Every year, midway through July, the town of Bridger does two things right: Jim Bridger Days and the Bridger Youth Rodeo. Jim Bridger Days has the usual small-town festivities of a parade, a demolition derby, and a street dance at night that shuts the town down. (You’d think that this would cause more traffic problems, but it never really does.) A live band provides music for those that care to try their feet at dancing. Best band name ever: The Bucky Beaver Ground Grippers.

If you head south out of Bridger, you’ll see an arena and some dusty bleachers over to the west. That, my friends, is where you’ll find the Bridger Youth Rodeo in all its glory.

I was eight the last time I went to the rodeo. I ran Tommy in the barrels (the first and only time I’ve done that). Rhonda Ragland and Boots ran a smokin’ hot time in the poles, and Deb Greenough won the saddle bronc event. Dude Parker was that year’s honoree. Once the rodeo was over, kids were sent scouring the grounds for trash and those old pull-top tabs off soda cans. It was at the rodeo that I learned the proper way to fold the American flag and that if it touched the ground, it was supposed to be burned. I still remember the horror I felt of that I might be the one to touch the flag to the ground.

This marks 50 years of Bridger having a summer rodeo for kids. Sam and Monica McDowell do a lot of the heavy lifting, but a whole lot of people pitch in to make it work. There are buckles for event winners as well as the Callie Devries memorial saddles. Kids can run barrels, poles, tie goats, rope calves, and ride yearling bulls. Parents lead tiny kids around the barrels, and everyone gets a high five for a successful goat tie.

True, Bridger will never be Cody, where they celebrate Independence Day with two parades, a rodeo, and try to burn the place down with fireworks. But Cody will never be Bridger, where ranchers from several counties all work together to make certain that kids have a local rodeo. What better tribute to community spirit can there be?

Sue Knighton, itinerate veterinarian, sometime photographer, and all-around good egg took all of the photos for this blog post. These photos are all from the 2013 Bridger Youth Rodeo, but she has promised to let me know where she stashes the 2014 version so that I can include those as well.

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