmann

The bull riding entry fee is $121 at the Brawley Cattle Call Rodeo in November 2009, and a bull rider gets one chance to prove himself.  This bull rider is about to hit the ground before his minimum eight-second ride will qualify him for the national competition.

The bull riding entry fee is $121 at the Brawley Cattle Call Rodeo in November 2009, and a bull rider gets one chance to prove himself. This bull rider is about to hit the ground before his minimum eight-second ride will qualify him for the national competition. --Photo by Naomi Klockmann

BRAWLEY, Calif.– Heart beating wildly, crowd cheering madly, Trevor Smith climbed over the bucking chute and carefully balanced his weight on a two-ton, half-crazed-bull. His gloved hands quickly working the bull rope that would allow him to maintain balance. As his name was announced over the loud speakers, Smith, like any bull rider, was focused on an adrenaline rush to get him through the next eight seconds.

The chute flew open and that two-ton bull bolted straight out the gate. Holding fast to the bull rope, Smith held on, the crowd roaring, but still he couldn’t hear them. He hit the ground hard, and never looking back, ran to safety. The ride that felt like an eternity was in reality only about three seconds long.

Cotton Rosser, 81, president of the “Flying U” rodeo company, supplies all of the livestock to the Cattle Call, as well as dozens of other rodeo events around the country.  Rosser has been a fixture at Cattle Call since it began in 1953.

Cotton Rosser, 81, president of the “Flying U” rodeo company, supplies all of the livestock to the Cattle Call, as well as dozens of other rodeo events around the country. Rosser has been a fixture at Cattle Call since it began in 1953. --Photo by Naomi Klockmann

Bull riding has been one of the main events at the Brawley Cattle Call Rodeo in Southern California’s Imperial Valley for over 50 years now and has always attracted fans. Bull riders come from as far away as Japan to ride in this rodeo. But bull riding is far from the only crowd pleasing event at the Cattle Call Rodeo. At this rodeo there are nine different sports played out in three hours, not including the all-time favorite “Mutton Bustin’,” as well as the glitz and glam that is the Royal Rodeo Court.

Since 1960, the Brawley Cattle Call Rodeo has been part of the California Pro Rodeo Circuit. Because of the timing of this rodeo, the second weekend in November, Brawley gets to see a lot of big names in the rodeo industry. All sportsmen need to have a certain number of rides to qualify for nationals.

But out of all the rodeos around California, Nevada and Arizona, what puts the Brawley Cattle Call on the map?

“It’s the facilities and the community,” explained Flying “U” president, Cotton Rosser. “I have been supplying livestock to rodeos around the

Kaylyn Sampson, 17, ran for teen queen two years ago and loved it. She said she knew she just had to run for queen when she got older and was crowned the 2009 Cattle Call Queen.  --Photo by Naomi Klockmann

Kaylyn Sampson, 17, ran for teen queen two years ago and loved it. She said she knew she just had to run for queen when she got older and was crowned the 2009 Cattle Call Queen. --Photo by Naomi Klockmann

west coast for over 50 years and I have never seen a nicer or safer facility. And Brawley is one of the hardest working communities.” Rosser said that he has met a lot of people who he has remained friends with over the years and that the rodeo should really be called “The Homecoming” because everyone from college students to retired farmers comes back home to Brawley to see their hometown rodeo.

Trevor Smith, a 26-year-old-bull rider, agrees. “I think out of all the rodeos I have been to this one is definitely the best one, it has a better turn out, it sticks to time lines, it has better quality live stock and participants with big names in the rodeo world. It has personality.”

Smith, originally from Brawley, says that when he tells other riders that he’s from Brawley they know he means the Cattle Call Rodeo. “Brawley has really good volunteers working behind the scenes and things are really smooth while at most rodeos things get a little hectic and people can be obnoxious.”

In “Mutton Bustin’,” children ride sheep until they fall off.  It's a wildly popular competition at the Brawley Cattle Call.

In “Mutton Bustin’,” children ride sheep until they fall off. It's a wildly popular competition at the Brawley Cattle Call. --Photo by Naomi Klockmann

Phillip Rutherford, whose father was part of the original

One of the things that sets the Cattle Call Rodeo in Brawley, California apart from all the others are the opening and half-time acts.  “For most rodeos you can say, ‘If you’ve seen one you’ve seen ‘em all,’ but not at this rodeo, there’s something different and exciting every year,”  commented Cotton Rosser, a long-time livestock supplier for the rodeo.

One of the things that sets the Cattle Call Rodeo in Brawley, California apart from all the others are the opening and half-time acts. “For most rodeos you can say, ‘If you’ve seen one you’ve seen ‘em all,’ but not at this rodeo, there’s something different and exciting every year,” commented Cotton Rosser, a long-time livestock supplier for the rodeo.

Cattle Call committee, said there are hundreds of people who volunteer during Cattle Call weekend. “People don’t realize just how many people and organizations come to help out such as the Boy Scout troop, the Explorers and some years the local 4-H groups.” They, and other volunteers, help with traffic control, seating, passing out programs, and helping to get things organized back stage. Rutherford also said that all revenue collected from the rodeo goes back into paying for the upkeep of the rodeo grounds. “That’s why this place is so nice and the facilities are so up to date. Just a few years ago we got brand new bucking chutes.”

One of the more celebrated events at the rodeo is the Cattle Call queen and her court. Junior Queen, Anna Archer, of Brawley, California, laughed as she described the community behind the queens. “When we’re about to ride into the arena random people will run up to us and start wiping off our boots or straightening our hats.” She went on to explain how her ‘arena outfits,’ which can get awful pricey, were practically all borrowed from other girls who had run for queen in the past years. From shirts to boots people around Brawley had chipped in to help her have a great experience without spending too much.

Two other events at the Cattle Call Rodeo call for volunteers. The all-time favorite “Mutton Bustin’” and the Sunday afternoon family day. In the “Mutton Bustin’” competition children ride sheep until they fall off. The sheep are provided by a local family and volunteers help to get the children up and on for their exciting ride.

Every year at the rodeo, an area is set aside with plastic bull heads and hay bales so kids can practice roping a makeshift steer. Little cowboys and cowgirls are helped by teenage volunteers who know how to rope a bull and enjoy teaching.

Justin Spieler, 16, from Brawley, doesn’t remember how long he has been roping but he loves it. “I like coming out here to help and it’s not hard work at all, it’s really fun.”

And as the dust finally settles after Sunday’s rodeo, riders pack up and take off to their next destination. Volunteers begin to clean up and formulate plans for the next rodeo. And people around the valley congratulate each other on a job well done.

4 Replies

  1. Ofelia Perez Dec 17th 2009

    I respect the whole rodeo culture, but I don’t understand why someone would call a rodeo “a labor of love.” At least, not for the animals.

  2. Good point, Ofelia.

  3. Great article! Ran across it while looking for a theme for WordPress.

    Love Rodeo! Love the animals, too. Rodeo has come a long way since the cruel days of ripping horns off, and breaking necks. Cowboys have a heart too!

    As a former owner of a weekly newspaper, I want you to know that I would be proud to have posted this article!

    Way to go Naomi!

    Mark Hurd
    Little Rock, Ar

  4. Mojave Dec 9th 2010

    Mark, do you think calf roping will also work its way out as well? Seems mighty cruel to do that to an animal at such a tender age and some break bones in the process. Not entertaining to me one bit.


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