Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Farewell, Sonny Jim

October 27th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Indian RodeoSad news out of New Mexico this morning: Sonny Jim, a true legend of the Indian rodeo scene, was gunned down during a property dispute. A man of Modoc descent who’d long lived in Navajo country, Sonny Jim was the nation’s top Indian cowboy during the early 1970s, renowned for his long, luxuriant hippie hair as well as his bull-riding skills. In 1982, he reinvented himself as a champion steer wrestler—dangerous work for any cowboy, let alone one entering the sunset of his career.

A 1974 piece from Sports Illustrated captured both Sonny Jim and his beloved sport at their finest. And check out some vintage Indian rodeo photographs here, here, and (especially) here, via the excellent Colorado Plateau Digital Archives at Northern Arizona University.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • G. "Zeke" Adams

    Sonny was like a big brother to me when I was a teenager in Taos, N.M. Although I was just an Anglo kid from Texas that spent his summer and winter vacations near Taos, Sonny and his whole family and his circle of friends always treated me as an equal. He and my sister dated off and on for years and remained good friends until now. Sonny taught me about horses, playing guitar, and girls and to be brave when the going got tough.
    My sister, Emily, moved to Taos for good in the 1970’s. She and Sonny, his family and most of our friends from “back in the day” got together for a reunion there a couple of years ago. I live in Denver and was buried in my career and couldn’t make the reunion. I’ll always regret that I wasn’t there.
    I also lived near Taos for a couple of years in the mid-70’s when Sonny was still around there some. When he was around, there was seldom ever a dull moment. His charisma and free spirit rubbed off on those around him. I probably didn’t realize how much he meant to me until the last few days. But I know I’ll see him again when I journey on because he’ll always be family to me.
    May God bless you, brother – Ride on!

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    Thanks a million for heartfelt words, Zeke. So sorry for your loss, but glad to hear your memories of Sonny Jim burn bright. He was a great, great man.

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