FRUITLAND — Friends, family and cowboys from throughout the Four Corners gathered on Saturday afternoon to remember one of the area's most accomplished bull riders, Nelson Tsosie.

Riders competing in the Nelson Tsosie Memorial Bull Riding Competition at the N/N Arena in Fruitland Indian Service Road 36, ranged from small children to young adults. The day included mutton busting and calf and steer riding. It ended with a bull riding competition.

"I'm really thankful that cowboys still remember my brother," said Brenda Charley, Tsosie's older sister. "Some of the younger riders, my brother would teach them how to ride."

Tsosie died in April 2010 after falling about 100 feet off a mesa in Sanostee, according to a Daily Times article about his death. He was 23.

Tsosie, a 2005 graduate of Farmington High School, was a two-time Indian National Finals Rodeo bareback world champion. He competed for three years in the Professional Bull Riding Toughest Cowboy contest. He was the contest's first American Indian rider.

"I looked up to him when I was riding," said Bryan Bitsui, 20, who participated in Saturday's event. "He made me want to ride. I remember his jokes. He was a pretty funny guy."

The event was especially poignant for one of Tsosie's closest friends, Ryan Bitsui.

"It's nice to see a lot of guys that looked up to him," he said. "I miss just being in his presence. We were practically like brothers. I just miss being around him. He did a lot. He was always out there helping young riders, even older guys."

Ryan Bitsui remembers how happy and excited the community was when Tsosie made it into the Toughest Cowboy competition.

"He called me up from New York to tell me that he made it," he said. "I was just so happy for him."

But Tsosie's most lasting impression was his dedication to his family, friends, community and heritage, said Ryan Bitsui.

"Even as far as he went, he was still a very spiritual guy," he said.

"We were in Connecticut once, and we went running in the morning. All of a sudden he stopped and said a quick prayer."

Greg Yee can be reached at gyee@daily-times.com; 505-564-4606. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/GYeeDT.