George Defender, Bronc Rider
The annual Cowboys Reunion Rodeo started out somewhat accidentally at the first Mercer County Fair in 1915. Among the exhibits was a shorthorn bull, and Frank Chase of Fort Berthold decided he wanted to ride it – which he did. The crowd was impressed and passed a hat, and Chase walked away with $30.
It was the first rodeo event in Beulah, and in the following three years, rodeos became an annual event there.
Ed Boland described how it all began: “One day during the month of August, I was mowing along the creek when A. D. Brown, the newspaper editor, and George Slowey, and area businessman, came driving across the flat in a shiny new contraption. They stated their mission flatly – ‘Could we stage a rodeo at Beulah the following month?’ … When they left some two hours later, the foundation had been laid for the now famous Cowboys Reunion Rodeo.
One of the riders on that first year was George Defender. He was born in South Dakota in 1891 and started working as a “rough string” rider for the DZ Cattle Company at Standing Rock when he was 16.
Most of George’s spectacular rides never got into the record books. One of these was a first-place win in Montana at the 1914 Miles City Roundup. The Roundup was one of the biggest rodeos on the circuit, and Defender quickly earned a reputation as a top bronc rider. He competed all over the continent, including wins at Madison Square Garden and the Calgary Stampede. At one point, he was a finalist for the world championship as all-around cowboy.
George also competed in wild horse races, bulldogging, wild cow milking, bareback riding, calf roping, relay races and buffalo riding. His ranch was on the Standing Rock Reservation, but he later worked in Arizona after contracting tuberculosis. In 1932, he was injured during a roundup in New England, North Dakota, and it was on this date in 1933 that he died at Fort Yates. He was inducted into the North Dakota Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2001.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm