Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Ride 'Em Cowboy

It's Rodeo Time

In September I wrote about the history of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. That will begin here in Houston at the end of February. The one in San Antonio began last week. That made me curious about rodeos and wild west shows like Buffalo Bill's.

I discovered that rodeos are much older than most ever give them credit for being. Spanish ranchers along with their Mexican ranch hands (vaqueros) got together for cattle wrangling and bullfighting as far back as the sixteenth-century.

The vaqueros started equestrian contests and called them charreadas. They also practiced steer wrestling which had been part of an ancient tradition dating back to the days before the Olympics when the ancients practiced bull jumping, bull riding and bull wrestling. It is believed that bull wrestling could have been an ancient Greek Olympic event.

The events eventually found their way to the United States in the nineteenth-century at fairground, racetracks, fiestas, and festivals. However, the events of bull jumping and bull wrestling didn't have that much appeal to Anglo cowboys or audiences. Anglo cowboys preferred roping, riding, and racing. Those events were still enjoyed in Mexico at the charreada, the style of rodeo originating in Jalisco, Mexico.

If not for a Texan black cowboy named Bill Pickett, steer wrestling most likely would never have made its way into our rodeos. He's the one who devised the method of bulldogging similar to what we see today. He would jump from his horse to the steer's back, bit its upper lip and throw it to the ground by grabbing its horns.  His performances at rodeos in Central Texas led to his being discovered by an agent who signed Bill for a tour of the West. The publicity from his bulldogging at the 1904 Cheyenne Frontier Days brought him a contract to travel Oklahoma 101 Ranch Wild West shows. He is now a member of two rodeo halls of fame, recognized as the inventor of the event. That's the only rodeo event ever attributed to one individual. 

                            Picture by NormanFilms  Public Domain

Believe it or not, women appeared in rodeos in the early days of the twentieth-century. The first one was Tillie Baldwin who was a champion trick and bronc rider and racer. In 191, at an exhibition, Tillie participated in bull dogging, but women's contest    never took on, but it made the cowboys more  enthusiastic for the sport without the lip-biting. 

After the Texas Revolution, Texas Anglo cowboys learned everything about the sport of the vaqueros. Ranch versus ranch contests sprang up all over the state with events such as bronc riding, bull riding, and roping contests appearing at race tracks and fairs. 

Then along came William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) 

He created the first major rodeo to tour the nation along with his Wild West show. It opened in North Platte, Nebraska in 1882. His show was so successful that others attempted to create their own which led to professional rodeo. The two enjoyed a parallel existence with one capitalizing on the allure and fame of the other. Their popularity grew and women joined the circuit in the 1890's. Then animal welfare groups began targeting them and are still doing so today.

The actual word "rodeo" was only used occasionally for American cowboys until the 1920's, and even then, professional cowboys didn't use the term until 1945. In those early days, no standardization of the events occurred until 1929. Up to that time, frontier days, stampedes, and other cowboy contests grew in popularity. In 1897, Cheyenne Frontier Days inaugurated it's celebration and even today is one of the most significant of the annual celebrations around the country. The organization of these events fell to the local citizens and their committees who planned everything and chose all the events, made the rules, and arranged for everything else from the stock to officials. Winners at this competition were even considered "World Champions" until 1922. 

As the wild west shows died out, the cowboy competitions remained. Spectators would now pay to see the competitions and the cowboys paid to compete. The money went into a pool to make up the prizes for the winners. Many towns began having their own local rodeos just as they do today in towns like Prescott, Arizona and Cheyenne, Wyoming did in the early days. 

Much more is to be learned about how rodeos became the professional organization it is today and the pitfalls they faced. 

Houston is know for its annual Livestock Show and Rodeo in late February and early March. I loved attending those rodeos and still attend the livestock show on occasion. My favorite event has always been the barrel racing with saddle bronco riding next. 

Since I didn't have enough to have a drawing in December, we'll do it this month for a chance at my book about a barrel-racing rancher's daughter.
Have you ever been to a rodeo? What would be your favorite event? Be sure to leave your email address and comment by midnight Friday, February 14 to be in the drawing. 

Kylee is the youngest of the Danner clan and drops out of college to barrel race full-time and spend more time with her rodeo sweetheart, Jesse Martin. Connor Morris, known as Jesse Martin on the rodeo circuit, is in love with Kylee, but he hides his true identity from her. When the truth of his identity as Connor Morris is revealed in a news item on television, along with a woman claiming to be his fiancee, Kylee is devastated. Connor now has the task of explaining the news bit she saw is not what it appeared. He must gain back not only her trust, but also that of her brothers and her father.  

Martha Rogers is a multi-published author and writes a weekly devotional for ACFW. Since receiving her first novel contract at age 73, Martha has written and published over 50 books. Martha and her husband Rex live in Houston, Texas where they are active members of First Baptist Church. They are the parents of three sons and grandparents to eleven grandchildren and great-grandparents to five. Martha is a retired teacher with twenty-eight years teaching Home Economics and English at the secondary level and eight years at the college level supervising student teachers and teaching freshman English. She is the Director of the Texas Christian Writers Conference held in Houston in August each year, a member of ACFW, ACFW WOTS chapter in Houston, and a member of the writers’ group, Inspirational Writers Alive.
Find Martha at:  www.marthawrogers.com                   Twitter: @martharogers2                                                                      Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/MarthaRogersAuthor                                   



  1. I have been to rodeos before. I like to watch barrel-racing at the agricultural fairs. We also used to enjoy following the PBR circuit on TV.
    We have an interesting story in our family of my grandmother going to the county fair and sitting in the stands when a bull bent on escape jumped over a fence and tried to get up into the stands. As it passed my grandmother she tried to swat it with her purse!!!! She must have been in her 70's when this happened; she certainly was a feisty country lady.

  2. That is so funny, Connie. I can just see her doing that. My husband records all the rodeo shows he can, so we watch a lot of it on TV, too.

  3. Yes, I love rodeos. My favorite event is also barrel racing.

    Linda - rayorr[at]bellsouth[dot]net

    1. Rodeos are fun and I had no idea they had such a colorful history. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Thanks for the great info about rodeos.

    1. I was amazed at how much information there is about rodeos and the diversity. Thanks for dropping by, June.