Blackfeet North American Indian Days – Rodeo

This post has been moved to All future postings of Powwows, Indian Relay Races, Rodeos and Rendezvous will be posted there from now on exclusively. So if you’re looking for new images and posts for all those events attended this year, plus all the old posts posted on check out See you there!


The North American Indian Days is an annual event held on the Blackfeet Indian reservation usually in July and is billed as one of the biggest tribal get-togethers in North America. They say North American instead of the Unites States because some of the participants are from tribes that live in Canada. It lasts for about a week, four days according to the advertisements, but everybody’s there early and leaves late so plan on at least five or six days if you want the full experience.

Rodeo plays a huge part in the festivities at the North American Indian Days. There are events for everyone and they provide a chance for the contestants to show off their skills in front of an audience of their peers. Winning a pot full of money for being the best in their event doesn’t hurt either. There are numerous events and many contestants in each one so we’re going to present an overview of the rodeo. Some of the highlights of each event and some of the atmosphere that makes going to the Rodeo such an exciting experience. In the shot above you see that everyone doesn’t walk away a winner. At least not this time. But there’s always the next event and the outcome can be completely different. This is a longer post than usual because there is so much to take in. Read it at your leisure or just look at the pictures. Both work. As always click on an image to see a larger version.


As in all events the rodeo is opened with presenting the flag and paying tribute to our great country. Because there were such a large number of Indian participants and visitors present from Canada they proudly displayed their flag with ours.


The first event was Barrel riding where the rider enters the ring and rides a pattern around three barrels. The horse and rider have to act as one and you can see the effort and concentration by both in this shot.


Rodeo is a family sport. Each member has an event they participate in. Here a dad is showing his son how to do it. The youngster is only three years old. Rodeo starts early.



Whenever you deal with steers or bulls you are tempting the fates. The rodeo actually started in the chute before the door got opened and consequently the participants both human and animal, tumbled out into the arena. This is not an opportune way to begin your ride.


Here the bull had divested itself of its rider and was celebrating. In speaking with the rodeo clown later he was asked what his plan was in running in under the bull like that. His reply was that he thought he could catch the bulls hind legs while they were in the air and hold him up while he wheelbarrowed him over to the catch pen. Unfortunately that did not work out. The clown is still alive though and already working up new ideas for the next event.


In the team roping event the plan is for one roper called a header to get a rope around the calf’s head and the other roper called a heeler to get one around the calves back legs thereby immobilizing the calf so it could be branded. This time the heeler or back leg catcher got his rope around only one leg instead of both. Still counts but with a ten second penalty added to their score.



This event is called the Tie down or break away event. The end of the rope used to catch the calf is tied to the saddle horn with a piece of string and the rider ropes the calf. The horse immediately stops and when the calf runs out far enough it breaks the string and time is called. Fast, fun event.



Here we see “How to Catch a Cowboy”. The trick is to convince the cowboy to hop like a rabbit, while the cowgirl acts as a heeler and ropes his feet while he’s in the air. When she catches him, he’s quickly hog-tied and, well, caught. What happens from that point on was not displayed. This was not an official sanctioned event, but we were told it goes on all the time.


Bareback bronc riding is the event that started rodeo. Everything else evolved from this event. It’s pretty simple, you climb on the horses back and ride. He tries to throw you off. Eight seconds pass and if you’re still on the horses back you wins. If not, there’s always next time.


The horse will attempt all manner of things to dislodge the rider. He’s a coiled spring ready to explode.



Steer wrestling is when a big cowboy deliberately jumps off his horse to catch a steer and wrestle it to the ground. This event always looks like a mistake that grew into a huge exciting event. It’s serious though and one of the more dangerous interpersonal contact sports there is in rodeo.


However when it goes wrong, like here when the calf went another way just as the cowboy leapt from his speeding horse to bulldog it, you see that it terribly unforgiving of any error.


Besides losing your horse, the face plant in the dirt and the resulting mouthful of arena soil just adds insult to injury.


2015-07-24Rodeo5320The amazing thing and the proof that you are watching truly exceptional cowboys is he never lost his hat.



The storyteller. All around the arena you will find spectators sitting on the fence watching the action and talking. And as it has always been there is one that can mesmerize his fellows with stories of amazing adventure and incredible action. HIs rapt audience hangs on every word. This is one of those storytellers.


