Gregg Butman wouldn’t have continued more than a half-century family presence at the Black Hills Stock Show if it wasn’t a good experience.
His family’s Cottonwood Angus Farms has been exhibiting champion cattle in Rapid City since the mid-1960s and they’ll be back for the 60th Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo, which opens a nearly three-week run on Jan. 17, continuing through Feb. 4.
“I’ve enjoyed it all these years or I wouldn’t be coming back,” said Butman who was a 15-year-old in 1965 when his family first made the wintertime trek across the state from their family farm nestled in rolling hills straddling the South Dakota-Minnesota border east of Flandreau.
He remembers those early trips to show cattle as what was then called the Black Hills Winter Show as a chance to escape the frigid mid-winter grip for just a few days.
“Usually it’s below zero when we leave home. By the time we get out there it’s melting. There’s been times we’ve come out there and people are golfing,” he said.
A wintertime getaway to the Black Hills for the farm and ranch community to the Black Hills wasn’t exactly the vision of the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce Ag committee, which gathered for a meeting at a Rapid City Laundromat in 1958 to begin planning for a winter ag exposition, to incorporate, they said, rural lifestyles into the increasingly urban community of Rapid City.
The first Black Hills Winter Show was held in 1959 at the Black Hills Exposition Grounds (now Central States Fairgrounds). Only three breeds of cattle—Angus, Hereford and Shorthorn—were shown that year. More breeds were added in subsequent years as the event grew.
Butman recalls the hard work needed to show cattle in those early days. Cattle had to be groomed outside, he said.
“Those first stock shows, if it got cold or it was snowing it got pretty miserable because there was only one building with heat in it,” he said.
“Back then we didn’t have the blowers to dry,” he said. “It took 3-4 hours to brush them out and get them dry.”
In 1966, the Chamber Ag Committee handed the reins of the annual Winter Show over to fair organizers, with the name of the event changing to Black Hills Stock Show.
The event continued to grow, eventually moving to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in 1980.
The show now fills the civic center, inside and out, and also includes award-winning Sutton Rodoe events at the civic center’s Barnett Arena and the Kjerstad Events Center at the fairgrounds.
The addition of the event center has given the stock show a means to expand further, said Dick Bray, 90, of Rapid City, became involved with the event about the time the fair board took it over.
Bray helped organize the first horse shows and sales first at the fairgrounds in the late 1970s later moving to the civic center.
“Now that we have the capabilities of expansion beyond the civic center, it brings a huge draw into the community and the livestock world,” he said.
Butman, joined by his son Justin, grandson Braden, continue bring champion Angus cattle to show and sell in Rapid City.
A daughter, Sherri Johnson, her husband Glen and their sons Wesley and Dawson also show through their own Chestnut Angus Farm.
Butman, whose great-grandfather was one of the first homesteaders in the Dakota Territory in 1876 said the Stock Show has certainly fulfilled what organizers had envisioned, bringing rural and city residents together to increase awareness of quality, safe beef, and help preserve the western lifestyle.
His cattle have won champion and reserve champion titles at the show. In 1997 he was recognized as Stockman of the Year, the first cattleman from east of the Missouri River so honored, he said.
“It brings the city folk and the agricultural people together to let them know what we’re doing and how we treat animals and take care of them,” he said. “If there’s a blizzard we’re not sitting in the house. We’re outside trying to save every animal we can.”
From its humble beginnings the Black Hills Stock Show has grown into one of western South Dakota’s major events of any season.
The Stock Stock means thousands of visitors and millions of dollars coming into the community during the midwinter offseason for tourism.
Hundreds of vendors bring the latest in the farm and ranch industry with something for all ages to be seen and experienced at the civic center and the fairgrounds events center.
“It’s really a nice place to come and show your cattle,” Butman said. “And there’s so many events now you can’t even come and make them all.”
It’s a busy week filled with hard work anytime showing and selling cattle is involved, but Butman said he also enjoys the laid-back atmosphere in Rapid City.
“When you cross that Missouri River, it seems to change a lot,” he said. The western lifestyle is a little slower.”
Bray said the Stock Show can stand with the best of them.
“I went to a show in Texas a few years back,” he said. “The Black Hills Stock Show can compete with any of them.”