Citation
Colorado's rodeo roots

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Title:
Colorado's rodeo roots
Creator:
Ordway, Kathryn, 1980-
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
v, 114 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Rodeos -- History -- Colorado ( lcsh )
Rodeos ( fast )
Colorado ( fast )
Genre:
History. ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
History ( fast )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 108-114).
General Note:
Department of History
Statement of Responsibility:
by Kathryn Ordway.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
63758449 ( OCLC )
ocm63758449
Classification:
LD1193.L57 2004m O72 ( lcc )

Full Text
Colorados Rodeo Roots
By
Kathryn Ordway
B.A. Colorado State University, 2002
A Thesis Submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
In partial fulfillment
Of requirements for the degree of
Masters of History
2004
1


This Thesis for the Master in History
Degree by
Kathryn Ordway
Has been approved by
11


Kathryn Ordway
Colorados Rodeo Roots
Thesis directed by Professor Thomas J. Noel
ABSTRACT
This paper details the history of Colorados rodeo from its beginnings at
Deer Trail where one of the first rodeos with prizes was held through to the
modem era. Many of the major rodeos that have been held throughout the state
receive some attention. The influence of the Western film industry in Colorado is
also discussed. From there the business aspects of rodeo are explored. Rodeo
began as a profession than developed into a sport that generates million of dollars
each year, through prize money, sponsorships, not to mention the stock
contractors who make sure that there are animals to ride need to get paid. Than
there are the rodeos that are held just for the real working ranch cowboys who still
make their living herding cattle.
Rodeo does not exist in a vacuum and this paper than goes into the
transmission of culture from one generation to the next. Rodeo is about families
and there are many different programs that allow for the development of young
cowboys, beginning with the Little Britches Rodeo and ending with College rodeo
teams that provide scholarships to their athletes and their animals. Also mentions
is the fact that rodeo is not just a sport for white men. Women, blacks, Hispanics,
and others have all contributed to the development of rodeo throughout history
m


and their roles are not ignored. Finally the modem day cowboys and his
challenges are explored. Problems that face cowboys in the twenty first century
range from a high injury rate, issues with health care, to conflicts with animal
rights groups, but despite this rodeo is still going strong and is in fact gaining
spectators through cable television coverage allowing for rodeo to be discovered
by city folk who have forgotten their agricultural roots.
This abstract accurately represents the contents of this candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Signed
IV


Contents
Introduction........................................................1
Colorado, the Birthplace of Rodeo...................................6
Rodeo Business.....................................................29
Rodeo For the Younguns............................................47
Alternative Cowboys and Girls......................................64
Modem Day Cowpokes.................................................85
Conclusion........................................................103
Bibliography......................................................107
v


Introduction
Rodeo is an American Institution. It is the only sport that has developed in
the United States from a way of life and a way of making a living. Rodeo culture
and the cowboy are seen as defining aspects of this country. Americans are
described throughout the world as cowboys. When the Olympics are held,
Americans walk in with a cowboy hat. This is seen as a symbol of our country.
The cowboys were one of the groups that went west into the open spaces past the
Mississippi. They fought for the land, they fought through the elements, the lack
of water, and they came out triumphant. While the cowboys were not the only
group to be found in the West, they are the group that is most closely identified
with the region. The people of the United States claimed a wilderness and tamed it,
we as a people followed the dream of Manifest Destiny. We spread from the
original thirteen colonies to fill the entire continent. It is this frontier sprit that
makes us who we are as Americans. In fact, one could argue that the closing of the
frontier with the 1890 census was a highly traumatic event for our country that
sent us searching for new frontiers. After all, frontiers are how we define
ourselves. President Kennedy in the 1960s looked to the stars. In the Twenty-first
century we must look to our Western past.
1