2015-07-24Rodeo5832Saddle bronc riding is just like bareback riding except you use a saddle. Still just as exciting.



These are the pickup men. They’re out in the arena to catch the cowboy off the back of bucking horses after the ride is over, catch and return the riderless horses to the catch pen, and generally do the work that needs to be done to keep the events moving steadily through  the rodeo. It’s not a simple task and there is often a lot of action right up against the fence as things unfold. Besides the rodeo clowns these men are the unsung heroes of the rodeo.


They are also the ones that handle the unruly bulls and other bucking stock. They need to be experienced, unflappable men and they are.


Here’s another event straight out of the history books of ranch work. The calf roping. A calf is released, the cowboys chases it down, ropes it and he gets off his horse while it backs up holding the calf steady.


2015-07-24Rodeo6014He quickly reaches the calf, ties all four feet together immobilizing it so it can be branded.


2015-07-24Rodeo6018As soon as he’s finished you see his arms come up and time is called. The cowboy and horse work as a team and the better the teamwork the shorter the time.


Normally the last event on the schedule is bull riding. It’s last because it is the most exciting and the one everyone wants to see. This is the event that puts the show business in rodeo. There is very little need for a bull to be ridden in normal ranch work. You’re not going to break them to ride, or to pull a buggy to town. When a cowboy crawls on the back of a bull it for one reason and one reason only. To see if he can do it, can he ride this monster beast for eight seconds without getting killed or maimed. It is a test of courage. And people love to see it.


Many times the whole event is over before the bull clears the chute. But even if the event lasts for only a second or two it is packed to the brim with unbridled excitement. Enough so that entire events are held showcasing bull riding only. Lots of Ace bandages and liniment are sold at these events.

The rodeo is held several nights during the North American Indian days and it’s a new show every night. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

Bull Riding – Not Aways A Love Story

This post has been moved to All future postings of Powwows, Indian Relay Races, Rodeos and Rendezvous will be posted there from now on exclusively. So if you’re looking for new images and posts for all those events attended this year, plus all the old posts posted on check out See you there!


There’s not a lot of love lost between the cowboys and the bulls at the best of times, but sometimes things are a little more intense than others. As the soon as the chute opened on this ride you knew it wasn’t going to end well.


The bull had been feeling peckish most of the day and wasn’t in the best of moods to begin with.


When the cowboy with the unique headgear climbed aboard, well, that was the last straw.


The bull decided to do his patented shake and bake and then tried to roll out the dough, so to speak. With the cowboy being the dough today. When he turned to look the cowboy in the eye the message was pretty clear, “I’m not done with you yet ,boy.” being understood.


Fortunately for the cowboy, his angels in baggy pants were there to save his bacon. Distracting the bull from performing its next indignity on the cowboy, the rodeo clowns ran into the fray giving the cowboy a chance to get away with his parts intact if not his dignity.


The bull remembering his original intention of dismembering the cowboy was somewhat upset that he got away, and looked around closely for someone else to vent on.


Seeing it was pretty much over the bull let everyone know that things would be different next time. And there would be a next time. As long as there are cowboys and bulls and rodeos, next time is just around the corner.

A Journey Of One



Buffalo are herd animals. They clump together, do everything together, find comfort in the closeness that develops within the herd. Kind of like us, I guess. Many of us see ourselves as individuals, loners, aloof from the herd. Yet we build our houses right next to each other, shop and meet in the same places, get nervous if we haven’t seen or be seen by others. We are herd animals.

So how does that individuality thing work then. For a very few of us it means withdrawing from the group, living somewhere remote, or simply doing everything in our power to be detached from everyone else. One can be a hermit in the middle of a crowd by choosing not to interact, or making every contact as minimal as possible. Living inside yourself. The jury is still out on whether that is a good or bad thing.

Buffalo bulls are ones that tend to be loners. Except during the rut and mating season. Then they join the herd and act like regular members, but  when their responsibilities are fulfilled and they’ve done their part in making sure the herd prospers and grows they revert back to being loners and individuals even if they stay near the herd. Their journey is complex. It’s also hard to understand unless you’re another bull.

Living in this world is a complicated process. How you go about it is as varied as the number of those doing it. But one thing is clear, when everything is said and done it is always a journey of one.

