Last month we learned that Alvin Nelson was the 1957 World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider. I also mentioned that Alvin and his wife, Kaye, are old family friends. But did you know that at the peak of his rodeo career,
was drafted into the United States Army? Alvin
Alvin riding a bull at a rodeo in Boston, MA in 1953
Rock and Roll fans might be interested to know that Alvin Nelson was drafted about the same time as the late Elvis Presley, and both were stationed at army bases in
. After basic training, Germany Alvin was stationed in what was then called West Germany, and he and Kaye moved into a tiny apartment in the German town of . Wertheim
After he was honorable discharged from the United States Army, Alvin and Kaye Nelson moved back to the
. United States
Photo taken around 1950 of Alvin’s childhood home in South Dakota
Molly: You were born in
in 1934. Yet your ranch is in South Dakota . North Dakota , tell us about your ranch. Alvin
The Nelson’s K4 Ranch today.
A popular question often asked farmers and ranchers was “How many head of cattle do you have or how much land do you have?” So nowadays when I am asked that question, I usually say, "I have too many cattle when it’s time to feed them and not enough when it’s time to sell them."
A section of land is 640 acres, and we run 2.8 acres per cow per month for eight months or 27 head per section. On the river bottoms where the soil is rich and the grass grows lush and high in good years, we can run one cow per acre per month. In winter, the temperature is normally about forty degrees. Rarely, but for very short periods of time, the temperature can drop to 60 degrees below zero. The average snowfall in our part of the state is about 6 inches a year—although it varies. I chose to buy a ranch in the badlands because the buttes, the hills, the brush, and the trees offer good protection from the cold as well as some open grazing in the winter.
mentioned the word buttes, and for Texans like me, that was a new word. So, I looked it up, and according to the dictionary, a butte is an isolated hill, especially one with steep sides and a flattened top. Alvin
We do bring heifers or cows that look like they might be having trouble calving into the barn for calving. Cows are bred about June 20th, and we start calving around the first of April. We run 250 cows and expect about 235 calves. Calves are sold in October when they are 7 months old. We raise Charolais-Angus cross feeder calves on our ranch. We cross Angus cows with Charolais bulls, and part of these are grazed on the National Grasslands.
Ranchers in the Badlands of North Dakota must have a permit to run cattle on the National Grasslands, but not all ranches in our state are part of the NG or National Grasslands. The price to ranchers is based on the amount of cattle the land will support, both the deeded land and the NG permitted land. The price to ranchers is based on the amount of cattle that can be run in the National Grasslands and on the deeded land.
The price, then, is not based on the amount of cattle that can be run and not on the amount of deeded land. The price is as high as if the rancher was buying all deeded land, and in addition to this, the rancher must pay a grazing fee each year. So in a sense, it is like buying the land and then renting it at the same time.
Molly: Wow! Thanks for explaining this.
You and Kaye have one grown son, a daughter-in-law and a grandson. What can you tell us about your family?
Louis and Allene keep busy with lots of different activities. They do the ranch work and riding as well as compete in rodeo events. They train horses for their team roping and barrel racing and spend time practicing. We call in the neighbors, and they all practice in a big arena on the ranch. Louis also has a grass seeding business; so they are super busy.
Molly: I understand you changed rodeo as a sport forever—especially bronc-riding? Tell us about that.
Alvin Nelson winning the saddle bronc riding event in 1957 at
. Madison Square Garden
This photo was featured in an earlier article, but it is well worth seeing again.
Molly: Amazing. Now, tell us what is going on in your life today.
In 2004, I was also inducted in the Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame at
. The Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association appoints a selection committee, and any member of the PRCA may contact the PRCA headquarters at Colorado Springs , ask for an entry form, fill it out, and send it in. Colorado Springs
Shawn Davis rode broncs when I did and is general manager of the National Finals Rodeo at
, and he nominated me. Also, Jim Peterson and Otto Oster of the Mobridge, South Dakota Rodeo Committee nominated me. Each year the entries have to be submitted by January 15th, and the committee considers all entries. I was notified in April that I had been chosen to be in the induction class of 2004, and to me, it was like winning another world championship. My son, daughter-in-law and grandson, and 140 family and friends were there with Kaye and I for the induction. I was chosen by the guys I competed against, and to me, it was a tremendous honor. Las Vegas, Nevada
Alvin and Kaye Nelson today.
, you’ve had and are still having a wonderful and exciting life. Thanks for sharing part of it with us. I appreciate this interview more than I can say. Alvin
Next month, I will be interviewing Kaye Nelson, a.
North Dakota rancher’s wife for over fifty years.