The rodeo that is in existence today consists of eight events that evolved
from the skills needed to work with cattle on the range. These events are saddle
bronc riding, bareback riding, steer roping, team roping, tie down roping, steer
wrestling, barrel racing for the ladies, and the most popular, bull riding.
Contestants that compete in these events are scored in different ways to determine
the winner who will take home the day money, and to pick the champion of the
entire rodeo in every event. Day money is the money that is given to the best
cowboy in an event for the day. The champion is the cowboy with the highest
score or best time for the entire rodeo. The money is important for cowboys
because professional cowboys earn points for every dollar they earn at a
sanctioned rodeo. The more money they make, the higher their ranking.
As for the scoring, for timed events, the winner is judged based upon their
time. For example, the fastest barrel racer is the winner. The timed events are the
Roping events and the steer wrestling. These are timed through the use of gates.
When the contestants break through the gate their time begins. It is ended when
the judge holds up the flag saying that they have completed their task. The rough
stock events-saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, and bull riding, are judged on
skill. The best riders with the most points who stay on their animal for the full time
will win. These men are judged by their fellow cowboys, who award points based
on style. If the cowboy draws an animal that does not buck well, he is given the
option to draw a new animal to try again. This can be a risk for a cowboy, and
2


usually he will weigh his options and standings before going ahead with his
second chance.
Most of these events require the cowboys to draw for an animal of some
sort. The rough stock riders draw for the animal they will be riding. The timed
events, except for barrel racing, draw for the animal they will be tying down or
wrestling to the ground. This has allowed for the development of the stock
contracting industry where animals are specifically bred to make the lives of the
cowboys more difficult. In fact, a few former cowboys have retired and gone on to
lucrative careers as breeders. One of the best examples of this is occurred in the
1930s when many former cowboys were beginning to branch out into other aspects
of rodeo, which made the sport even more exciting. One of those was Leonard
Stroud, a famous trick rider and roper, who later became a rodeo promoter.1
According to the Kiowa Country Press of June 2, 1939, Stroud was just as
interested in the men as the livestock, and by the 30s, one began to see the cattle
gaining importance, from famous bucking horses like Midnight and Five Minutes
to Midnight made names for themselves in the press, and among the cowboys who
tried to ride them. Stroud and the rodeo committee of Cheyenne Wells for the
rodeo celebrating the 50th anniversary of Cheyenne County, they imported a herd
>y
of longhorn steers from old Mexico...for the steer riding and bull dogging event.
1 Rodeos and Big Program Planned for Celebration Kiowa County Press. 2 June 1939.
3


Today, stock contracting is an important aspect of rodeo, and in the case of certain
horses and bulls used in rough stock events, the animals can get more publicity
than the riders.
As for the events themselves, what is required of the cowboy differs every
time. The skills used in rodeo all come from the old west heritage of both the
Hispanics and the Anglos combined with the big cattle drives of the 1800s turned
into western films coloring our view of our past and our sense of self as
Americans. The roping events involve a contestant, or in the case of team roping,
two contestants, to capture an animal, usually a steer or a calf. This would be done
on the range to either cull the herd, which is to remove undesirable animals from
the herd, or in the case of roping, a calf to be branded to prevent a valuable animal
from being claimed by another outfit or by rustlers. Steer wrestling, or
bulldogging as it is sometimes called, would have been used on the range for
similar reasons, to return an animal to its rightful place.
The rough stock events have evolved for different reasons; however, the
ultimate purpose was to aid cowboys in controlling the cattle. Bareback riding and
saddle bronc riding were developed because cowboys need a good horse to chase
after cattle and to drive them to their ultimate destinations, and good horses were
running wild in the American West. The catch was you had to catch one and tame
it to the saddle, which was no easy task. Cowboys would try to ride these horses 2
2 Rodeos and Big Program Planned for Celebration
4


both bareback, and with saddles in an attempt to break the horse to the will of
humans. Once the horse was broken and trained, the cowboy was set to go. This
was the real start of rodeo, as cowboys would try to prove their mettle by riding
horses that no one else could. Often wagers would be placed, and cowboys began
the sport of rodeo. A sport that evolved from a profession today has become a
profession of its own.
5


