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A Man and His Horse


Some Christmases take on a completely different meaning than others. It was like that a year ago today outside a Mandan hospital.

Jim Tescher, one of the state’s greatest rodeo champs, was from Sentinel Butte, the middle child of 15 kids. He grew up during the depression, began his rodeo career at age 16 and went on to capture some of the nation’s highest honors, including the 1955 steer wrestling title at Madison Square Garden.

In August 2003, 74 year-old Tescher had a four-wheeler accident that put him in a Mandan hospital. A broken neck left him partially paralyzed – a tough break for a very tough cowboy.

Tescher’s wife, Loretta, and their five children rallied around him. Jim and Loretta were prom dates in 1946 and had been married for 56 years. Jim’s niece, Rebecca Tescher Robison, wrote that Loretta “wiped his tears and soothed his heart as her own was breaking. A lifetime of love and laughter, ranching, rodeoing, children, card playing and dancing was drawing down.”

After five months in the hospital, Tescher was hoping to at least get into a wheelchair so he could go home to his ranch. He wanted to see his horses,

In late December, Loretta got together with daughter Bonnie and Tescher’s nurse to help their favorite cowboy realize one of his dreams. On December 23rd, Tescher was settled into a wheelchair, and Loretta rolled him down the hall and out the door. From behind a tree, Bonnie emerged with a quarter horse gelding named Bonner. He was Jim’s favorite horse; he had raised him from a colt and over the next 20 or so years, he came to depend on Bonner for his hardest ranch jobs. Bonnie had brought the horse in from Sentinel Butte to see his master.

Tescher’s sister, Dona Lowman, said that Bonner recognized Jim right away. “The bond was still there even after dad being gone for four or five months,” said Jim’s son, Troy.

Tescher clicked his tongue, and Bonner came to him and nuzzled his face and touched his nose to Tescher’s. One of the toughest cowboys North Dakota has ever produced said, “This is the best Christmas present I’ve ever had,” and started to cry.

Tescher passed away just four days later. After his funeral, Bonner trailed riderless behind the hearse as it climbed the rugged buttes to the Medora Cemetery. His four white stockings matched the snow-blanketed hillsides, and he was wearing the saddle Tescher won at the Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1966.

The weather dipped below zero as Tescher’s friends and fellow cowboys carried his casket to his final resting place. As the people moved away, bronco champion Brad Gjermundson led Bonner to Jim’s grave-side to say goodbye. The cedar casket was branded with Tescher’s brands, and on top was a spray of Badlands cedar, prairie trimmings, Jim’s worn boots, his spurs and a rope.

Jim’s brother-in-law, Jim Lowman, recalled a prayer that Tescher taught him 30 years earlier, when he first started working for the cowboy: “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love, commits me here. Ever this day, be at my side, to light and guard and rule and guide.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm