With the National High School Finals Rodeo just around the corner I became interested in how these events all got started. Join me for the next 3 days as we go through some rodeo history.
The First Rodeo
July 4, 1888 is the day that Prescott, Arizona claims the first “professional” rodeo took place in America. It had events like bronco riding, steer roping, and cow pony races. It also claims to be the first to charge admission.
Cheyenne, Wyoming, however, has also thrown its hat into the ring on the subject, or should I say the corral, claiming the first “organized” rodeo occurred there in 1872. We all know Cheyenne now as the home of the “Daddy of ’em All”, Cheyenne Frontier Days.
There are other rumors around the corral, mainly those in Colorado I assume, that the first rodeo occurred in 1869 in Deer Trail, Colorado. It all started when two groups of cowboys got together to see who was the best at performing everyday ranch tasks.
According to another record, probably written by a Texan, the first rodeo took place in 1852 at the Lone Star Fair in Corpus Christi, Texas. The event was headlined by a matador from Mexico City.
But, Sante Fe, New Mexico predates all of these, boasting the first rodeo ever in 1847.
The Formation of the Rodeo
Rodeos, or gatherings resembling them, started earlier than that however and most likely in many different areas.
Rodeos and cowboys themselves are what they are today because of the Spanish influence on Americans as they moved out west. Rodeo is actually a Spanish word that come from the verb “Rodear.” “Rodeo” was the Spanish word for the pen where cattle were sold at the market and also meant roundup.
Rodeo’s roots can be traced back to ranches in the 1700s when the west was ruled by the Spanish. Many events in today’s rodeos come from or are variations of jobs or activities that needed to be done on the ranch back then.
After long cattle drives ending in Kansas City, where cattle were shipped East, these southwest ranchers and cowboys wanted know who were the best ropers, drovers and riders. These competitions had a major influence on today’s modern rodeo.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show also had an influence on today’s modern rodeo. Showman perform many of the tasks performed at rodeos today. With the passage of time, only the rodeo side remained and began to be adopted by towns and town rodeos were born.
In 1851, California passed a law requiring ranches to give at least one rodeo a year during specific times in specific areas. The law read,
Every owner of a stock farm shall be obliged to give, yearly, one general rodeo within the limits of his farm from the 1st day of April until the 31st day of July…[or] from the 1st day of March to the 31st day of August.
These rodeos were mainly used for separating cattle but there can be no doubt that roping and riding contests would have occurred as well.
The Rodeo Rides On
Asking where rodeos started is like asking who was the first cowboy.
The debating continues and has even gone as far as lawsuits supported by different towns so that they could be recognized as the place where the first rodeo was held.
The official date and location of the first rodeo is unsure. However, the complete story of the West’s bull riders, steer ropers and bucking broncos has been written and recorded through the boots and belt buckles worn by its cowboys. Cowboys that rode, roped, and wrangled their way into the hearts and history of the American people and culture and are here to stay.