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Whiz Bang


Fifty-seven years ago this fall, a famous celebrity was born on a ranch north of Medora. He was Whiz Bang – a feisty colt whose dam was a big buckskin and whose father was a paint stallion.

Whiz Bang was born on the Walt Neuens ranch, which had been bought by Jimmie Stevens the year before the colt was born. Later, Stevens either sold or gave Whiz Bang and his mother to Jim Barnhart.

Meanwhile, Whiz Bang’s half-brother, Big Buck, was serving as a saddle horse for a rancher named Al Stude, and in 1953, Barnhart bought Big Buck, as well. Whiz Bang and Big Buck hadn’t been raised together, but it was as if they knew each other immediately. They became inseparable and, in fact, it got so Whiz Bang wouldn’t eat unless Big Buck was with him.

In 1954, Whiz Bang began his illustrious bucking career in Belfield. Years later, people still remembered his debut. On day one of the rodeo, Bubb Nunn was the first cowboy to draw him in the bareback riding event, and either Jimmy Griffin or Verne Anderson drew him on day two in the saddle bronc riding. It didn’t matter – nobody could stay on Whiz Bang’s back, and many realized a star was being born before their very eyes.

Jim Barnhart’s son, Clifford, says, “Whiz Bang’s style of bucking with all four feet off the ground at once made him a popular horse and a large attraction for the rodeos in our area. One year the advertising posters for our Labor Day rodeo in Medora simply said, ‘Home of Whiz Bang.’ No mention was made of the fact that the rodeo was in Medora. My dad said that didn’t matter – any one who attended rodeos would know where to come.”

Whiz Bang unseated some of the top saddle bronc riders of the day – men like Popeye Askins, Wesley Jost and J.D. McKenna. Tom Tescher says, “I didn’t last 10 feet past the chute gate.”

At one event in Nemo, SD, both Whiz Bang and Big Buck threw the great Casey Tibbs off their backs. Bareback rider, Wesley Jost, says, “Whiz Bang was a very hard-muscled horse and when he got a good start, his first jumps and his turn back directly in front of the chutes made it very difficult for cowboys to make a qualified ride.”

But, that didn’t stop Jost from once betting Jim Barnhart $200 he could make a qualified ride on Barnhart’s horse. Predictably, Whiz Bang threw Jost before he qualified, but somehow the story got out that Jost had prevailed. At the next rodeo, which was in Newtown, Tom Tescher congratulated Jost and asked how much rein he gave Whiz Bang. Jost said, “All of it...when he bucked me off.”

In the 1956 Dickinson Match of Champions, a very young Joe Chase drew Whiz Bang and Casey Tibbs drew another tough ride, Figure 4. The match was immortalized when Chase became the first cowboy to ever make a qualified ride on Whiz Bang. In fact, he tied him with the much more experienced Tibbs for the championship.

The Barnharts bucked Whiz Bang until 1960, when Tibbs decided he wanted the horse for his own. Tibbs renamed him Nutri-Bio, and in 1962, Nutri-Bio was selected as a saddle bronc for the National Finals Rodeo in Los Angeles.

Whiz Bang was inducted into the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2004.

Source: “2004 NDCHF Hall of Honorees Induction.” The Cowboy Chronicle Extra. Published by the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame: Special Edition.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm