Elite Bull Connection Cal Ruark

Darby Rodeo Association President Cal Ruark says the excitement is building for a Labor Day rodeo event sponsored by the popular "Yellowstone" television series. "In the rodeo world, this is like epic," he told 406mtsports.com.

Thirty miles west of my Iowa hometown sits a baseball field, bordered by imposing rows of seed corn, that was used 31 years ago for the movie "Field of Dreams."

What a classic. You may recall the White Sox and Cardinals were supposed to play on the movie site earlier this month when COVID-19 delayed the dream until 2021.

Rodeo has its own Field of Dreams, bordered by mountains, in a tiny town south of Hamilton. There the best bareback riders in the world will gather on Labor Day for the biggest sporting event to hit Darby since, well, let's just say the most nationally-significant sporting event to ever hit the town.

"In the rodeo world, this is like epic — the top 24 bareback riders in the PRCA standings riding in this little arena in Darby, right in your face," said Cal Ruark, president of the Darby Rodeo Association. "Where are you going to go and see that caliber of bareback riders in a little-bitty arena in one day in any other town, let alone a little town?"

The story behind the event is as compelling as the impending bucking. It has everything to do with a certain television show called "Yellowstone," which has exploded in popularity and is filmed, in large part, at Chief Joseph Ranch near Darby.

Last summer, "Yellowstone" creator/writer Taylor Sheridan contacted his Texas neighbors, rodeo champions Bobby and Sid Steiner, in part to talk about Sid's 16-year-old bareback riding son, Rocker.  The teen sensation ended up riding bareback in a "Yellowstone" scene that was shot in Utah last summer and appeared on the show last month.

The Steiners are staunch supporters of bareback riding and last May held a private riggin' rally for world-class competitors at the Steiner Ranch in Texas. It aired on the Cowboy Channel and was such a success that a second riggin' rally was planned for Chief Joseph Ranch, an area the Steiners are familiar with since they both own property in the Bitterroot Valley.

It was supposed to be specifically for the "Yellowstone" cast and crew. It has morphed into a public, PRCA-sanctioned bareback riding event that will air three times on the Cowboy Channel.

"I ran into Bobby Steiner last spring down at Murdoch's (Ranch & Home Supply) in Hamilton and we just talked briefly about having some kind of match bareback ride," Ruark said of an acquaintance, who won a world championship in bull riding in the 1980s. "Two weeks ago Bobby called me up and said, 'Do you want to do the bareback riding in Darby? We've got $30,000 in money.' 'Yellowstone' put up a portion of that."

The inaugural Darby event has been coined the Yellowstone Riggin' Rally. In future years, plans are to hold the Riggin' Rally North in Darby and the Riggin' Rally South in Weatherford, Texas.

"Bobby (Steiner) came to one of our Darby Rodeo Association events two years ago and he just loved this little arena," gushed Ruark. "I mean, the back drop and the way it's set up ..."

If you're interested in attending the Labor Day event, you might want to hustle. Reserved seating is sold out. General admission tickets may be purchased at 406saloon.com

One question begs to be answered: Is this Darby riggin' rally going to show up on "Yellowstone?" Not this time it appears, but between you and me, the writer of the show (Sheridan) was at the Darby Rodeo Arena recently, scouting the area.

What a wonder it is, this place we call home.

"It’s as cowboy as cowboy gets," Bobby Steiner told the Ravalli Republic last week. "They’ve put something together here (in Darby) that’s very unique."

Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 14 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

Load comments