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Sovereign Bucks


Today’s story doesn’t really connect to any specific date. It’s more of a fun thing.

Fort Ransom began holding rodeos in 1934, and during the 1950s, one of the men who stood out in bronco riding was Fred Ward, from Hankinson. Ward was born in 1911 and got his first saddle when he was six. His father did a lot of horse-trading, and young Fred learned early that if he wanted to keep a horse, he better not get bucked off – and if he did, he better not come home crying – or his dad would take the horse and sell it.

As Fred and his brother, Everett, got older, they learned how to break horses. At that time, a man named Ray Snell ran a sales barn in Hankinson and also kept a string of bucking broncos. Train cars would come in from Montana filled with wild horses, and Snell would put them up for auction. Fred often went home from these sales with five or six horses to break and sell, along with a couple he wanted to keep for himself.

One day, a man from Geneseo, Bill Erickson, went to one of these auctions and bought a wild stallion. When he took the horse home, he tied him to a wagon that held hay and water. But, somehow the horse got tangled up in his ropes and ended up breaking loose.

For the next two years, the stallion ran wild in the sand hills outside Hankinson and earned the name Sovereign. Sometimes he would join other bands of horses, but if anyone tried to catch him, he’d break away and jump back over the fence. Bill, however, still considered Sovereign his own and even found a buyer for him – a man named Percy Pherson.

Percy needed several cowboys to help him catch Sovereign. They found the band Sovereign was traveling with and herded them all into a large corral. Then, they slowly weeded out all the horses until Sovereign was the only one left. Next, they called Fred Ward, but people said this was one horse Ward would never break. Fred said there was no such thing and took Sovereign home. He soon reported the stallion definitely knew how to buck – all 1,250 pounds of him. When he finally got Sovereign settled down, he told Percy there would only be one person who would ever be able to ride this stallion – himself. So, Percy gave Sovereign up.

Ward used Sovereign as a pickup horse and also had him doing tricks at rodeos, including walking sideways. At one event in Rutland, men bet drinks on whether Fred could ride Sovereign into the bar; Fred said he would, but only if they got an okay from the bar owner. Pretty soon, Ward not only rode Sovereign into the bar, and back out again, he laid down on the ground, grabbed onto a stirrup and let Sovereign drag him down Rutland’s main street.

“Do you believe he’s broke now?” he asked the men. Ward could have had his fill of drinks on that one, but he declined, because he was going to be competing in the rodeo that afternoon.

A few years later, Fred experienced an interesting turnabout. He and his wife, Hazel, had moved to Ft. Ransom by then and, in 1961, had opened a bar called “Fred’s Corral.” One 4th of July, a stranger rode his horse into Fred’s bar. The book, Ft. Ransom Community History, states, “The bar was crowded and Fred came right across the bar and got him out, but not before the horse did a mess on the floor.”

Fred passed away about a year ago. He was in his 90s and was the oldest person in Ft. Ransom.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm