I have had little sympathy for out-of-state protesters that have disrupted life in North Dakota in recent times. I do wish I had been an out-of-state protester at Effie, Minn., July 24-26. Had I known what was happening I’d have tried to be there.

Howard Pitzen started the North Star Stampede at his ranch in the woods a long time ago. This was to be the 65th North Star Stampede. A friend talked me in to entering the rodeo in 1968 and two bronc riders, two bareback riders, two bull riders, two saddles, and six gear bags piled into a small car and we headed to Effie. I don’t recall if we brought a change of underwear. I was just a kid and had never been around much so it was an adventure. I drew a good horse and won the bronc riding. It paid $110 and I also won a very good quality sterling silver buckle. I was very proud of that buckle and wore it for years.

I realized at that time that the Effie rodeo was more than just a small rodeo; it was a Minnesota tradition. People came from all over Minnesota and camped there for the weekend on a meadow of Howard’s. They came for the rodeo and for the social. I wanted my son to experience the Effie Rodeo too, so we both entered the rodeo 37 years later. My son did great in the steer wrestling, but the saddle broncs didn’t treat me well. It was a great reminder that 56-year-old men who hadn’t been on a bronc in 14 years shouldn’t enter saddle bronc riding. We camped there two nights and had a great time despite the pain. I can still see the numerous campfires by all the tents.

One of the best memories of the 1968 rodeo was Howard’s four sons. They were little guys then, the oldest of the four boys was about 10. They were not wimpy, pampered city boys. They all looked rugged as true country boys should. None of them wore shoes. I can still see them climbing woven wire fences bare-footed.

Howard became a good friend of mine and he stayed with us a couple times as he travelled to Montana to buy horses. Howard was tough too, and he passed away five years ago at age 89. His boys have kept the tradition of the Effie Rodeo going.

Cimmeron Pitzen was informed just before the rodeo this year that gatherings over 250 people were not to be allowed. Cimmeron’s response on Facebook went something like this: Because of restrictions mandated by the Minnesota Dept. of Health and the Minnesota Attorney General’s office, the North Star Stampede will take place with no spectators. If people would like to come and protest this government overreach, feel free to do so. I will not stand in the way of people’s ‘Right to Assemble.’

Thousands of protesters showed up for the weekend. As far as I know, nothing was wrecked and everyone had a nice time.

I wish I knew the boys better, but I was able to find a phone number for Fred Pitzen and got him on the phone. I had heard they did not charge admission but you could make a donation. We had a nice visit and Fred assured me the show will go on again next year despite the financial hardships they experienced this year.

I do not take the COVID-19 pandemic lightly and realize how serious it is, but the North Star Stampede at Effie is an outdoor event and a Minnesota tradition. I would be more concerned about a bear coming into my tent or getting a strange idea I could still ride broncs in my 70s. I am going to send a contribution this year and hopefully attend the event as a spectator in the future.

Hat’s off to Cimmeron Pitzen, the rest of the Pitzen boys, and the North Star Stampede!

Rodney Nelson is a cowboy poet/humorist from Almont, ND