The Grand Canyon State has turned out a ton of world-class team ropers over time. To take it all the way back to the beginning of recorded rodeo history, there have been about 40 world team roping titlists who hung their hats in Arizona, starting with Buckeye’s Arthur Beloat in 1931. In more recent times, the list of successful, lifelong Arizona native team ropers has included the likes of Derrick Begay, Cesar de la Cruz, Chance Kelton, Erich Rogers, Colter Todd and Aaron Tsinigine. It’d be easy to add a guy like 2017 World Champion Heeler Cory Petska, who lives in Marana, only this particular list is comprised only of natives. Like every cowboy kid, they all grew up with heroes from their home turf—in this case, Arizona cactus country.
Eight-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo header Begay grew up in the community of Seba Dalkai/Teesto. “It’s not a town—it’s a little place on the (Navajo) reservation with a few houses, a post office and a school,” he said. The son of Myrtle and Victor Begay still lives in the same spot, these days with his fiancee, Justine, and their year-old daughter, Brindle Mae.
“I think Arizona is where we all started in my family,” Begay said. “I’m not sure how many generations we’ve been here, but as far as I know and they know, we’re Arizona people from all the way back. We’ve been true natives of the same spot for as far back as anyone in my family can remember.
“For me, the best part about living in Arizona is the landscape and the weather. Arizona has a lot of different landscapes, from
the harsh desert to the high country. We get snow in the winter
and 117-degree summers. There are a lot of pretty places in this country, and rodeo showed them to me. I used to rope for a living, and Texas was the ideal spot to move to for that. I always said
if I ever got serious about team roping I should move to Texas. I guess I never got that serious. I don’t even want to go on vacation anywhere else. My fiancee might want to go to a tropical beach, but I just love Arizona that much. Arizona’s always been home, and I’m pretty sure it always will be.”
His heroes growing up in Grand Canyon country?
“It’s easy to name guys like Jake (Barnes) and Clay (O’Brien Cooper),” Begay said. “They were from Arizona when I was a kid, and they’re everybody’s heroes. When I was growing up going to the ropings and Indian rodeos with my dad, I didn’t know where anybody was from.
“As far as native Arizona cowboys go, the people I looked up to when it came to team roping were families from the reservation—like the Williams, Monroes, Sells and Boyds. They were always there, and they were always winning.”
Cesar de la Cruz
Nine-time NFR heeler de la Cruz grew up in Tucson, the son of Zenaida Aros Olivar and stepdad Larry Olivar, and a nephew of team roping uncles George and Victor Aros. These days, de la Cruz lives with his wife, Arena, and sons, Camilo, 10, Gio, 8, and Zorro, 5—who love to ride Cesar’s old faithful Johnny Ringo, who’s 24 now—in Casa Grande.
“My family is Southern Arizona for as many generations as I know about,” Cesar said. “We’re Arizona cowboys and cowgirls from way back. To me, the best part about living in Arizona is that we can rope year-round. It gets hot in the summertime, but we can still rope at night. It helped my career out a lot to be able to rope all the time.
“And in the wintertime it’s crazy around here. That’s how I met my wife. She’s from Montana, and came to winter in Arizona. We met when we were kids through roping in Arizona. I teach a lot of roping lessons now, and Arizona’s a great place for me to make a living selling horses and teaching people how to rope better, especially in the wintertime.”
His heroes growing up in the Grand Canyon State?
“My heroes were my family and everyone my family roped with growing up,” de la Cruz said. “Leo (Camarillo) lives in Arizona now, and always spent a lot of time here. Clay O’s always been a hero, and has lived in Arizona a lot. Colter’s (Todd) family had a big influence on me. I learned how to cowboy and ride colts with Colter when we were kids.
“My Uncle George has been my ultimate hero since I could walk, and has had a huge influence on my career. I got Johnny Ringo and Annie Oakley from him, and they’re some of the greatest horses I’ve ever owned. I still go rope at Uncle George’s house a few times a week. He’s been my mentor my whole roping journey. I won my first saddle with Uncle George when I was 9. Uncle Victor’s always been there for me, too. My main heroes were and will always be my family.”
Three-time NFR header and five-time National Finals Steer Roping qualifier Kelton grew up in Mayer, the son of Willy and Phyllis. Chance still lives in Mayer with his wife, Tammy, and kids, Kenzie, 16, and Ketch, 14.
