Jarvis Russette grew up on Montana’s Rocky Boy Reservation, a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe.
“I’ve been in the rodeo business since I was a kid,” the 15-year Army veteran explained. “Up there, we had a big spread. It’s a pretty nice area there. We ran a lot of cattle and I trained a lot of horses.”
Russette was an athlete in the rodeo arena and on the sports fields, but he married young and started a family, which he knew he needed to support.
“My main thing was supporting and bringing in some money for my little baby,” he said. “The biggest, quickest was I can make money and get in there right away: join the military. Recruiters were always at the school and all of my relatives had been military.”
Russette enlisted prior to his senior year of high school and needed his parents’ consent to go.
“Work was hard to find,” he continued. “I just found the nearest recruiter. He gave me a written exam and said, ‘You’re good to go.’ We ended up in Great Falls and I signed the dotted line. I was sworn in and I still had a year of high school.”
Russette remembers being given a few days to enjoy his high school graduation before he was expected at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for basic training.
“I ended up in Korea,” he said. “Then back in Georgia, and Fort Polk, Louisiana.”
Russette met his current wife in the military and moved to her home state of New Mexico.
“I got deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. That’s where I got injured and hurt. That was during my National Guard career right here in Albuquerque. I was part of the military police company 126.”
As a result of his injuries, Russette was medically discharged in 2008 and awarded the Purple Heart, but graduating from the police academy remains one of his career highlights.
“It was very strenuous and very tough, but what set me up for it was the Army and all the trainings I went through,” he explained. “I used my experiences to join the state police here in New Mexico, and then I transferred out to the tribal police, the Navajo Nation. My last duty was right there in Window Rock.”
Window Rock is also where Russette attended a Warriors And Rodeo team roping clinic that was taught by Erich Rogers, Aaron Tsinigine and Derrick Begay in May this year. There, he demonstrated a lot of skill and caught the attention of the pros.
“The biggest thing I learned was horsemanship,” Russette said. “How to ride your horse. That was one thing I was lacking. My feet were all over [the place]. They corrected a lot of stuff like that.”
Russette’s swing was another focus point.
“Erich told me to rope the dummy on the ground and to make everything as perfect and as best you can. Your very first swing has gotta be the best swing because that will set up your shot. So, every day I’ve been doing that … and it’s been really working for me.”
As a retiree, Russette gets lots of arena time, and he shares it with his wife and his younger children.
“I’ve been retired from law enforcement and the military since ’08—medically retired. So I’m just building arenas, putting up shed barns, and I’ll ride horses down, drag the arena, get it ready for when they get out of school. Sometimes, we rope every Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Russette has eight children who are either in the military, college, or are coming up in the junior rodeo ranks.
“My oldest, she’s a captain in the Army. My son, he just finished boots training in the Navy. We haven’t seen him in almost three years now. I have another son who’s going to the University of Oklahoma and lives with his sister out at Fort Sill.”
His next oldest daughter, Cassidy Begay, is attending college and rodeoing in the INFR tour, while the youngest four are in high school and junior high.
“They’ve been winning,” Russette reported, proudly. “I tell you what, they’ve been doing good. My youngest, the baby, is the one that loves to rope. She’s dummy roping this whole area and winning neat prizes. Then, Cassidy, right now, I think she’s sitting third in the breakaway and, in team roping, she took second place at this all-girls rodeo—she’s been heading.”
Even through the heat of the ProRodeo season, Rogers has stayed in touch with Russette since the May clinic and has even extended an invitation for Cassidy and her brother to come and rope with him.
“He offered to have my son and her to go down to Tucson, where he lives, and he says he’d train them up for maybe a week or two,” Russette said.
As is often the case with kids, finding a gap between class and sports schedules to allow for the trip is proving difficult, but Russette hopes to make it work. Otherwise, he’s hopeful for another Navajo Nation veterans clinic.
“Heck yea, I’d do it again,” Russette said of another opportunity to rope with Rogers, Tsinigine and Begay.