Miles City has always been revered as a cattle town. It’s been a destination for herds from as far away as Texas since the Northern Pacific first arrived in 1881. And in 1934, the Hereford breed was forever impacted by the development of Line 1 genetics at Miles City’s Fort Keogh. For a town of less than 10,000 residents, Miles City has had a profound influence on the cattle industry.
But that is not it’s only claim to fame.
“The Miles City Bucking Horse Sale is about as true to Western tradition as you can get in the modern age,” says John Morford, President of the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale’s Board of Governors. “People come from across the U.S. and around the world expecting to see the Wild, Wild West, and we try to fulfill those wishes best we can.”
According to historian John Moore, the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale began (officially) in 1951 with—what was supposed to be—a straightforward transaction. Les Boe of the Miles City Livestock Center had traveled to Ekalaka to purchase some yearling steers from a man named Heavy Lester. When Lester threw 35 bucking horses into the deal, Boe was puzzled as to what he should do with them. The idea of a sale materialized, and from there, the event grew into an annual tradition drawing in thousands of people to Miles City each May.
“It’s had a tremendous economic impact,” explains Morford. “For the [Bucking Horse] weekend, our population doubles at times.”
Miles City sees a ten- to twelve- million-dollar impact from the sale each year. And communities all across Montana receive an economic boost from travelers stopping through to eat, rest, shop, and refuel on their way to the Bucking Horse Capital of the World.
“Part of our mission statement is to improve the economic outlook of Eastern Montana,” says Morford, who has been involved in some facet of the Sale or another since 1977. “The Board of Governors are all volunteers. This is a way to give back to our community and share our Western way of life.”
Morford explains that when he first got involved, the Sale was a three-day bucking horse and bull event with an opening parade. It has since grown into Miles City’s answer to Mardi Gras—a nonstop, four-day celebration of the Montana cowboy.
“We have a quickdraw, a barbecue, live music… a multitude of entertaining things to do,” says Morford.
The 2021 Sale featured its largest tradeshow to date, with 120 vendors. This year also marked the first PRCA sanctioned event at the Bucking Horse. Twenty-six of the top thirty saddle bronc riders—including every one of the top ten in the world—traveled to Miles City to compete on PRCA saddle broncs.
“It has really become a world-class event,” says Morford.
Miles City was prepared to celebrate 70 years in 2020, but had to postpone due to the pandemic. Making up for lost time, the community threw one of its biggest Bucking Horse Sales to date, with attendance expected to be near record-breaking.
“It’s always a bucket list item for people,” says Morford of the Miles City tradition.
Miles City is proud to see that tradition continue. The community has celebrated seventy Bucking years, and they’ll keep on celebrating ‘til the cows come home.