“I’m a fifth-generation Arizona cowboy,” Chance said. “My kids are sixth generation, and they love to rope, too. They’re addicted, and it’s all they want to do, full steam ahead. I think the best part is we have the best weath- er. It’s so predictable. When you get up in the morning, you know the sun is going to shine. There are a lot of other places where you might not see the sun for a month or be up to your ass in snow. The weather’s awesome here, and if you rope, there are just so many places to go.”
Kelton’s Arizona cowboy heroes growing up?
“You have to go back to Jake and Clay,” Chance said. “They were winning gold buckles and were the guys everybody was trying to beat when I was a kid. I grew up a few miles from where they lived back then. Bret Beach was right down the road, and Rube Woolsey, Denton Payne and Rickey Green lived nearby, too. I got to watch ’em all rope when I went to the ropings with my dad.
“When I was a kid, California was the Cowboy Capital. Then when I was a teenager, they all came here to Arizona. The rodeo guys have all moved to Stephenville (Texas) now, but Arizona is still the place to be in the wintertime for all levels of ropers. You can rope every day of the week in multiple spots. It’s unbelievable.”
Rogers, who will rope at his 10th straight NFR in December and won the 2017 world heading championship, grew up in Round Rock. The son of Ramona and Ervin, Erich now lives near de la Cruz in Casa Grande.
“We’ve all lived in Arizona all our lives,” Rogers said. “They say my grandpa James W. Begay (no relation to Derrick) was a stock contractor back in the day. He and my dad both used to rope. I’m very proud to be from Arizona. That’s where my people are from.
“You can rope about every day in Arizona, if you want to. And it’s God’s country come wintertime. You can find a roping to go to every day of the week. From where I am in Casa Grande, it’s two hours to Wickenburg, an hour and a half to Cave Creek, and an hour to Queen Creek. There are ropings everywhere all around us. If you’re a team roper, Arizona’s the place to be. At least seven months out of the year—October through April—it’s team roping Heaven.”
Who’d he look up to growing up in cactus country?
“Jake and Clay and Al Bach lived in Arizona when I was a
kid,” Rogers said. “On the Navajo reservation, you had Leonard Williams, Shawn Shirley, the Sells boys and Derrick Begay’s family. Jake was the baddest cat when I was growing up, so I figured if
I could be like him and catch like him, I’d have a shot at being a world champ.”
Three-time National Finalist Tsinigine strapped on the gold heading buckle in 2015. Phillip and Elouise’s son grew up in Tuba City, a place he’s still proud to call home.
“We go back a long, long way in Arizona, from back before The Long Walk (of the Navajo, which was the 1864 deportation and ethnic cleans- ing attempt of the Navajo people by the U.S. government, when Navajo people were forced from their land in what is now Arizona and Eastern New Mexico on foot),” Tsinigine said. “We are traditional Navajos.
“I grew up in the best place in the world. You can’t beat it, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s a little hot in the summer, but in the wintertime it’s perfect. Being half Indian and half cowboy, Arizona is the perfect place for me.”
Have his heroes always been Arizona cowboys?
“Everybody who roped good—guys like the Sells, Begays and Yazzies—were my heroes growing up,” Tsinigine said. “That’s who I wanted to rope with and try to beat.”
Three-time NFR header Todd—who roped with de la Cruz at three straight NFRs from 2006 to 2008 before riding off into the Warbonnet Ranch sunset where he was raised the son of Larrie and Lori in Willcox—still loves life there. Colter and wife Carly have three kids, Madilyn, 15, Colter Lee, 12 and Traven, 10.
“There are four generations of our family right here—alive and well and all working together—on this ranch,” Colter said. “My grandpa’s 84, my dad’s 63, I’m 36 and now our kids. My family moved here in 1979 or ’80 from Livingston, Montana. That’s when they bought the ranch we’re all on now. The kids aren’t totally hooked on arena roping, but they love outside roping and Madilyn loves barrel racing. We can get some jobs done on the ranch.
“Arizona is where I was raised. I like it because it’s versatile. It’s a different tough. We don’t have brutal winters, like Montana or the Dakotas. But it’s big country. It’s rough and tough, and you can ride
for miles. I like being horseback seeing country, and we can ride year-round here. It’s never too hot or cold to ride where we are. The only way I’d ever leave Arizona is if God wanted me to. But I’m praying he doesn’t, because I really love it here.”
His hero growing up in Arizona’s wide-open spaces?
“My Grandpa Larry is my hero,” Colter said. “He’s quiet, he works really hard, he loves his lord and savior, and his wife and family. He never rodeoed, but he’s a good horseman, and he roped and read cattle good. When I picture a quiet, hard-working cowboy, I picture him. To this day, if he gets bucked off, he gets right back on. His actions speak volumes, and I respect that so much.”