Not so much happened at the Reno Rodeo over the past 65 plus years that Cotton Rosser hasn't seen first hand. Since 1950, when he won a $500 bonus prize in the saddle bronc competition while still a college student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Rosser's name has been associated with the Reno Rodeo in one way or another.
Even after a serious ranching accident in 1955 broke both his legs and ended his competitive career, Rosser continued to be a part of rodeo in a variety of capacities. In 1956, he and another rodeo cowboy, Dick Pascoe, bought the Flying U Rodeo Company.Pascoe later sold out to Rosser, and Cotton has been providing stock and producing rodeos from his home base in Marysville, California ever since.
Not bad for a city boy who spent his youth on Rainbow Pier in Long Beach, California. But even as a youngster, Rosser always dreamed of being a cowboy.
The son of a building contractor, Rosser's first experience with cattle came at the Wrigley Ranch on Santa Catalina Island. It was there he learned the trade and got his start in amateur rodeo. In 1951 while at Cal Poly, he was honored as the national all-around champion.
The Flying U first provided stock to the Reno Rodeo in 1957 and the relationship has continued virtually unstopped ever since. The Reno Rodeo simply wouldn't seem right without Cotton Rosser on horseback inside the arena, rope in hand, tossing a bottle of Jack Daniels to an unfortunate cowboy after a bad spill.
"He's a living legend," said longtime Reno Rodeo announcer Bob Tallman. "Cotton Rosser has done more for the sport of rodeo than anyone I know."
When he isn't tending his stock on the Flying U, Rosser is often flying his own airplane off to meetings.
Rodeo is a family affair for the Rossers, with his wife Karin, sons Brian, Reno and Lee, daughters Katherine Rosser and Cindy Moreno and son-in-law Julio Moreno among the more than 60 key players at the Flying U. Moreno is a former two-time team roping champion at the Reno Rodeo and the longtime pickup man inside the arena.
The Rossers produce about 60 rodeos a year, with Reno as their showcase event. "Next to the National Finals Rodeo, this is the best one there is," the 70-year-old Rosser said. "All the top cowboys come here and we have six or seven of the best stock contractors.