Eckroth Family (left to right) Travis & Jill holding Tate & their daughters (front) Brenna & Kinley, Tootie & Wayne (center) the Gerhardts Amanda & Sheldon holding Daysha [Photo: submitted]
The North Dakota Rodeo Association (NDRA) recently awarded bull of the year to Wayne Eckroth and his bull, #15 ‘White Trash.’ This didn’t happen by mischance, rather a lifetime of devotion towards bull riding and raising bulls. Wayne Eckroth of Eckroth Rodeo Bulls consistently wins titles, well over twenty plus. Here is part of his story.
Eckroth said that the start of his passion towards bull riding kind of started on a whim. “My brother, myself, my cousins, and my brother-in-laws, just decided one day to get on some breeding bulls out of the pasture,” recalls Eckroth.
The Flasher, N.D. cowboy was engaged in the life of bull riding and raising the remarkable athletes ever since. Raising such superstars as ‘McGruff,’ ‘Cream Puff,’ ‘Buffalo Bill,’ and 4-time National Finals Rodeo bull for the Harry Vold Rodeo Company, ‘Why Not Minot.’ Eckroth’s most valuable tribute is his genuine care, honesty, and mentorship to those that have crossed his path.
Born into a family ranch that raised Hereford cattle, the cowboy was very involved in 4-H and showing livestock in his youth. He took over the ranch after losing his father at an early age. He and Carolyn (a.k.a. Tootie) were married in 1976 and raised Travis and Amanda — mainly on the ranch and behind the chutes, literally.
Eckroth’s bull riding career evolved in 1979 when Joe Berger told him to take home a couple of his young rodeo bulls to breed. Eckroth recalls that Berger said they would be easy calvers. Wayne qualified for the NARC Finals in New Mexico that year, but decided to quit riding and focus on breeding.
The cowboy noted that the first rodeo they took them to was in Carson, N.D. in the early 1980s. “Nine of the ten in the first calf crop were bucked in Carson, and it really just amazed me; they performed really well. One out of that here was named, ‘Freckles,’ and he was outstanding.”
Eckroth said that the qualities they look for in good bulls is that they need to be just plain good and honest. They look for the intensity and speed it takes in the athletes to make the big kicks and ability to spin. Those are key attributes that them worth breeding according to the longstanding producer.
Eckroth not only has been one of the best stock contractors, rodeo, and bull riding producers for the past forty-plus years in North Dakota, but his dedication towards North Dakota youth, high school, Roughrider Rodeo, and NDRA athletes on both ends of the arena shines through this state. He began producing bull riding schools. He partnered with fellow stock contractor and family friend, Jerry Weinberger, Breien, and they founded the Western Edge Bull Riders in 1994, giving young riders the chance to compete.
“When I was a little kid growing up, Wayne had the best junior bulls to get on. He brought stock that were ‘campaigners’ that kids could actually learn on. Wayne always looked out for me and is a great mentor and man all-around,” stated Zac Peterson, veteran bull rider of Velva.
“Wayne is a man I’ve looked up to since I met him. The way he treats people with respect and such honesty should be a standard,” said longtime bull-rider, Jay Dunford of Baldwin.
“The bull caliber that Eckroth has could go perform anywhere — any big rodeo or event, but the thing about Wayne, is that he keeps it all here in North Dakota. Any event he puts on pays great and his stock is outstanding,” added Peterson.
The breeding program that started forty years ago, continues to flourish. Alongside his son, Travis, Eckroth has sold cattle throughout the USA, Canada and Mexico, along with bull semen sales in six countries.
Howard Bubel, Center, N.D., 30-year stock contractor said, “Wayne is a guy that knows how to handle bulls. There is no one like him. He knows his bulls and is a super, nice and honest man to be around.”
Eckroth is sure to give credit where it’s due when it comes to the longevity of his career. A lot of the people that helped him along the way and are a big part of the cowboy’s life include, his brother, Bill Eckroth, Joe Berger, Arlo Erickson, the Abrahamson rodeo family, Steve Waagen, Howard Bubel and Eckroth’s immediate family.
“Compared to when I was riding, the bulls are a lot tougher now, and the money to win is unbelievable now,” said Eckroth on the changes in the industry. “The Cowboy Channel and the promotion of rodeo has really helped the fan base. I see week night rodeos on tv and the stands are full, it hasn’t always been like that in rodeo.”
Still producing and contracting rodeos while Travis actively promotes and sells home raised cattle and bull semen throughout the country, there is no sign of this North Dakota legend slowing down.
As far as bull riding or raising bulls, “Neither one comes easy, or overnight,” added the producer of countless Bull of the Year titles. “You have to work at it, for it and put everything into it.”
“I have met a lot of good people because of bull riding and producing rodeos. The nicest thing that is happening is that I am seeing generations now. I see fathers with their kids and some grandkids of the bull riders I started out with. That’s neat when I get to be a part of that,” said Eckroth.
“Slowing down is not in my family’s vocabulary,” explained Amanda Gerhardt, daughter, Mandan. “Being raised by my parents and my dad producing bull ridings and rodeos is what gave my brother and I had the opportunity to get to compete at rodeos and instilled our work ethic.”
Gerhardt reminisced that their “rodeo horses were thrown on top of a bull rack, and we would run off the horses and 20 bulls would come behind them. Some barrel racers didn’t know what to think,” laughed the cowgirl. The grit and integrity must have worked, because both her and her brother won numerous titles and qualified for national high school finals, all of which are her parent’s fondest memories.
“My dad is still trucking through a blizzard as we speak,” said Gerhardt, “We had countless cold suppers and late nights, but my parents would make sure after school sports, we practiced for the rodeos-even after long days of driving truck for a living too. It didn’t matter, they always made time for what needed done and anyone that came to practice.”
Eckroth is a class act that continues to demonstrate what the rodeo industry across the Dakotas strives for. A significant culture, full of integrity and hard work ethic — all of what makes up one of our own, Mr. Wayne Eckroth. This cowboy will go down in the record books as a genuine legend in North Dakota. Thank you for all you do for rodeo and those that cross your path, Wayne.
Tisa Peek is a long time horse trainer, competitor in barrel racing and team roping, and writer about the equine. Rodeo and horses run deep in her roots. JT Family Equine is where she calls home, south of Bismarck, ND. Tisa, along with her husband, Jon, and boys, Blu and River, train horses, host horse camps for youth, and provide riding lessons.