going to say right from the get-go that we don't know where the first
rodeo was staged, but that's not going to stop us from going with
the West of the Pecos Rodeo in the
town made famous by Judge Roy Bean and his
brand of law west of there. This particular rodeo happened on
July 4, 1883, and was apparently the first rodeo that actually offered
The story goes that a bunch of cowboys were hanging out at Red Newell's
saloon in Pecos
in 1883 and decided to have a steer roping and bronc busting event
on July 4. Local ranchers pitched in with $40 in prize money, which
is a big distinction when trying to pin a date on the first rodeo
as we know it today.
exact date of the first exhibition of the daily work and, later, of
the sport of the cowboy cannot be given," Clifford P. Westermeier
wrote in his 1947 history of rodeo, Man, Beast, Dust: The Story
of Rodeo. "If such an attempt were made it would bring forth vehement
and justified protests from the various parts of the west."
| Yes, and it
happened just that way. In Texas,
Canadian also claims to have staged the first rodeo on July 4,
1888. Beyond the state's borders, places like Prescott and Payton,
Arizona make some respectable claims, and so do Santa Fe and Deer
Trail, Colorado. The problem is that the sport of rodeo didn't have
to be invented. It already existed as a part of the cowboys' work
day, going all the way back to the charredas performed by the first
cowboys - the vaqueros of Mexico
and South Texas.
The Pecos rodeo
celebrated its 100th birthday in 1983, on July 4, which is a little
odd when you find out that the same rodeo celebrated its 50th anniversary
in 1979. That's because the Pecos
rodeo was a hit-or-miss affair for many years and didn't get going
as a truly annual event until 1929. People in Pecos
still fiercely claim their rodeo as the first, but no one ever said
it was the most consistent.
After his book was published Westermeier found an old farm journal
a report about an organized competition for money on July 4, 1869
in Deer Trail, Colorado. If you go with that version, the first American
cowboy champion was an Englishman named Emiline Gardenshire, who won
the bronc busting event and was named Champion Bronc Buster of the
as we know it today really began to take shape in the 1880s, but it
suffered in the early days from a perception that this was just entertainment,
not sport. The fact that roping and riding events were a part of many
traveling Wild West shows reinforced the notion. Stingy promoters
and corrupt judges often took advantage of the cowboys, who eventually
organized. A group of them formed the Cowboys Turtle Association in
1939 after the cowboys went on strike to protest promoter W.T. Johnson's
treatment of them during the Boston Garden Rodeo. Johnson gave in
and vowed to offer "a fair share of the money" without much of a fuss.
The association's unlikely name is said to have come from the fact
that the cowboys were so slow to organize. The name was changed to
the Rodeo Cowboys Association in 1945 and to the Professional Rodeo
Cowboys Association (PRCA) in 1975.
Rodeo's popularity grew in the boom years following World
War II. Some colleges and high schools began to offer the sport.
The National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association was chartered in Texas
as was the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. Texans like
Toots Mansfield, Harry Tompkins. Don Gay, Ty Murray, Phil Lyne and
dozens of other Texans have dominated the sport from the beginning.
So, if anybody asks you when and where the first rodeo took place
you can tell them it took place in Pecos,
Texas on July 4, 1883. You might even be right, but expect an
argument if you're saying this to people from Colorado, Arizona, New
Mexico or even Canadian,