“On The Road has brought you to Estelline, SD where for one weekend a year this main street behind me is filled with people not only enjoying a homecoming event // but that summertime tradition that we really love called rodeo!” said KELOLAND On The Road host, Mike Huether.
“Every small town needs something to kind of make them shine a little brighter on the map,” said long-time Estelline, South Dakota resident Emmett Davis. That is rodeo cowboy Emmett Davis. He moved to Estelline, South Dakota from Nebraska with his wife Joan 12 years ago. According to Maureen Linn, another transplant to Estelline, it didn’t take them long for Emmett and Joan to make their mark in town. “He’s a classic through and through. He would give you the shirt off his back. He loves this community inside and out. He and his wife are very loyal to Estelline, care a lot about Estelline. So, it makes you feel good just to have him around,” said Maureen Linn who moved to Estelline ten years ago.
The biggest impact came from an idea back in 2009 discussed between Emmett and Estelline’s Mayor at the time, Mayor Dan DeWitt. Mayor Dan provides some insight. “He knew I had a rodeo background and we’d got to be friends. And he was on his way back from rodeo one night, came into the bar to have something to eat, and he said, “You know, there’s nothing going on.” He said, “Why don’t we start a rodeo?” And I said, “Okay.” (Laughter.),” recalls Former Estelline mayor Dan DeWitt. “We had a little meeting, he and I, and he said, “How about if I take care of the rodeo end of it and you do the other stuff,” said DeWitt.
The big idea, did not sit well, with some in town. But, there were others, like Maureen, that jumped into the saddle. “Make it happen. Make it happen. You know, get up, do it yourself, you know, take charge and make it happen. And that’s exactly what we did with the rodeo,” said Linn. “It’s been fantastic. We prayed the first year that we might break even. Since then, it’s grown and grown. And it takes a lot of good people, and we got a lot of good people on our committee,” said DeWitt. “When Dan and I decided to have this rodeo, there was a lot of raised eyebrows that first year. And then a lot of people walked up and said, ‘I didn’t think it would work.’ And it’s turned into a venue today that’s outstanding, both for the spectators and the contestants,” said Davis.
Rodeo athletes from 6 states make sure Estelline is on their rodeo circuit. The sponsors and the volunteers make it worth their while in many ways. The big prize money certainly doesn’t hurt either. “The added money, plus the buckle,” added Davis. “Yah,” agreed Huether. “And, and we’ve been very fortunate 10 years to have people stay right in the trenches and raise the money on them every year, and they just don’t back off,” said Davis.
So, if the people of Estelline can find the motivation to do something like this, your town sure can, too. “Give a lesson to small towns all across KELOLAND. How can they pull this off?” asked Huether. “Well number one, you got to get out of your paradigm and think outside of the box,” said Davis.
Now, that is not easy, but…”You just need to keep charging and… and make it work. You know, as soon as, soon as things start to work, everybody comes on board,” said DeWitt. “You bet,” agreed Huether. “And then you got a great deal going because these people do an awesome job,” added DeWitt. “But what it really means to me, is that it gets our little town on the map. It shows that Estelline has a heart. People care about the community, people care about the businesses, and jump on board. You can turn your small town into an Estelline if you want to,” said Maureen Linn.
What makes this story all the more unique, is that a transplant into town was a driving force to make Estelline an even better place to live, work and play. “We’re a little town that swells beyond capacities, beyond the river borders,” said Linn. “And you look out into that crowd and it’s like, ‘Wow!’ When we first started, this wasn’t even half full, and now it’s like, ‘Look at the crowd!’ And that thunderous applause, especially when “The Legend” goes out there. That means everything to him and that means everything to us, because it’s, you know, he’s part of the town,” said Linn.
Emmett and his horse “Stumpy” compete in calf roping still today. Stumpy is 19-years old. Emmett is at the spry and ever-active age of 76. “We kind of call Emmett “The Legend.” You know, he’s… I admire the heck out of him because he’s still doing it at his age. And I quit doing it 30 years ago. And I’m younger than he is,” said DeWitt.
This rodeo cowboy competed in his first rodeo in eastern Iowa in 1960. Shoot, I wasn’t even born yet. And he started riding much earlier than that. “In my younger days growing up, you know, we didn’t have television. You know, we didn’t have inside bathrooms. And in order to entertain yourself us boys thought, ‘What if we ride that cow? What if we ride that sow?’ So, we just rode anything we get trapped behind a gate and that’s kind of what started it,” said Davis.
So, Emmett, if that is where your rodeo days all began, we are just as curious on where you think your rodeo journey may end? “And are you staying here?” asked Huether. “Yeah,” said Davis. “Not going anywhere?” asked Huether. “As long the good Lord let’s me.” said Davis.
The Estelline Rodeo and Reunion Days is a family friendly event that occurs on the third weekend of June each year. Not only is there the big rodeo, but there is also a parade, dance, food and so much more. Be sure and put the event on your summer road trip list for next summer. Incidentally, South Dakota State University Rodeo Coach Ron Skovly is the person who talked Emmett and Joan into moving to South Dakota.