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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published August 28 2011

Erksmoen: Tescher brothers were masters of rodeo circuit

People from North Dakota are able to compete nationally in almost every endeavor and, in many areas, they excel. One of these areas is rodeo competitions.

Two North Dakota brothers – Jim and Tom Tescher – were major rodeo competitors in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Early in their careers, the great bronc rider Casey Tibbs told a reporter from Look magazine, “There’s no telling how far those Teschers could go in rodeo.”

On the floor of Congress on March 12, 2004, a U.S. senator paid tribute to the late Jim Tescher, calling him one of his heroes. The Tescher brothers did not have to look too far to find their own heroes. One was their father; another was an older brother.

The parents of Tom, Jim and 13 other Tescher children were Mathias Carl Tescher and Antionette “Nettie” (Gass) Tescher. Mathias, who was also known as “Matt,” “Math” and “M.C.,” operated a ranch six miles north of Sentinel Butte in Golden Valley County, where he raised cattle and Percheron horses. He bought, broke and trained horses and shipped them to Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Matt was active in the community and highly respected by his neighbors. He served as director of the Medora Grazing Association, trustee of St. Michael’s Catholic Church, director of the Sentinel Butte School District and county commissioner from 1935 to 1947. He was also active in the Democratic Party and the Farmers Union.

Unhappy with the policies coming out of Bismarck, Matt ran in 1956 for the Legislature from District 39. The district was made up of four counties – Billings, Bowman, Golden Valley and Slope – in the southwestern corner of North Dakota. Matt easily beat incumbent Republican Albert Homelvig.

Thomas Jerome Tescher was born Jan. 24, 1926, and James F. Tescher was born Aug. 15, 1929. The Teschers were a close-knit family, but for Tom and Jim, there was one older sibling they held in awe – Alvin. Alvin was born in 1921, and in the early 1940s he was a Golden Gloves boxer and rodeo competitor. In 1944, he entered World War II and resumed his rodeo career after the war. He taught Tom and Jim how to handle horses.

All of the Tescher children attended the Camel Hump Elementary School two miles from their ranch. They attended high school in Sentinel Butte. In 1941, the Tescher home burned, and Matt took most of his family to live in Sentinel Butte. Alvin stayed to run the family farm and begin rebuilding the house. Jim also stayed because he wanted to finish classes at Camel Hump.

In the early 1940s, the Tescher boys captured some wild horses running northeast of Medora. Officials at Theodore Roosevelt National Park then hired them to rope and capture more of the stallions. They were also hired to help with some of the park’s buffalo roundups.

Tom graduated from Sentinel Butte High School in 1943 and, on July 4, 1944, entered his first rodeo competition in Medora. In 1946, he married Lorraine Pendleton, a school teacher, and they built a home on his parents’ farm.

Jim graduated in 1946, and after a brief fling on the rodeo circuit with brothers Alvin and Tom, went to work at the South St. Paul Stockyards for two years. When he returned, Tom was already acclaimed as one of the best bronc riders in the area, having won his first of four North Dakota saddle bronc riding championships in 1948.

Jim and Tom traveled to the Sheridan Rodeo in Wyoming later that year to see how they stacked up against the best riders in the country. Jim won the saddle bronc competition, and Tom finished second in bareback riding. They then joined the Rodeo Cowboys Association, which allowed them to enter all the major rodeos in the U.S. and Canada. With his winnings at Sheridan, Jim bought a new car.

Jim entered 19 rodeos in 1949 and won the bareback competition in 14 of them. He married Loretta Brown, an area school teacher, in 1950. Things were looking good for the Tescher brothers as they both continued winning competitions, but tragedy struck the family two days after Christmas in 1952. Their younger brother Donnie, then 19, went to the garage to fill his truck with gasoline. A spark ignited the fumes. Donnie was burned to death, and the fire spread, destroying Tom and Lorraine’s new home.

Jim decided to retire from rodeo competitions to spend more time with his new wife. He made a down payment on a ranch 36 miles north of Medora and bought some cattle. In spring 1953, cattle prices dropped more than 50 percent, and the bills began to pile up. Jim realized the only solution to save his ranch was to retrieve his saddle and get back into rodeo competitions.

Next week we will focus on the remarkable rodeo careers of the two Tescher brothers.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.