Part 3 in series about the the history of rodeo.
Steer wrestling might not have existed in modern day rodeo had it not been for Bill Picket, a black Texas cowboy. Bill had his own unique style of bulldogging (steer wrestling). He would ride up behind the bull, jump on its back from his horse, bite its upper lip, and wrestle it to the ground by the horns.
While Bill is recognized by two different halls of fame as the inventor of Bulldogging, he wasn’t the first to do bull wrestling. Bull wrestling extends all the way back to ancient Greece. It was brought to America by the Spanish.Advertisement - Story continues below...
Bill was discovered by an agent while performing at central Texas fairs. He and his brothers were signed for a tour of the west during which time he gained national attention for his bulldogging at the 1904 Cheyenne Frontier Days. From there, he went on to perform around the United States and out of the country. Because of him, many others took to bulldogging.
Rodeo in the Big Apple
World War I wasn’t just the war to end all wars it was almost the end of rodeo as well.
Three men and the big cities helped saved the sport born in the West. Tex Austin was one of those men. He organized the Madison Square Garden Rodeo in 1922. With his help, it became bigger than Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Austin also organized the London Rodeo at Wembley Stadium. At the time it was recognized as the most successful international rodeo contest in history. In time, he lost control of the rodeos and others took over.
William T. Johnson is another one of the three men attributed with saving rodeo. He took over after Austin. He organized rodeos a little more, shortening them, and held rodeos in several other indoor arenas in the East. This changed rodeo because it was usually done outdoors and used to last all day.
Several of Johnson’s rodeos broke attendance records. His event organization featuring 16 events, including six contests, are the events required today by the PRCA.
In the 1920s, Bonnie McCarrol was a cowgirl superstar. She performed, rode broncs and steers, did bulldogging, and automobile jumping.
McCarrol was born on a cattle ranch near Boise, Idaho. She and many other cowgirls competed in many events at the rodeos; however, McCarrol’s death during a bronc riding exhibition in 1929 was a major factor in almost all cowgirl events being pulled from rodeo competitions.
Cowgirls used to participate in many of the same events as cowboys. However a few actions over the period of several years largely restricted the events cowgirls would be allowed to compete in.
Even after McCarrol’s death many people wanted to continue with the cowgirl events. Many smaller rodeos did continue to include them for a time, but those events slowly faded away.
The Start of Barrel Racing
With many of the cowgirl competitions now gone, promoters for the Stamford Cowboy Reunion came up with an idea to add femininity back into rodeo. They invited local ranches to send a young woman at least 16 years old for a sponsor contest. The competition judged who had the best horse, the most attractive outfit, and the horsemanship of the contestants as they rode a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels.
The contest, a big success and widely copied, was the start of barrel racing.
Gene Autry was a singing cowboy. He took over the Madison Square Garden and Boston Rodeo along with many other rodeos around the country after starting his own rodeo company. One of his first actions was to discontinue cowgirl bronc riding which effectively killed the event and cowgirl contests.
His rodeos mixed with patriotic themes are said to be one of the major factors that helped rodeo make it through World War II.
There were many other cowboys and cowgirls who influenced rodeo and helped it on its ride from the old west to the modern west. It is thanks to their determination to not get bucked off when the ride got hard that rodeo is what it is today.