Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center

Johnny Smith Memorial Sculpture Garden

billycentergardenforwebThe Creation of a Sculpture Garden (2013)

By Cindy Lea Bahe

It all started with a dream; a concept, to have a garden of bronze statues at the Casey Tibbs SD Rodeo Center overlooking the Missouri River. Johnny Smith’s vision became a reality this month, beginning with the 5-time World Champion Billy Etbauer statue. Johnny, a former Board Member of the Casey Tibbs Foundation, was especially proud of the many world saddle bronc champions that were born and raised in South Dakota. Johnny enjoyed a long career in the livestock sales business as an auctioneer, cattle buyer and co-owner of the Ft. Pierre Livestock Auction, Inc., just down the hill from the Rodeo Center. Johnny had a passion for breeding, raising and training quarter horses for the racetrack, arena and ranch, in addition to being an announcer for all levels of rodeo throughout the state before his death in 2011. Thus became the created name of the “Johnny Smith Memorial Sculpture Garden” at the Rodeo Center.

The cold, wet, spring delayed the beginning of the project by a few weeks. Once old, man winter loosened up his grasp on what would have been spring, Briggs Construction and Cowan Construction jumped in to begin the project. The dirt was moved, forms were set and sections of cement were poured intermittently over the next two weeks. The 71’ X 24’ sculpture garden now consists of approximately 136,000 pounds of cement, 20,000 of which is for the statue base only.

Meanwhile, nationally famous sculptor, Tony Chytka, continued to work on the nine-foot high, half ton, bronze back in his Belle Fourche shop. “The uniqueness of this statue is that I actually know the person I am sculpting it of,” said Chytka. “What is most surprising by people’s reactions when looking at an action statue, is that people expect him to look normal, when they aren’t riding. However, cowboys faces get distorted by trial or terror. My three-quarter-scale sculpture of Billy reflects that and shows the true features right down to him gritting his teeth.” This is the third large bronze statue Chytka has done for the Rodeo Center, with those of Casey Tibbs and trickrider Mattie Goff Newcombe preceeding. Chytka, a South Dakota rancher and former champion bull rider, has sculpted many pieces placed in Deadwood, Spearfish and Belle Fourche as well as Colorado Springs.

The statue depicts Etbauer, scoring 89 on Harry Vold’s great saddle bronc, Painted Valley when he won the 2009 Cheyenne Frontier Days saddle bronc event. When asked about the large sculpture being created of him he humbly replied, “This is a pretty unreal deal. It’s an honor and unbelievable.”

Being an non-profit entity, the Casey Tibbs Foundation Board and Rodeo Center staff had to be pretty creative to come up with the funding of the bronze and the sculpture garden. It was decided to create a limited number of 18” X 16” bronze replicas of the large statue that could be purchased.  Chytka, has been casting these maquettes over the last year and a half and will continue through the end of the year. Currently, only about ten of the limited 100 replicas remain for sale.

To offset the cost of the sculpture garden, the Rodeo Center began taking donations for engraved bricks two months ago, an on-going process that will continue throughout the upcoming years. Supporters of the garden can get bricks with their names, a special message, their brand or business logo engraved. These bricks will be permanently placed around the Etbauer statue and throughout the garden. This outdoor space maintains room for two additional sculptures of rodeo champions, which will be decided at a later time. The garden will also serve as a gathering area for wedding receptions or ceremonies held inside the Mattie Goff Newcombe Conference Center, located on the second floor of the Rodeo Center. Newcombe, a former internationally known trick rider, has been the largest financial benefactor of the Rodeo Center since its’ inception.

The entire Rodeo Center highlights rodeo greats of all walks of life, and maintains the Hall of Champions, including Billy Etbauer, his brother Robert and many other champs. Now residing in Oklahoma, Billy Etbauer has never forgotten his South Dakota roots.  “I give a lot of thanks to the people in South Dakota being behind me all the way through the years,” said the Ree Heights native.

As Casey Tibbs often stated “Never leave home for a second,” which is largely interpreted as “Don’t forget your home.” Rest assured South Dakotans, it is obvious Billy Etbauer has never forgotten his.

For more information: 605-494-1094 or

Ten of the limited 100 small bronzes of the Billy Etbauer remain for sale. The proceeds of the small statue sales offset the cost of the large statue.

Billy Etbauer Bronze Images

Click here for images.

Help build the sculpture garden! Donate an engraved brick to be installed in the garden floor.

Call 605-494-1094 for options and prices or complete both of these forms and mail into the Rodeo Center.

Sculpture Garden Brick Order Form