The Dickens, Jacy, Kim, and daughter Sara, are carrying on a family tradition. “Sara is the fourth generation on my side, and the third on […]
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
“He was one of those little tough guys that was all muscle, who rodeoed for 25 years and took everybody’s money, and never seemed to get old.”
Those are the words Jim Korkow uses to describe Terry Etzkorn, a four-event cowboy from Pierre, S.D., who rode broncs till he was fifty years old and still, at the age of 78, helps run the family ranch.
Born in 1934, Terry grew up along the Missouri River, in the DeGrey area, 25 miles east of Pierre on Highway 34, the son of Anton “Tony”, a full-blood German from Wisconsin, and Bernice, an Irishwoman. He jokes, “I’m Irish and Dutch and don’t amount to much.”
But he did amount to a lot. He began riding at a very young age, and as he got older, he broke horses and “liked the action,” he said. He began riding bucking horses, and “it just materialized, and then I finally got to where I was riding real good.”
Etzkorn competed in area rodeos and became a member of the South Dakota Rodeo Association, winning the bareback and the all-around titles in 1955.
In the fall of 1955, he was riding well enough that he joined the Rodeo Cowboys Association. He entered the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver, and rode there with Irv Korkow, a Blunt, S.D. stock contractor delivering a load of livestock. After Denver, he rode with rodeo legend Casey Tibbs to the spring rodeos: Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, and his pro career began.
Etzkorn juggled ranch work with rodeo work, and in the early years, rodeo was his primary income. He competed in all three roughstock events, and sometimes entered the bulldogging, too. “I survived on my rodeo money for a few years. We didn’t have too much when we first started out, of course. It bought a lot of bread for the kids.”
Rodeo helped him build up his cattle herd, and he worked with his parents, feeding cattle, haying, and even running a lumber mill on the river.
In 1960, he bought the home place, which has been in the family for over 100 years. They ran a registered red Limousin cattle herd, and Etzkorn continued to rodeo.
He competed in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the big shows, too: Denver, Houston, Calgary, and more. He never got too far from home, because there was cattle to feed, hay to mow, and kids to raise. He’d go hard on the weekends, and be ready to work first thing Monday.
In 1956, he married Reita Maher, and together they raised six children. Reita and the kids often traveled with him, and he remembers a funny occasion. “We had the pickup, and we went to a rodeo, and the five kids (at that time the youngest wasn’t born), they all started rolling out of the pickup. Of course, everybody laughed.” But that was a way to get the job done. “You gotta do what you gotta do.”
Terry competed at between thirty and forty rodeos a year, putting in long days. “Sometimes I’d come home and work all day, and all night, and take off for a rodeo.” He often traveled with other cowboys. Ken Badger, Scott Hall, Harold Alleman, and Bernard Gregg were traveling partners. “They were good hands.”
His strength was the bareback riding, but when he was in his forties, he “kind of had a little slump, of course, I was getting up a little then.” So he quit riding barebacks but continued with the saddle bronc riding and bull riding. The last bull he got on was Korkow’s Dick, at Mobridge, S.D. Dick had a horn “an inch long, and he punched it right between my eyes, and drew a little blood,” Terry laughed. “I was struggling on bulls so I quit getting on them.”
It wasn’t until 1984, when he was fifty years old, that he quit riding saddle broncs and rodeo altogether. His last rodeo was Ft. Pierre. He wanted to quit while he was still riding well, and he did. But his involvement with rodeo did not end. He judged rodeos in the SDRA and PRCA for many years, and became a PRCA gold card member.
Injuries never plagued his career. A few animals took a shot at him, but nothing major. “I think I got kicked a couple three times. Getting off, you’d sometimes get off and they’d buck in a whirl and kick and get you, but I never got anything busted up bad.”
The couple’s six children: Allen, Leon, Karrie, Lisa, Jay, and Julie, all competed in rodeo as youngsters. Allen was a bareback rider, and Leon was a saddle bronc rider and pickup man. Many of the ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren also competed in rodeo.
Now Terry and Reita semi-retired, helping on the ranch and with the family’s commercial pheasant and goose hunting business.
A house fire in 1980 destroyed many of his trophies, saddles, buckles, and pictures, but the memories remain. He considers that today’s bucking horses and bulls are getting better and the cowboys are tougher. “Everything changes,” he said. But they can’t be any tougher than the cowboy from DeGrey who competed in four events, rodeoing for nearly 30 years in the pro ranks.