DAKOTA DATEBOOK: George Defender
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm
January 14, 2019 — The annual Cowboy’s Reunion 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 (newspaper editor) and George Slowey 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?’ We sat in the shade of the shiny monster and endeavored to separate the possible from the impossible. When they left some two hours later, the foundation had been laid for the now famous Cowboy’s Reunion.
“...on the following Sunday, (we) chartered a Model T and journeyed up to the old HS horse ranch... for a string of bucking horses. A deal was also made for corral lumber, with the Beulah lumber yards, on a rental basis... Transporting stock by truck was yet to be heard about in those days, so all stock was trailed in...
“Among the famous bucking horses of that yesteryear were Rattlesnake, Blizzard, Jail-Bird, Screw-Driver, White Sox, Whirligig, Tailspin, Warbonnet and Raggin’ Peggy. All had an undying hatred for cowboys, and could be relied upon to kick up plenty of dust when their turn came to swing into action.”
One of the riders on that first day 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 at that time, and Defender quickly earned a reputation as a top bronc rider. He held onto it by competing all over the continent, including wins at Madison Square Garden and the Calgary Stampede. At one point, he was a final contender for the world championship as all-around cowboy.
A bronc rider is not alone out there, and George rode some outstanding broncs: Spinning Boy, Sky Rocket, Grand River Blue, Heart River Croppy, Z Horse, Black Diamond, Leave Me with a Smile, Golden Rule and Tipperary.
He also competed in wild horse races, bulldogging, wild cow milking, bareback riding, calf roping, relay races and buffalo riding.
George Defender’s ranch was on the Standing Rock Reservation, but he later worked in Arizona after contracting tuberculosis. In 1932, he was injured during a cowboy 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” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.