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March 2017

The success of the Reno Rodeo has always been determined by volunteers who work behind the scenes.

In the early days of the Reno Rodeo, Don Cooper, a buckaroo from Pershing County, was one such volunteer who was instrumental in the rodeo’s success.

“He wasn’t much of a man to boast about what he had done,” said longtime Nevada rancher Don Heitman, who knew Cooper in later years. “It was when I talked to other people, they all mentioned the fact that he helped start the Reno Rodeo.”

Cooper was a friend of cattleman Bill Moffat, the first president of the Reno Rodeo Association, but more than that, Cooper was a cowboy through and through. He was noted as an exceptional rider, talented roper and a great judge of horseflesh.

“He was quite a hand on horseback,” Heitman said. “He was a very talented horse breaker and could do most anything with a horse. He was very handy with a lariat.”

Standing well over six feet, Cooper was a big man; however that didn’t stop him from being an accomplished rider in horse races. In both the 1919 and 1920 Reno Rodeo’s he won the stake races.

He also helped provide stock for early rodeos. Rounding up wild mustangs in Pershing County and delivering them via train to Reno for use in the wild horse race and other bucking events.

Cooper was honored at the 1920 Reno Rodeo for having the best cowboy outfit on the grounds. He was especially known for elaborate tapederos that covered his stirrups.

In 1974, Jack Utter was president of the Reno Rodeo Association and he invited Cooper to a performance of the rodeo. Cooper was introduced to the audience and his involvement in the first Reno Rodeo was mentioned. He humbly accepted the applause.

Cooper died August 11, 1978 in Walnut Creek, California, a few days short of his 85th birthday.


The stories for the Count Down to 100 are excerpts from “A History – The First 80 Years” by Guy Clifton.

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