Animal Portraits – Otters



I was walking down memory lane this morning when I found myself along the Madison river in Yellowstone. It was way back in 2005 and I had been hoping to see some elk cross the river. Elk crossing the river is always good shooting. Bulls stopping to thrash their antlers in the water, throwing spray into the air, bellowing, cows bunching up to wait him out before they cross behind him. This was September so the rut was in full force and there was always lots of action.

But there weren’t any elk. They had moved out to greener pastures and the river was empty. I was just getting ready to pack up and find something else to shoot when I heard a high-pitched squealing coming from downstream. It was a young otter that had gotten separated from its family and was crying desperately to be found. It was racing frantically back and forth along the bank, shooting out into the river, climbing everything it could find and continually calling out for the others to come find it. This was the beginning of a very good afternoon.

Now otters in Yellowstone are not rare. But they’re one of those animals that you never see. Not unless you’re lucky. You can spend your entire time hunting for them, chasing down rumors, staking out places where they’ve been and never see one. Then you’ll talk to someone who had been picnicking at one of the picnic sites along the river and they’re all “Oh yeah we saw them. They were fishing right in front of us. One of them caught this great big trout. It was really neat. There was like four of them.  You should have been here. ” Serendipity plays a very big part in Otter spotting.

Now any place along the river is prime otter territory but there are some places more prime than others. I just happened to be unknowingly at one of them at just the right time. There is a spot on the Madison that is called the “Log Jam”. It’s just a little ways upstream past 7 mile bridge in a wide shallow bend in the river. It’s shallower there than the areas above and below and consequently a perfect place for the logs and branches floating downstream to snag and pile up forming the log jam.

This is the otter equivalent of Disneyworld. They go absolutely gonzo nuts in a place like that. First off every part of the Log Jam in an E ticket ride, they crawl up on it, they dive off of it, they wrestle and toss each other into the river. They take naps on the larger logs that are warm from the sun, hang out, talk about their day, fight, play snuggle, goof off, and generally just be otters, plus there’s food all over the place. Trout are always under and around the logs and so are the otters, because the only thing they like better than playing and sleeping is eating.

The otter family wasn’t lost. They were just upstream of the log jam and the youngster was on the downstream side. After Mom heard the little one wailing she gave a few sharp barks and soon they were all reunited again. Thus began one of the most perfect afternoons in the entire history of Yellowstone, Photography, Otter watching and sublime happiness, ever. As if deciding to give this photographer a gift they spent the next several hours swimming back and forth between that Log Jam and the confluence of the Madison and Gibbon and Firehole rivers at the eastern end of the Madison valley. Maybe a distance of 5 or 6 miles. We, the otters and I, plus about a dozen other photographers that joined in, walked back and forth along that stretch of river until I had filled every storage card I had with me with otter pictures and the otters decided it was time to go somewhere else. Without a sound they suddenly turned and swam downstream faster than we could run and they were gone. In the nearly 10 years since that afternoon that I’ve been going to Yellowstone I have never duplicated that experience again.

Fortunately I have these images to remind me of that incredible afternoon. It’s not the same but it’s pretty darn good.


First Date

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It’s Fall and love is in the air. Elk are a little different from the other animals because when the rest of the world is in love it’s in the spring but with elk everything happens in the fall, and there’s not a lot of time to get all this courtship and dating stuff done either. Soon the snow is going to be ass deep to a tall Ute Indian, and they’ll be too busy trying to stay alive to have time for the lighter side of life, so they have to get the getting to know you part over as quickly as possible.

Decisions need to be made in a hurry and there’s not much time for the usual questions at the singles bar like “where you from babe” and “What’s your sign” and “Do you like long walks on the beach”. Instead it’s more like “Hi I’m Theodore, C’mere” and if she decides she’s not that interested he’ll just run her around until she gives up out of pure fatigue. It’s a fairly normal first date for elk. Lots of relationships start out that way.

As she’s catching her breath she thinking he’s got pretty big antlers and he’s definitely butch enough and besides he’s already got 15 to 20 other young cows all aflutter over him and she figures she’s better looking than they are, so this just might be an OK deal after all. When she figures out that he can hold his own after knocking a few of her old suitors tail over teacup, she’ll think more highly of him and stick around. There is a halfway decent chance the kids just might turn out alright with this guy.

