Casey Tibbs Ride: The Photography of Greg Latza
A memorial ride through the South Dakota prairie the famous rodeo champ called home
When he died in 1990, Casey Duane Tibbs was buried back home in Fort Pierre, South Dakota, having become a nine-time world champion, ProRodeo Hall of Famer, and Life magazine cover subject during his lifetime. In 2009, the Verendrye Museum sponsored a trail ride to celebrate the life of the homegrown 1950s six-time champion saddle bronc rider, as well as the opening of the Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center in historic Fort Pierre. Called Fort Bennett to Fort Pierre: The Casey Tibbs Memorial Ride, the event quickly filled to its limit of 300 paying participants. On August 11, they set out on horseback, on foot, and atop buggies, wagons, stagecoaches, and other historical conveyances for an unforgettable four-day journey.
On the first morning of the ride, a brilliant sunrise broke over the Missouri River, prompting many to sit on the bluff and watch in awe-struck silence. Somewhere under the water was the site of old Fort Bennett, a military outpost long since swallowed up by the Oahe Dam. The shining river itself was visible the entire morning until the riders headed west, deeper into the prairie. It wouldn’t reappear until the procession dropped into Fort Pierre on the last day.
The next morning, after breaking camp at the north end of the famous Triple U Buffalo Ranch and posing for a group photo, riders skirted the edge of Mosley Butte and came upon a stirring sight: A herd of buffalo appeared in the distance and stampeded across the caravan’s route, kicking up dust until they waned to a shaggy trotting few nonchalantly bringing up the rear.
Most of the next day was spent among rolling prairie vistas and hypnotic expanses of vast wheat fields, the only sight of water at the crossing of scenic Willow Creek. On the morning of the final day, the group thrilled to a majestic view of the Missouri River, visible once again on the outskirts of Fort Pierre. With a symbolic nod to the new Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center, horses and wagons skidded down the bluff and made their way into town, where cheering crowds greeted the caravan as it paraded down Main Street. If not for the asphalt clicking under the horses’ hooves and the horseless carriages parked alongside the streets, it might have been 1878.
At some point during those magical four days traversing 60 miles of trail, all of the riders had their own frontier moment. Maybe it was the unusual silence that occurs when nothing but wagon wheels roll across the prairie. Or maybe it was an unobstructed vista with only buffalo or horses in view. The camera can only do so much to capture such an experience. The real deal is something deeper than the eyes can take in. It’s the dust in the nostrils, the jeans in the saddle, and the feeling of freedom and history in the soul when you’re riding behind a fully loaded stagecoach and its well-trained team making your way to the horizon.
• Info: For more information on the Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center and the Fort Pierre to Deadwood Trail, visit www.caseytibbs.com and www.fortpierredeadwoodtrail.com. To see more of Greg Latza’s work, visit www.greglatza.com.