One of many 4th of July rodeos, the Mandan Rodeo became famous in the 1940s when it was part of the ‘big loop” that included Cheyenne Frontier Days and the Calgary Stampede.
The celebration dates back to July 4, 1879, when a baseball game and pony races marked the 4th of July. In 1895, the Morton County Fair Association budgeted money for a fence and oval race track in south Mandan.
Stephen Weekes of Flasher was instrumental in the event’s development. “Badlands Bill” McCarty joined the effort to create the Mandan Roundup in 1923.
During the ‘40s, the Mandan Rodeo Association, headed by Frank Wetzstein, became a high-class production where top cowboys like Toots Mansfield and Casey Tibbs competed and celebrities like Gene Autry and Wild Bill Hickok entertained. 11,000 people attended the 1951 4th of July performance.
The Mandan American Legion took over in 1954 when the rodeo was billed as the “Biggest Fourth of July Show in the U.S.” The Legion turned it over to the Mandan Jaycees. The rodeo was RCA-sanctioned event until 1969, when it became an NDRA event. A few years ago, it was sanctioned by the PRCA.
In 1989, the Mandan Jaycee Rodeo was a highlight of North Dakota’s centennial and marked the last performance at the old rodeo grounds, then 110 years old.
Today, at the Dakota Centennial Park, the Mandan Rodeo continues to touch the lives and hearts of many who recognize and appreciate rodeo traditions.
by Cathy A. Langemo