Horton Alexander “Cotton” Rosser is the owner of Cotton’s Cowboy Corral in Marysville, California, as well as, “one of the most successful stock contracting firms in professional rodeo,” the Flying U Rodeo Company, which is the oldest rodeo company in the world and the major supplier of rodeo stock in the United States. According to John Bascom, a relative of Rosser’s wife, Karin Allred Rosser (Miss Rodeo Utah from the Ogden, Utah area), the Flying U Rodeo Company was begun by J.C. “Doc” Sorenson of St. Anthony, Idaho. Bascom also states, “My late father Earl Bascom worked for that outfit when Doc had it back in the 1930’s.”

Earl Bascom was born in Utah in 1906, but he was raised in Alberta, Canada. His ingenuity led him to learn all that he could about horses and cattle thus helping him to become a rodeo champion. He also invented, designed, and made rode rigging that is still being used on the rodeo circuit today. In his later years he studied art, and he and his wife, Nadine, taught at schools in Southern California at high desert. When he died in 1985, Earl Bascom was “remembered throughout the West for his ability to span two seemingly disparate pursuits – rodeo and art.” [5]

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Rosser was born in 1928 in Long Beach, California. As a boy he obtained the nickname “Cotton” because his blond hair looked like cotton. His childhood ambition was to become a cowboy, and as a teenager he began competing in all of rodeo’s standard events. While earning his bachelor’s degree from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, he was the captain of the rodeo team. He also competed in Madison Square Garden in New York in 1950. “As a professional, he won buckles, saddles and trophies. Among his many titles, Rosser’s highlight was winning the all-around title at the 1951 Grand National Rodeo in San Francisco.” [1]

Cotton has long been known for his outstanding rodeo productions, including the flamboyant opening ceremonies presented at the National Finals Rodeo, the Houston Livestock Show and the Grand National Rodeo in San Francisco, just to name a few.  Rodeo is show business as far as he is concerned.  According to Cotton, “You have to run the show, you can’t let the show run you.  If you don’t keep the audience entertained they will go somewhere else.” [2]

A Cowboy’s Dream Becomes Reality

Cotton Rosser Mormon Rosser chose Cal Poly as the place to pursue his education for two reasons – to study animal science and to compete on the rodeo team. In 1949 he placed second in the All-Around at the inaugural Intercollegiate Rodeo Finals. The following year he won the All-Around and National Saddle Bronco riding championships. He served as the captain of the rodeo team, and being a licensed pilot, he flew the team to rodeo competitions across the country. During his time at Cal Poly he led the team to win 41 national championships.

He completed his studies in 1952 and seemed destined for a rewarding, professional career in rodeo competition. In 1954, he purchased the Flying U Rodeo Company and started producing rodeo shows that would leave an indelible mark on the rodeo industry. The Flying U produces over 70 rodeos per year to include both the Reno, Nevada Rodeo, and the Grand National Rodeo. It is also known for operating a successful bucking horse breeding program.

In 1956, Rosser’s dream of having a successful career in rodeo competition was thwarted due a ranch accident in which he got tangled in the auger he was using to dig holes for fence posts, resulting in both of his legs being broken. His career as a rodeo competitor was ended, but his passion for the rodeo lived on.

Forever a Cowboy

Cotton Rosser MormonRosser did not allow the minor setback of an accident stop him from doing what he loved most – being an active part of the rodeo. That same year, he started Cotton’s Cowboy Corral, his first rodeo company, with the help of his friend, Dick Pascoe. In 1960, the horses that were used in Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable’s last movie “The Misfits” were provided by his company’s ranch. In 1966, Rosser helped form the Golden State Rodeo Company, which provided stock for rodeos on the west coast from San Diego to Vancouver. He later became the proprietor of the company, and changed its name to Flying U Rodeo in the mid-1970s.

Today the Flying U Rodeo Company is headquartered in Marysville, California. With the help of his wife, Karin, Mr. Rosser serves as President and CEO. He is dedicated to continually enhancing the company by improving his livestock breeding programs and keeping the entertainment aspect of rodeo colorful and fresh. His opening ceremonies are known for patriotic flag presentations, pyrotechnics, and innovative mechanical props. He was instrumental in bringing high school rodeo to California, and he has been a longtime Cal Poly Rodeo Booster and Cal Poly Alumni Association supporter [3]

Cotton recognizes Gene Autry as the person who most influenced the showman in him.  During the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, stock contractors had a lot of class, silver saddles, matched horses and a flair for showmanship.  Every cowboy rode in the grand entry during the heyday of rodeo in such places as Madison Square Garden in New York, Chicago, Houston, Fort Worth and Boston.  Cotton has always tried to bring some of that pageantry and color back to rodeo [2]

In 1995, Rosser was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 2007, the Flying U Rodeo Company published a book called Million Dollar Memories: Fifty Years with Cotton Rosser and the Flying U in commemoration of Rosser’s career. And in 2009, he was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

As a roper, he competed alongside the likes of Gene Autry and rode with Casey Tibbs and Jim Shoulders–for whom he’ll receive the Jim Shoulders Lifetime Achievement Award at the Heroes & Legends ceremony taking place Oct. 22 in Las Vegas, the day before the first round of the PBR World Finals.

“He’s definitely a pioneer and a showman,” said PBR co-founder Cody Lambert. “He advanced the showmanship of rodeo and he wasn’t afraid to try something that hadn’t been done before, but he’s never lost his connection with the West and the Western way of life.” [4]

A Cowboy’s Legacy

Cotton Rosser MormonAccording to John Bascom, Rosser converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the “Mormon” Church by the media and others) a few years ago and is happy with having the gospel in his life. He and his wife Karin have gone through the Mormon temple to make higher covenants there. They currently live in Marysville, California which is “a town named after a Mormon girl, Mary Murphy Johnson Covillaud, who was a survivor of the Donner party of 1847.”

Rosser and his wife Karin have three sons (Lee, Brian, and Reno), two daughters (Katherine and Cindy), and several grandchildren. In addition to the Flying U, Rosser and his wife own and operate Cotton’s Cowboy Corral, a western wear store in Marysville, California. Both have pilot’s licenses, and he has served on the PRCA Board of Directors.

All of the Rosser progeny have had a part in the family business, and four children have followed in his footsteps as Cal Poly graduates. Additionally, two of his six grandchildren are Cal Poly alumni and his youngest daughter is a current graduate student. And recently,

In recognition of Cotton Rosser’s enthusiasm for Cal Poly and the Cal Poly Rodeo, and for his contributions to preserving and enhancing the tradition of rodeo in the western United States, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo are proud to confer upon Cotton Rosser the honorary degree of Doctor of Science. [3]

The Rosser family celebrated 50 years of rodeo production in 2004, and in 2014 Rosser, who continues to work every day in spite of a recent broken arm, will celebrate 60 years of producing rodeos.

Additional Resource:

The Tombstone Epitaph

 

About Keith L. Brown
Keith L. Brown is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having been born and raised Baptist. He was studying to be a Baptist minister at the time of his conversion to the LDS faith. He was baptized on 10 March 1998 in Reykjavik, Iceland while serving on active duty in the United States Navy in Keflavic, Iceland. He currently serves as the First Assistant to the High Priest Group for the Annapolis, Maryland Ward. He is a 30-year honorably retired United States Navy Veteran.

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