Tradition is important in Grover, Colo., and for 89 years the residents have kept the Father's Day tradition of bringing top flight professional rodeo to the plains of northeastern Colorado alive. The first rodeo put on in Grover was in 1921 and Earl Anderson took over the rodeo in 1929. Back then there was no arena and the rodeo was held under the town's water tower. The PRCA still lists the address for the rodeo as "just south of the water tower." When Earl Anderson passed away, the Grover rodeo became the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo.
Earl's son Jack, who now is the driving force behind the rodeo, remembers the old chutes, "They were tied together with wire, bridge planks, ties, boards, and more bridge planks. It was stout enough to hold anything." Up until 1947 there was no real arena fence and the 'fence line' was formed by the patron's cars and trucks. Even today folks back their trucks right up to the fence, have a tailgate party and watch the rodeo.
To put on a rodeo for 89 years is an exceptional achievement, especially when you consider that Grover has a population of around 150 and is pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. To the residents and the generations associated with the rodeo over the years, the Grover Rodeo is a part of their identity, and they are very proud of it.
Stability is what has kept this rodeo going for so many years and continuity is the real backbone of the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo. Pete Burns started coming to the Grover Rodeo in 1949 and in 1958, he took over as the stock contractor. Burns lived in Laramie, Wyo., where he operated Summit Rodeo Company and already had a long association with rodeo. In the 80s Pete Burns dissolved Summit Rodeo and formed Burns Rodeo Company with his son Hal. In the late 80s, after a short time where Cervi was the stock contractor, Burns Rodeo Company became the stock contractor for the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo, a relationship which continues to this day.
When asked why his family has been so loyal to the Grover Rodeo over the years, Hal Burns said, "Any rodeo is a good rodeo, but anybody that's been here before, knows it's different than any other rodeo. There's not even a gas station in Grover. Your crowd camps out on the hill behind. It's just a different attitude here. There's no big hustle and bustle here. People just come out to see people and watch some good rodeo. There is no other rodeo that I know of that has the atmosphere that Grover has."
The Burns family now has a third generation that works the Grover Rodeo. Hal Burns' son Cade is a PRCA Bullfighter and protecting cowboys at the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo. Twenty-three-year-old Cade Burns says "I've been coming to Grover as long as I can remember. It's rich in tradition and there are lots of guys here that have been retired for a long time now. To me, the best part about coming to Grover is visiting with the old timers and hearing stories from when they really bucked back in the wild days."
The ties of the Anderson and Burns families are further interwoven with others that work the Grover rodeo. Barrel Man J.W. Winklepleck is also an accomplished Bareback rider, and you can see him competing at the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo in his face paint.
"This is rodeo in the raw. It's the tradition and the nostalgia here at Grover. So many people and their families come here year after year." said Winklepleck, "That's what makes Grover, Grover." J.W. graduated from the University of Wyoming in Laramie. He spent four years as a Bareback rider on the rodeo team and his coach was Pete Burns.
Shane Burris has been the voice of the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo for 10 years. Squeezed in with all of the events that he announces, Shane has an ABBI registered bucking bull breeding program at his ranch in Mosca, Colo. He also produces junior rodeos for kids in southern Colorado.
"What I love about Grover is the fact that nothing has really changed as far as the way they do things." said Burris, "They've got a team together and they feel this team works so why change something that is working." Shane Burris also graduated from the University of Wyoming, was on the rodeo team, had Pete Burns for a rodeo coach and J.W. Winklepleck was his college roommate.
The Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo in Grover, Colo., is a small town rodeo at its very best. It bills itself as being "The Biggest Little Rodeo in the West" and generations have grown up spending Father's Day with their dads, at Grover. Why don't you start your own Father's Day tradition next year?
The many people that have lived in Grover or have competed in the rodeo give a lot to insure that the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo continues. Sadly, the list of "Empty Saddles" that is read at the beginning of the last performance, grows longer with each passing year. The legacy of the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo will continue because there are plenty of eager youngsters who say, "I've been coming here with my Dad for my whole life," that are ready to take their place.