The Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo: Still the ‘biggest little’ event in the West
Fort Collins, Colo.
The small town of Grover, Colo., is located a little north and east of Briggsdale — another small town, east of Fort Collins.
Grover is not on a major highway and the truth is that a lot of people that live in northern Colorado have no idea how to get to it.
That is certainly not true for rodeo fans and top PRCA rodeo competitors.
For 91 years, top rodeo contestants have been finding their way to Grover and the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo.
World champions Brittany Pozzi, Mary Walker, Stran Smith and Frank Thompson have all competed here.
Bull riders Jed Moore, Clayton Savage and Mike Morris all have Earl Anderson Championship buckles.
Bareback rider Royce Ford is an eight-time Wrangler National Finals qualifier that lives down the road in Briggsdale, that small town on the way to Grover, and he, too, has an Earl Anderson Championship buckle.
For Wyoming rodeo fans, there is always going to be someone there with the last name of Tillard — this year it was Casey, Tim, Troy, T.K., and Heidi.
Six-time WNFR qualifier and 2009 All Around World Champion Josh Peek comes to the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo to compete in steer wrestling and tie-down roping.
Area youngsters Wes Wahlert and Luke Gardner won calf riding buckles at Grover before moving up to the big time.
For the town of Grover to put on the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo for 91 years is an outstanding achievement and a tribute to the hard work and community spirit of the area residents.
Consider that, although the Greeley Stampede is larger and longer, its volunteers number more than three times the entire population of Grover.
Along with the community, which is the real backbone of the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo, it takes a good stock contractor to consistently bring top cowboys to a rodeo.
Grover has certainly had that in the Burns family.
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 1980s 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 continued up until this year.
In 2011, Pete Burns had retired from active participation in Burns Rodeo Company and Hal Burns sold half of the company to J.D. Hamaker. Together they furnished bulls and broncs to the Earl Anderson as well as other rodeos.
Remember those Earl Anderson championship buckles — J.D. Hamaker has four Saddle Bronc buckles from Grover.
Greg Talbert of Cheyenne Wells, Colo., and Jessie Hill of Franktown, Colo., have had a “born to buck” breeding program for bulls for a number of years and were producing championship bulls for the PBR and CBR.
Last year, Talbert and Hill bought out the remaining half of Burns Rodeo Company.
Pete Burns passed away this year, but before he passed, he and Les Gore, co-owners of the Summit Rodeo Company name, said that they would be proud to give the name to J.D. Hamaker and his partners. The “new” company pays tribute to the “old” company and is called Summit ProRodeo Company.
J.D. had his own well-established breeding program for bucking horses and explained why it was so difficult to develop a string of really good bucking horses.
“You can’t make them buck. You can’t teach them to buck. You can’t be mean to one to make him buck. In fact, if you are mean to him it makes him not buck. They buck because they want to.”
Hal Burns did not want to comment on his future projects, but did say that in the short term he was functioning as “kind of a silent partner and consultant to make sure that the transition was a smooth one.”
To show their appreciation to Hal Burns and Burns Rodeo Company, Jeff Wahlert, president of the Grover Community Club, and Steve Anderson, secretary/treasurer and grandson of Earl Anderson, presented Hal Burns a commemorative buckle for his family’s many years of association with the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo.
This year, they added something a little different at The Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo with ranch bronc riding.
Ranch bronc riding is a standard event at ranch rodeos, but is not a PRCA event. The differences between ranch bronc and saddle bronc are that ranch bronc is “ride as ride can,” and uses a standard saddle with a saddle horn.
A saddle bronc rein is used but two hands are allowed.
Ranch bronc riding is wild and wooly, and using the saddle that the cowboy worked in during the week rather than the specialized association saddle makes it more difficult.
The fans loved it and hope that it becomes a regular event at Grover.
Grover and the Earl Anderson Memorial rodeo is rodeo the way it used to be.
It is outdoors, sitting on bleachers, where no one is a stranger, and everyone is having a good time.
There are no bad seats, whether you are in the stands, sitting on the ground next to the fence, or in the bed of your truck enjoying your favorite beverage.
Hal Burns, who has seen a lot of rodeos, pretty well summed it up when he 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.”
Just like it did back in the “wild days,” rain or shine, the rodeo goes on.
Out on the grasslands the weather can be quite an adventure, but that is just part of the story that kids will tell their kids about how they used to spend Father’s Day with their dad.
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.” ❖