Sunday, September 26, 2021

And They Call the Thing Rodeo

By Cindy Regnier 

It’s bulls and blood
It’s dust and mud
It’s the roar of a Sunday crowd

At least that’s how Garth Brooks describes it and I guess I’d have to agree. Do you enjoy rodeo? Ever wonder how it got started? As one of my favorite sports (next to my alma mater football) I’ve always been interested in its beginnings. Let’s delve into it and see what we can find out.

You may be surprised to learn that rodeo is a little more complex than boots, cowboy hats and fancy belt buckles. Rodeo is actually a unique of blend of cultures and traditions with its roots in Spanish origin. Modern day rodeo in our country dates back to the cattle industry of the American West, but it was greatly influenced by Spanish conquistadors in the 1700s.

Today’s rodeo developed many of its practices from Spanish ranchers and their Mexican ranch hands, or vaqueros. The word “rodeo” itself is derived from the Spanish word “rodear” meaning “roundup,” in reference to the roundup of cattle. As pioneers from the East interacted with the Spanish, Mexican, Californian, and Texan cowboys, they took on many of the vaqueros’ styles and traditions of ranch life.

The blending of Anglo and Spanish-Mexican cultures led to the birth of the American cowboy era in the 1800s. Breaking horses to ride and catching cattle for branding, doctoring, and sale required roping and riding skills on the frontier ranches. In the 1820s and ’30s ranch-versus-ranch contests began to spring up with cowboys and vaqueros testing their skills against each other.


It wasn’t until after the Civil War, however, that the cowboy era truly began, as ranchers from the Southwest organized cattle drives to deliver cattle to trains where they would be transported East. At the end of a drive, cowboys would hold informal competitions against each other to see which group had the best skills in riding and roping. These events soon became competitions on for public display at race tracks, fairgrounds, and festivals.

Some folks believe the first official rodeo was held in 1869 in Deer Trail, Colorado, when two groups of cowboys from neighboring ranches met to settle an argument over who was best at performing everyday cowboy tasks, including breaking wild horses, which is today’s saddle bronc riding event. Over the years, a culmination of skills and techniques from Spanish-speaking cowboys, vaqueros, and cowboys from the East combined to bring us today’s modern rodeo. 

Many others claim to be the first rodeo in the U.S., including Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1872; Winfield, Kansas, in 1882; and Pecos, Texas, in 1883. Still, these early contests were primarily simple displays of riding and roping skills and not the organized events now standard in today’s rodeo industry.

From the 1880s through the 1920s, frontier days, stampedes, and cowboy contests were the most popular names of what we now call the rodeo. Buffalo Bill Cody 
Buffalo Bill

and his Fourth of July Wild West show in North Platte, Nebraska, in 1882 was the first competition to offer prize money, with Prescott, Arizona, claiming to hold the “first formalized rodeo” on July 4, 1888. From there, Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1897, the Pendleton Round-Up in 1910, and the Calgary Stampede in 1912 followed as popular rodeo venues.

Initially, rodeo was a fairly nondiscriminatory sport, often including Hispanic, African American, Native American, and female contestants in an era when race and gender discrimination were commonplace. Women competed in many events at mixed-gender rodeos well into the 1930s. During this time, ladies often competed against men and won in a variety of rodeo events, including bronc riding and steer roping, as well as trick and fancy roping and riding.

One of the more well-known female competitors was Phoebe Ann Moses Butler. Butler grew up in a poor family in Ohio, where she took up hunting to provide for her family after her father died. From those marksman skills developed as a hunter, she earned the nickname “Little Sure Shot” and joined Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show as Annie Oakley in 1885.
Annie Oakley

In 1929, two events occurred that changed the course of rodeo history:
1.Well-known cowgirl Bonnie McCarroll died in a bronc riding accident at Pendleton, Oregon, leading many rodeos to drop women’s contests.
Bonnie McCarroll

2.The Rodeo Association of America was formed by rodeo organizers, and not the cowboys themselves, to standardize rules, establish a point system, monitor judges, and establish fair prize money. In large part because of McCarroll’s death, the RAA was organized as an all-male entity.

1945 marks the year professional cowboys officially adopted the term “rodeo” for their sport. The PRCA went on to sanction the events and rules for saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, team roping, and steer roping.

Women realized it would be up to them to get back into the mainstream of the sport and in 1948, the Girl’s Rodeo Association, now the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA), was started by a group of Texas ranch women. The WPRA was highly successful in restoring cowgirl contests to PRCA rodeos. Barrel racing was the most popular WPRA contest, and it spread rapidly throughout the country. It is now the only women’s event standard at PRCA rodeos and often ranks second only to bull riding in popularity.

It’s boots and chaps
It’s cowboy hats
It’s spurs and latigo
It’s the ropes and the reins
And the joy and the pain
And they call the thing rodeo

Rand Stafford isn't looking for true love. He'd ridden that trail leaving behind a shattered heart. He only needs a wife to help him care for his orphan nieces.
Fleeing her former employer, a newspaper advertisement reads like the perfect refuge to Carly Blair. Escaping the city to hide herself on a cattle ranch in Kansas is her best shot for freedom. But its sanctuary comes with a price—a husband. While marrying a man she doesn't know or love means sacrificing her dreams, it's better than being caught by the law. Or is it?


  1. As a kid, I watched my cousins compete in rodeo. I haven't been to one in years, now, but used to love them. Especially the bull and bronc riding.

    1. I love rodeo too. My favorite is the bronc riding. Thanks for stopping by Ane.

  2. Thanks for posting the history of rodeo! I love it, love watching it, though we don't subscribe to the right networks to get it now. I love the variety of events, I think there's something for everyone!

  3. Hi Connie - live rodeo is fun too. Do you have any live ones around? Something about the atmosphere, I guess. There is a rodeo every spring in the small town where i live. Big event for our little town

    1. I really haven't checked out whether they hold live rodeos around here. But at our local ag fairs, there is usually some barrel racing. Of course, the one in our area holds it on Sunday morning. I have a few more chances to check out events though.