Rossen did it his way to the end

2007-06-02T23:00:00Z Rossen did it his way to the endJOE KUSEK Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
June 02, 2007 11:00 pm  • 

Ronnie Rossen was a cowboy.

Rough around the edges, belligerent in his beliefs, Rossen made his own way.

He would never let a little thing like injuries, and later on age, prevent him from riding bulls.

Rossen achieved his greatest professional glory riding bulls.

Bull riding also brought his death.

"He had his wild streak," said Wally Badgett a long-time friend from Miles City. "Ronnie was one of those guys you could make a movie about and people would think it was fiction."

Here are some well-documented facts about the late bull rider:

• Rossen won two world bull riding titles, 1961 and 1966.

• He won the National Finals Rodeo average twice, 1964 and 1965.

• Overall, Rossen was an eight-time NFR qualifier.

While bull riders such as Freckles Brown and Harry Tompkins garnered most of the bull riding attention during the 1960's, none were as consistent as Rossen.

"The first thing was his never-say-die attitude," Badgett noted. "When he set his hand in that rope, it was hard to jar him loose."

This July, Rossen becomes one of the newest members of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Rossen is one of nine individual being inducted and one of two from Montana. The other is saddle bronc rider Bud Munroe.

Rossen was originally from Ogallala, Neb., and made his way to Broadus by working on ranches and riding rank horses and bulls. He joined the Rodeo Cowboys Association - the precursor to today's Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association - in 1956.

In past interviews, Rossen said his bull riding career got its jump-start when he rode the bull Speck at a rodeo in Burwell, Neb. The bull had been unridden for six years before Rossen rode to the buzzer.

"I just went in there with the idea of, 'Don't let go,' " he told the Billings Gazette in a 1986 interview.

"That's probably why I have so many scars on my face. I never let go when I should have."

The ride was immortalized in bronze sculpture by artist R.F. Rains.

Rossen's bull riding toughness was always on display. At his first NFR, he suffered a broken jaw when a bull hit him in the face. On the final night, with his jaw wired shut, Rossen rode his bull to win some money in the round.

"He was naturally athletic," said Badgett. "He was one of those guys who never worked out but looked like he did."

As his career tapered into retirement, Rossen ran a series of bull riding schools around the region. One story, told over and over, is that after one of his students was killed at one his schools, Rossen closed down his school, sold whatever could be sold and gave the money to the young cowboy's family.

"He was real interesting, an unusual character," Badgett added.

Rossen spent the last seven years of his life living in Absarokee and never really stopped riding bulls.

He was killed at a Senior Pro Rodeo event in Rocky Ford, Colo., on Aug. 16, 1991 after a bull kicked him in the chest. Rossen had dismounted after his ride but the blow caused massive internal bleeding around the heart. He died two hours later.

Rossen won the event.

He was 54 years old.

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