Chapter One
Colorado, the Birthplace of Rodeo
Rodeo is the only major sport that developed in the American West, but its
roots go much deeper than merely cowboys on the range. Just the word rodeo
conjures up images of Spanish Vaqueros riding the range and roping cattle, and
when an ornery cowboy named Milt Hinkle decided to set his event apart from all
of the other round-ups across the West in the fall of 1913, he went to the Spanish
word for round up, which was rodeo.3 The term rodeo continued to gain
popularity and eventually stuck.
In Colorado, the birthplace of rodeo, the sport is highly prolific. There are
rodeos all over the state, from the Gunnison Cattlemens Days, to the Routt
County Fair, to the Head Lettuce Days in Buena Vista Colorado. County Fairs
often have a rodeo attached, or the rodeo can be a stand-alone event. Either way
Colorado is home to many rodeos, in the summertime especially, but throughout
the year as well. Venues such as the Denver Coliseum, which was built with rodeo
in mind, and the Pepsi Center, which can be transformed into a rodeo venue with
lots of dirt and sweat on the part of the crew, allow for rodeo to be a year round
sport.
3 Rodeo Tally Book o f Contestants and Rodeo Records. 1957.
6


Today, the rodeo still has strong Spanish roots. For example, one of the
biggest events at the National Western Stock Show since 1995 has been the
Mexican Rodeo Extravaganza which features trick roping and mariachi bands.
However the National Western was only a recent nod to the Spanish heritage of
Rodeo. In 1976, Pueblo began the first international Charro Competition during
the last weekend of August,4 although it is no longer held today. Most of the
events at this competition were judged on skill, instead of the clock, and almost
half of the events were Floreando, or rope art, a marked difference from the
Americanized rodeo events such as steer wrestling, where strength is more
important than precision. Another major difference is the Charros hold on to the
animals in rough stock events with both hands, while in American rodeo, only one
hand may be used.
Regardless of the roots of rodeo, the birthplace of the sport of American
Rodeo was considered to be Deer Trail, Colorado in 1869. This was an
acknowledged fact as early as 1889, when Denvers Field and Farm Magazine. It
reported one of the classic chronicles of an inter-camp cowboy competition
were the Bronco Busting contests held on July 4th 1869 at Deer Trail Colorado.5
A group of cowboys from neighboring ranches gathered to show off their skills
and prowess in an event that would win one of the competitors a new suit of
4 Kit Flannery, Charros Head for Pueblo, Denver Post, 22 August, 1976
5 Field and Farm 8 July 1889
7


clothing.6 Contestants from the Hashknife, the Mill Iron, and the Campstool Cattle
outfits participated in the bronc riding and calf roping events. In some ways this
first rodeo resembled modem rodeos. However important differences existed.
One of the biggest differences was in the bronc riding competition. Here,
there was no stopping after a few seconds. Instead contestants were forced to ride
their mounts until the horses tired. In the case of the winning bronc buster, that
translated into fifteen minutes on Montana Blizzard, a fierce horse that gallantly
tried to throw its rider. That rider was no Westerner either; he was an English
gentleman by the name of Emilnie Gardenshire. This first rodeo had no chutes, no
fences, and no stopwatches. One of the ways in which this rodeo did resemble
modern rodeos is in how the mounts were assigned. Each ranch had a few
outlaw horses. These were the horses that couldnt be broken, and each of the
contestants at this first rodeo drew lots to see who would ride each animal.
According to accounts of this event, saddles were allowed, but stirrups could not
be tied under the horse, and the rider could not use spurs.7 So these cowboys ,
saddled their outlaw horses and rode them as long as they could. The winner
would receive a suit of clothing.
6 Ralph C. Taylor, Colorful Colorado; Colorado is Rodeos Birthplace, Pueblo Colorado Star
Journal and Sunday Chieftain, 19 October 1969.
7 Ibid.
8


