A native of Whitehall, Mont., Shawn Davis is simply one of the most influential individuals the sport of rodeo has ever known.
After a successful high school and collegiate rodeo career, Davis qualified for the National Finals Rodeo seven straight years beginning in 1963. The saddle bronc rider went on to claim the coveted Gold Buckle three times, in 1965, 1967 and 1968. Davis was at the pinnacle of his sport, including being featured in LIFE magazine in its Aug. 20, 1965 issue.
However, on one fateful day, Davis’ fortuned turned. On May 25, 1969, Davis suffered a fractured and dislocated spine when a bronc fell on him at a rodeo in Thompson Falls, Mont. He was leading the world standings at the time and still qualified based on those earnings, but would miss the NFR and undergo 13 grueling months of physical therapy.
Even after the injury, he returned to the NFR as a qualifier five times. This is considered by some to be even more impressive than his trio of world championships.
But his career in rodeo was only beginning. In 1977, he became the College of Southern Idaho’s rodeo coach, winning 24 regional titles and three national championships during his 29-year tenure. It was during this time that he also started to produce his own rodeos, leading to his next great challenge.
In 1982, Davis was named the president of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. During that tenure, it is well known that he cast the deciding vote to move the NFR from Oklahoma City to Las Vegas and later became the general manager of the NFR in 1986, a position he held through 2018.
His importance in growing the sport of rodeo and the NFR in Las Vegas can never be underestimated. Davis introduced interactive fan elements, keeping entertainment fresh and modernizing various aspects of the look and feel of the rodeo – all while fitting it neatly into a two-hour television time window. Through his leadership, he elevated the NFR to perhaps Las Vegas’ most important special event.
With more than 300 consecutive sold-out performances, he has been integral in building the legacy of the NFR and changing the way that Las Vegas operates in December.
Born: December 07, 1940
Claim to Fame: Davis, a three-time world champion saddle bronc rider, has devoted much of his life to the sport of rodeo. As the general manager of the National Finals Rodeo, he elevated the event into a December tradition in Las Vegas.