There is one man whose name might not be a “household name” but it should be. That’s because, at age 87, he’s still competing in rodeo.
Who is he? He’s amazing.
Especially when you think about what most men do when they reach the age of 87; which is not much or nothing at all, because they’re not around.
But this man is, and he’s still doing a lot of the same things he did when he was 27 or 37, which has a lot more to do with helping others than with helping himself. We’ll talk more about that in a bit.
His name is Rex Cook and he is a descendent of the Cooks who came over from England as pilgrims on the Mayflower. A few generations later they ended up as ranchers in North Dakota, about 25 miles north of Sentinel Butte, smack dab in the middle of nowhere, better known as the Badlands. With the first of those Cook family members being Rex’s uncle escorting a bunch of horses that would form the nucleus of their future herd, followed by Rex’s father, in the late 1800s.
No wonder Rex became a cowboy. After all, he’d been mounting horses since before he can remember and even owned his own ranchland by the time he was 14.
Soon he became a lanky roper who reached his full 74 inches in height by the time he was 13. That’s when the eighth grade basketball coach at Sentinel Butte asked him to go out for the team. He immediately became the upcoming tournament’s co-most valuable player.
“Just stand under the basket, grab the ball and don’t shuffle your feet,” the coach told him. “Then throw it to”…the other co- MVP who was sprinting towards the other basket.
After that he graduated from high school and became a country school teacher, went to college in Dickinson, where he also played basketball, and served in the army during the Korean War. Then he came back home to ranch, teach school, make saddles, serve on Dickinson’s city commission, raise a family with his wife Anne, and do custom branding throughout western North Dakota and eastern Montana. In addition he taught a whole lot of kids, and plenty of horses a thing or two about horsemanship, finally settling in as one of the nation’s best team-ropers, calf-ropers, cutting horse trainers and judges.
Today, he’s still doing the same thing and wondering why people think it’s so amazing. After all, it’s what he’s done all of his life.
This summer my 87 year old buddy called me a few times to go team-roping at Carson’s Ranch, the North Dakota team-roping mecca, located well west of Grassy Butte, and I was honored.
“I’ll drive,” he said and he picked me up with his big pickup truck pulling his big trailer. I led my saddled horse into the trailer, parked it next to his and off we went, driving for over an hour, and roping for a bunch more.
On the way back we chatted about current events as if we were a couple of teenagers and more than once I found myself dozing off and looked over to see if he was too. But of course he wasn’t. After all, he’s Rex Cook.
Kevin Holten is the president of the North Dakota Cowboy Association and executive producer of NBC-TV’s Special Cowboy Moments with Ken Howie Studios. To see all past episodes go to gatheringcowboyhistory.com.