Rodeo legend Tom Reeves, Rosebud Sioux (Sicangu Oyate Lakota), was the PRCA 2001 World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider in 2001. He was a veteran -- aged 37 -- when he earned that title, and the blue-collar cowboy work ethic thak kept Reeves plugging away hasn’t allowed him to slow down in the years since. In 2007 he became a ProRodeo Hall of Fame “Mentoring Award” recipient after guiding the Ranger College (TX) rodeo team he coached to the National Finals Rodeo men’s title, and in 2008 he was elected to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. ICTMN caught up with the ProRodeo Hall of Famer at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, where his Wild Card Pro Rodeo company is representing stock there that includes 5 bulls and a bronc.
What was your childhood like growing up in rural South Dakota?
I grew up southeast of Eagle Butte, South Dakota right on the Missouri River on the Indian reservation -- went to an Indian boarding school and the whole deal. At the boarding school we got lonesome for our folks and family because they didn’t run the busses way out in those rural areas. You didn’t have much choice but to go there, but it’s just something everybody you knew did. So it didn’t seem like it was strange or anything, because we didn’t know nothing else. But we had a good nature and I have nothing but good memories of being there.
Photo courtesy Tom Reeves
When did you start competing professionally in saddle bronc riding?
I brought my first PRCA card when I was 15, and I had a permit to compete professionally when I was 15. I pretty much didn’t do the amateur deal -- I skipped that. I won the high school rodeo a couple of times: when I was 15, in Yakima, Washington; and then again when I was 17 in Douglass, Wyoming. I did pro rodeos, went to Indian rodeos since I was 13 years old, and before then I did youth rodeos since I was 8 years old. From the start I had to compete against some of the best guys in the world. Howard Hunter [Lakota and four-time Indian Finals Rodeo Champion saddle bronc rider in 1980, 1987, 1988, and 1990] was probably 15 years older than me and was from Kyle, South Dakota. He‘d been in the PRCA Finals several times. He was bad ass and knew how to ride.
Looking back, how do you feel about your accomplishment of winning the PRCA 2001 World Saddle Bronc Championship?
Since I was five years old, that’s what I’d wanted to do. Of course it’s something I’m very proud of, that I fulfilled a childhood dream and goal, but there’s still so many other things to go win. Now I’m into stock contracting and things like that, and I want to be the best in that too. I coached a college team for several years, and we won National Championship and that was pretty rewarding. It was Ranger College, in Texas in 2007.
Photo courtesy Tom Reeves
You hosted a rodeo on your Rosebud Reservation at the Rosebud Casino, correct?
I did a pro rodeo at Rosebud for charity in Rosebud. Our company is Indian owned, and of course I’m proud to go back home and show out a little bit -- it’s a good feeling. There’s a lot of talent in Indian country, and they appreciate a good rodeo. The majority of people on the reservation, you can’t fool them. They know what a good bronc is, and they’re the best rodeo fans there is.
What advice do you offer other young Natives who aspire to be a pro rodeo athlete?
I would go to a quality rodeo school -- I teach rodeo schools myself -- because that’s how I got started at a young age, and I would compete against the best. But the main thing is I worked hard and never quit. It’s an advantage to be an Indian in a lot of different ways. You can use your minority status for your benefit, and even as something to egg ya’ on. It’s a good thing to be Indian. It’s something I’m proud of.