An American Cowboy: Cotton Rosser
What do you think of when you hear the expression, “living the dream”? Today, most people think about glitz and glamour, not spurs and manure. In all fairness, I’m pretty sure most people’s definition of living the dream never involved manure, but today, we’re not going to talk about “most people.” Today’s edition of The Campfire Chronicle is about a very special cowboy, a man named Cotton Rosser. And Cotton Rosser’s idea of “living the dream” is a little different from most.
His name isn’t a household word, but if the rodeo industry were a monarchy, it’s pretty much a certainty that Cotton Rosser would be crowned king. He has been in the rodeo business for well over fifty years. He has inspired generations of cowboys and he has entertained enough people to populate a country. And, I’m not talking about one of those tiny, obscure countries that only send one competitor to the Olympics. I’m talking about one of the BIGGIES!
So, put some marshmallows on a stick, gather round the campfire and make yourself comfortable. Today, I’m going to tell you the story of Cotton Rosser, rodeo legend.
From an early age, Horton Alexander Rosser knew he wanted to be a cowboy. Fortunately, the blond hair of his youth helped him attain the nickname of Cotton. Because, let’s face it, Cotton is a way better cowboy name than Horton.
Growing up in Long Beach, California, Cotton was always on the lookout for opportunities to spend time with cowboys. That didn’t change when he grew older. Following high school, he attended Cal Poly, where he served as captain of the rodeo team.
Cotton Up To It
As an adult, Cotton Rosser lived the life he had always dreamed of, as a professional rodeo rider. And he took a logical step for anyone who had always wanted to live the cowboy dream . . . he bought himself a ranch! It was on that ranch that his life took a turn. In 1955 Cotton’s legs had an unfortunate run-in with a post-hole auger, and that ended his career as a rodeo rider. For a less determined man, that might have been the end of his association with rodeos. For Cotton Rosser, it was just a fork in the road. Two broken legs didn’t keep him down for long.
It was still 1955 when Cotton and his friend, Dick Pascoe, started their own rodeo company, called Cotton’s Cowboy Corral. (See, doesn’t that sound a lot more authentic than Horton’s Cowboy Corral?!) Cotton’s rodeo association continued when, in 1966, he helped form the Golden State Rodeo Company, which provided stock for rodeos along the West coast.
It wasn’t long before Cotton was the soul proprietor of the Golden State Rodeo Company. In the mid 1970’s the name was changed to Flying U Rodeo, which continues to produce more than 50 rodeos annually!
Cotton Rosser has a natural gift for knowing what people want before they even know they want it. He is a showman with a flair for over-the-top production value. When you see a Cotton Rosser opening ceremony, you know the rodeo has come to town!
His shows have the sort of pageantry that seems equal parts Gene Autry and Evel Knievel. Believe it or not, prior to Cotton Rosser, it doesn’t appear that anyone had thought of having a paratrooper make an overhead entrance to a rodeo opening ceremony! Cotton is quoted as saying, “If you don’t keep the audience entertained, they will go somewhere else.” That’s not likely to happen on Cotton’s watch because he offers up a star spangled spectacle that crowds are not soon to forget!
He brings innovative events to his rodeos and his thinking is not limited to any sort of bull. Shoot! There’s not a box big enough to contain ideas like Roman Chariot Races, Bull Poker and Bull Teeter-Totter!
Cotton Rosser isn’t all about the pageantry, however. He genuinely cares about the integrity of the rodeo. He takes great pains to ensure that the Flying U has the very best livestock. An aficionado of bucking horses and longhorn cattle, he attends to all the details himself . . . and it shows.
In 1995, Cotton was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado. And, in 2009, he was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
In 2007, the Flying U Rodeo Company published Million Dollar Memories: Fifty Years with Cotton Rosser and Flying U. The book is filled with photos and highlights from Cotton Rosser’s career.
Earlier this year, Cotton Rosser took off his cowboy hat and spurs to don a mortarboard and gown. He stood on a stage at California Polytechnic State University, where he had once served as captain of the rodeo team, and he told graduates, “The motto, ‘Learn by Doing,’ has worked for me all my life.” As proof that his motto really has worked for him, he received an honorary doctorate, that day.
If you’re ever in the neighborhood, you can drop into Cotton’s Cowboy Corral, a Western wear shop owned and operated by the Rosser family. Of course, there’s a good chance you won’t run into Cotton. You see, if the Flying U is putting on a rodeo, he’ll be on the road. At the age of 85, he still rides his horse in the opening ceremonies of the rodeos he produces.
So, I guess that sometimes “living the dream” can mean a combination of glitz and glamour, as well as spurs and manure. At least, that’s what living the dream looks like for Cotton Rosser. Now, let’s get back to those marshmallows. It’s almost time to douse our campfire, until next time. Here’s a little video of Cotton Rosser that I think you’ll enjoy!
Happy Trails, y’all!