Native roping champ

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. – On June 21, multiple Indian National Rodeo Champion Preston Williams (Piute/Shoshone), won the 2009 title of “The World’s Greatest Roper” and the $25,000 cash prize presented by Oklahoma’s Lazy E Arena at the Silver Legacy Resort Casino in Reno, Nev.

Williams, 34, could have been considered a long shot to win, as he was not allowed to participate in last year’s event and had to go through qualifying rounds to get to the finals. But in the qualifiers he roped nine head of cattle in 78.1 seconds in three rounds of heading, tie-down roping and healing. Williams has also won the Indian National Finals Rodeo five times and is a former National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Finals Champion.

Though he now lives in Casa Grande, Williams grew up on the Walker River Indian Reservation in a rodeo family. “My grandfather rodeoed, my father rodeoed, and my mom ran barrels and my sisters ran barrels,” Williams said. “I’ve been in the rodeo since I can remember; as a kid I roped at junior rodeos, high school rodeos, and college rodeos.”

Despite his love for rodeos, he carefully chooses which ones he attends. “In order to get to National Finals Rodeo, you have to travel all year long, and go to rodeos all year long just to qualify. This event was just a one time deal to see who the top roper is. The event consisted of only calf roping, heading, and healing for the title of World’s Greatest Roper, no steer wrestling or anything else. There was a $2,000 entry fee. Last year I applied for it and they didn’t let me in, but this year it was ‘open to the world,’ meaning anyone could enter.

“The first event they started out with each morning was heading, which is team roping. There are two guys – a header and a healer. The second event was calf roping, where you are by yourself, and the third event was healing. The healing is probably my best event, and it was the last event of the competition, so I had a slight advantage there. I had to be under 7.06 seconds and I came up with 6.0 on my last healing steer, which gave me the win. It paid $25,000 with a saddle, a buckle, and a paddle saying ‘World’s Greatest Roper.’ Even if it didn’t pay anything, just being among that group of guys and coming out on top would have been enough for me.”

Regardless of his success in the rodeo world, Williams isn’t interested in putting himself through it all year round. “I am a professional, I have my professional card, but I don’t do it full time. I go to a lot of Indian rodeos, where I make most of my money, and a few pro rodeos that I hand pick; it’s very expensive to go to pro rodeos all year long. There aren’t as many Indian rodeos, but the level of competition at them is tough. My win percentage in Indian rodeos is higher; I hardly go to one

without placing.”

Williams runs a business that keeps him close to home. He and his wife own a company that makes trophy belt buckles for rodeos and leather products. “We do custom work and awards for different associations. It actually goes hand in hand. Through rodeoing I meet people all across the country.”

When asked if he will ever go professional, Williams paused a few seconds before answering. “I have the confidence that I can make it there, I just have to commit to doing it full-time, but it isn’t worth sacrificing my business or my family, that’s why I’ve never done it. Don’t get me wrong, there are guys who make a good living at it, but financially it’s pretty costly. Luckily, there’s no real age limit. Walt Woodard was champion a couple of years ago, and he was in his 50s. It’s a little different in calf roping, but Joe Beaver roped professionally when he was in his 40s, so I have a few years ahead of me if I make the decision.”