July 3, 2019 — On this day in 1949, singer and actor Gene Autry was in North Dakota to perform at the annual Mandan Rodeo with his backup band, the Cass County Boys – that’s Cass County, Texas, not North Dakota.
The western movie star also collected a black colt from Mandan rancher Frank Wetzstein, which he bought the year before based on a photograph.
The colt’s white blaze and four stockings were nearly identical to those of Autry’s on-screen costar, Champion Jr., who was soon due to retire.
A few days later, Autry spent time with 70 handicapped children at Camp Grassick, giving him a chance to also visit the camp’s director, Edward Agre. During WWII, Autry was in a special unit on the West Coast, and Agre drove Autry from camp to camp in a station wagon.
Autry returned to the Mandan rodeo again in ‘50 and ‘51 with his famous group, the Sons of the Pioneers.
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.