Dec 15, 2019
Dilton Emerson has probably forgotten more about the rich history of rodeo than most of us could ever know in the first place. But the 83-year-old still remembers a heckuva lot about it, too. Emerson is among the oldest members of the Gold Card club, reserved for trailblazers in the rodeo world age 50 and up who, of course, are in good standing with the PRCA.
“I ain’t never hit a judge,” Emerson joked during a conversation Saturday night, before the 10th and final round of the 2019 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Emerson and more than 200 peers in the Gold Club are charged with helping make sure the history and traditions of rodeo live on for many more generations. And he’s been a part of that history for a long time.
Emerson got his PRCA card in 1954, five years before the Wrangler NFR even existed. And though Emerson never qualified – competing in the roughstock events and steer wrestling until 1969 – his efforts as a cowboy and more so as a stand-up gentleman representing the sport clinched his Gold Card membership in 1986, as soon as he hit 50.
“The sport was really good to me,” he said. “I never made any championships or made the Finals, but I made a living at it. It’s a great sport.”
And one that’s come so many miles since Emerson – from Bossier City, La. – first found himself in the chutes.
“My biggest check ever was for $957,” he said, and sure enough, with his steel-trap mind and grasp of rodeo history, Emerson still remembers the particulars of that payday. “Fort Worth, 1961. It was pretty big. That little money meant about as much to us back then as the big money does to these cowboys today.”
That said, Emerson has no problem with the larger money out there today, including Wrangler NFR go-round wins that now pay more than $26,000. He’s glad these cowboys and cowgirls have an opportunity to make a living at this, just as he did many decades ago.
“Oh yes, I’m glad they do. I got a grandson who’s rodeoing now,” Emerson said. “I remember what the NFR was when it started in ’59 in Dallas. Day money paid $397. I never dreamed it would grow this big.”
Thankfully it has. So as all of you pack your bags and load your trailers to head back home from Vegas, tip your Resistol to the pioneers who paved the way for this great sport and this incredible 10-day event each December. And never stop telling those stories about the colorful history of rodeo.