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From the Vault: Sonny Tureman

by Matt Naber | Oct 26, 2018

Sixty years ago, Sonny Tureman judged the first National Finals Rodeo in 1959 in Dallas due to his knowledge of the sport as a competitor at both ends of the arena. He was the arena director at the 1961 NFR, the same year he was appointed by stock contractors to serve on the NFR’s stock selection committee.

This year’s edition of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo – the 60th anniversary of the NFR – will be in Las Vegas, Dec. 6-15.

Tureman also competed at the NFR as a team roping heeler (1959-61, ’72) and as a team roping header (1965), but roughstock was where his rodeo roots were laid long before the NFR existed. 

Tureman was a tough, fun-loving cowboy with a heart as big as the great outdoors and talent to match. His life revolved around rodeo and ranching – and he was a top hand at both.

He was also the 1948 world champion bareback rider and was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame with the inaugural class in 1979. That was after Tureman served rodeo in several other important roles.

Born Nov. 4, 1918, in Wenatschee, Wash., Tureman grew up in Prairie City, Ore., where he developed a love for riding and breaking horses. His rodeo career began in 1941, when he won amateur saddle bronc riding events at Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days and the Pendleton (Ore.) Round-Up. Tureman joined the Cowboys’ Turtle Association in 1942 but was away from rodeo for nearly three years when he was drafted into the Army.

He returned home in 1945 and ranked fourth in the world in bareback riding in 1946 and ’47 before winning the title in ’48 and ranking in the Top 5 for the next five years. 

His traveling partner for several years was Buster Ivory. The two men always cut a percentage of their winnings with the other. In 1948, Ivory broke his neck at the Salinas (Calif.) Rodeo but Tureman still gave a percentage of his winnings that year to Ivory.

“In the early years of Sonny’s career, he worked bareback, saddle bronc, bull riding, calf roping and steer wrestling,” Ivory once said in ProRodeo Sports News. “But he (Tureman) didn’t really like any event but bareback. And if he had applied himself, he would have been the greatest all-around cowboy of all time.”

Tureman and Arlo Curtis were in a car accident in 1954, which left Tureman with a partially immobilized hip. He worked as a pick-up man with Christensen Brothers Rodeo Company before judging that first NFR in 1959. 

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