Black Hills Roundup Rodeo History

The Roundup is one of the oldest continuously held outdoor rodeos in America. For five exciting days surrounding the July 4th holiday weekend, thousands of regional residents, and people from across the country and abroad, come to Belle Fourche to celebrate.The Black Hills Roundup started years ago when 15,000 people gathered in a Belle Fourche field to help raise funds for the 1918 war. This was an astonishing number of people to show up considering the population of Belle Fourche was 1,410. Even though World War I ended the next year, the success of the first year prompted them to try it again and again.

The first Roundup was more a contest of real ranch skills than anything we see at rodeos today. There were no chutes or stands; the arena had barely enough fence to keep the wild broncs contained. The cowboys competed anyway. The rules were simple: choose your bronc, ear him down, climb aboard, nod your face and start the race. It took two or three cowboys to “ear a horse.“ One cowboy would grab the horse by the head and bite the horse’s ear to control him. While the horse was distracted the other two would saddle him and the rider would climb aboard. Injuries to horse and riders were common in this process. Today`s method is safer for the cowboy and the horse. Today a horse is ran into a chute that is just big enough for him to stand. The cowboy works from above the horse where he has more control and ability to calm the horse and prevent the horse from hurting himself and others. The equipment has also changed for the comfort of the horse and the safety and advantage of the cowboy.

Today, top ranked cowboys and cowgirls perform in the many events including barrel racing, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, bull riding, team roping and more. Spectators will be able to view the action while enjoying new seating – part of $600,000 of improvements finished in 2006.


The aptly named bronc “Skyrocket” with Calgary Red aboard during the 1917 Roundup.

Roman Riding

A rare photo of Roman Racing; an event that was part of the Black Hills Roundup during it’s second and third decades.

Cowboy Band

The historic Belle Fourche Cowboy Band is seen here in a group pose at the 25th Annual Black Hills Roundup in 1943. The band was officially organized in 1931, but had been together since before the turn of the previous century. The Belle Fourche Cowboy Band has performed at rodeos throughout the west and even for President Eisenhower at Mt. Rushmore, but they always call Belle Fourche home. When you attend the Black Hills Roundup, you can still have the rare experience of hearing a live cowboy band performing at a rodeo event. It’s one more thing that enhances your true western experience at the Roundup.

Yakima Canuti

Yakima Canutt riding Rainbow at the Roundup circa 1920.


Famous bucking horse Tipperary at the Roundup in 1922 with Howard Tegland aboard. Yakima (left) was the first cowboy to ever earn a qualified ride on the legendary bucking horse in 1920. Yakima rode Tipperary a second time before a packed house of rodeo fans at the Roundup in 1921.

Bareback Rider

An early bareback rider at the Roundup – perhaps double grabs were the only way to go back then!

Old Bull Rider

The famous bucking bull Sharkey – notice the use of the saddle. It didn’t seem to help.

Buffalo herding

As in many early rodeos, buffalo were part of the festivities. The Black Hills Roundup was no exception.