The herds vitality depends on this Theodore here, and all the other bulls doing their jobs so the cows can get back to putting on the pounds to carry them through the winter. They’ll soon be eating for two or maybe even three soon and snow is on its way. So let’s quit this running around and finish this party and knock this foreplay down to threeplay or even twoplay, time’s a wasting. Then we can all head down to the low country before we get stuck here for the winter.

Antler Dance

DancingSchool9583click to enlarge

It’s Spring, their antlers are growing and they’re filled to the gills with exuberance over making it through another hard winter in the Rockies. High up in Rocky Mountain National Park, right at the tree line, the young and older bulls gather to rest, eat and grow antlers. There are no predators to worry about and for now the living is easy. Now is the time for them to rejuvenate and get set for September. So with all this free time on their hooves what do young bulls think about? You guessed it, Dancing!

At this point in their development their antlers are soft, covered with velvet and fragile. Normally these young bulls would be testing their mettle by mock fighting and finding every available shrub, bush or tall grass clump to jam their antlers into to remove the velvet that is driving them crazy. Since it is too soon to do that, and as their antlers have to triple in size from where they are now before the velvet comes off, and fighting would damage them so they wouldn’t grow, or if they did grow they would be deformed. So what do they do to burn off this excess energy.? Why they Dance!

Just like Zorba, when they’re faced with life’s frustrations or they are happy because elk giddiness has over taken them, they dance. And of course you must dance with a friend, and you must dance as if you mean it. Throw caution to the winds, let your inhibitions float away on the summer breezes and dance. Steps are not important, neither is skill, what is important is that you make certain that the universe knows that you are a young bull in your prime and you have your entire future ahead of you.

So listen, we can learn a lot from our animal friends and if you find yourself in a snit, or life is unfair, or you are just insanely happy for no apparent reason, go find yourself a lingering snowfield, throw your antlers back and follow their lead and dance your shiny hooves off. You”ll feel better I guarantee it.

The Navigator

TheNavigator5413click to enlarge

If you have ever wondered how those bull elk with their huge antlers navigate through the dense woods in the mountains where they live here’s a small example. The antlers on these big boys can grow to some truly incredible sizes, spanning 48 inches or more and growing to a length of four feet. They can weigh as much as 40 pounds. Imagine walking around with a 40 pound bag of dog food on your head and you get an idea as to why these guys tend to get grumpy in the fall. Well, we know there are other reasons too, but this has got to be right up there.

TheNavigator5422click to enlarge

Taking a look at this thicket of dense shrubs, small trees, larger trees, deadfalls, snags and everything else that makes up prime elk habitat, you wonder why would he even want to go in there.

TheNavigator5433click to enlarge

But there is no way to tell what is going on in an animal’s mind and we can only watch and wonder.

TheNavigator5434click to enlarge

The grass being greener in the middle of the woods he starts into the stand of trees, slowly moving forward with his head down, so preoccupied with getting as much of that new fresh grass in his stomach that he soon finds his antlers under a deadfall.

TheNavigator5435click to enlarge

I neglected to mention that those antlers are covered in a soft downy velvet that has a blood flow just under the surface to maintain the growing process and are very sensitive. These fellows takes a great deal of care not to bang into things or damage those antlers in any way. Now if that were one of us with our 40 pound bag of dog food strapped to our head but having it sticking out two feet on either side and connected to our central nervous system we would be ‘freaking out’.  Not this guy though, he knows to a millimeter where the ends of those antlers are and he slowly but carefully maneuvers them down and around that snag without the slightest hesitation. His neck muscles have to be incredibly strong to be able to constantly control the tilt and angle of that heavy load day in and day out until he drops them in mid-winter.

TheNavigator5437click to enlarge

Having conquered that little obstacle he heads off into the dense forest. If you watch elk at all you will often see them running through terrain like this. They will tip their antlers back laying them along their flanks and just bust through those trees. Of course they usually do that when the velvet is off and the antlers have hardened to the point where they can withstand everything a bull elk does, from digging into the ground to throw clumps of grass and debris into the air to show how tough he is, to actually proving it by smashing into another bull his size, crashing their antlers together, hoping to vanquish his foe and thereby capture the ladies.