Today, all that is left of that historic meeting of man and outlaw horse is an
annual rodeo and a small marker in Deer Trail that reads, At first, the rodeo had
no chutes or fences or deadlines, just a cowboy and a horse, and the open
prairie...through the years the rules have changed, but to this day, rodeo remains a
o
match between willful cowboy and unwilling beast. Thus rodeo was bom.
According to Ralph Taylor, a Colorado Journalist of the 1960s, It was natural for
cowboy tournaments to start in Colorado. Calf ropers came from the plains, and
the bronc riders generally were from the mountains where wild horses were to be
found.8 9
From its slight beginnings, rodeo began to evolve due to the changing force
of civilization that was rapidly taking over the West. Fencing of the range begun in
1880s, led farmers and ranchers to settle down. After settling they began to hold
fairs to exhibit their wares. Afternoons at these gathering lent themselves to
cowboy competitions to show the skills they had picked up on the range.10 One of
the oldest annual rodeos, the Meeker Range Call was established in 1885, and
today is still going strong with four days of celebration scheduled around the
fourth of July with a rodeo, a reenactment of the Last Ute Indian Uprising, and a
5k ran. These contests were still without fences; however, that would change with
8 Deer Trail Historic Marker of the First Rodeo
9 Taylor.
10 Ibid.
9


the Montrose fair of 1887. Here, an incident convinced cowboys and spectators
alike that a proper arena was needed to enjoy the contest safely. Accounts of the
event recall the animal made a dash to where the ladies were seated and could not
be checked before he struck Mrs. James A Ladd.11 After this event and others
like it, fences and arenas became the order of the day, leaving only the cowboys to
risk life and limb in the arena while the spectators watched from a place of safety,
for the most part. There are still times when photographers who get too close to
the action are trampled by the animals.
Rodeos were becoming major events for both spectators and for
participants. One of the earliest rodeos held in Denver was put on by the owner of
Commons Park, John Brisben Walker, on what is today the site of Union Station.
This rodeo, which ostensibly celebrated the Festival of the Mountains and the
Plains, drew a capacity crowd of 8,000 to its events. It also had an elaborate prize
list, which corresponded to each event. The Class One Winner who had the best
time in catching and saddling a wild bronc walked out with $50, while the Class
Six Winner who picked up twenty potatoes the quickest while going at a lope or
11 Taylor.
10


faster received a silver inlaid bit donated by a publishing house. The bit was worth
$30.12
Denver fancied rodeo, and in 1887, the first regularly scheduled rodeo was
to take place in Denver at the Denver Exposition sponsored by local businesses. It
was billed as a cowboy tournament, and thirty cowboys registered.13 The events
included catching, saddling, and riding a wild bronco; roping and hogtying a wild
steer; tailing a steer (roping of a wild steer by two men and stretching him out for
branding); foot roping of a cattle from bareback; and finally picking up a potato by
a rider going faster than a lope.14 The contestants included many local cowboys.
One man, registering as Dull Knife, had the flashiest outfit by far, but failed to
place in the money. This proved that substance is a more important requirement
than style in rodeo regardless of the time period. This early rodeo caught the
attention of the Colorado Humane Society, and the Humane Society immediately
began to protest the event on the basis of cruelty towards the animals involved.
This was to be the beginning of a long-standing adversarial relationship between
rodeo and animal rights groups. The Denver Chamber of Commerce, a major
sponsor of the event, responded to the protests by eliminating the tailing event.
12 Morton L. Margolin Denvers River Front Rodeo Was Granddaddy of Them All Rocky
Mountain News 17 January 1960.
13 Margolin.
14 Ibid.
11


This did not pacify the Humane Society, but despite the protests, the Denver
Exposition showed a profit of $4,000 in two days.15
The following year, both the Boulder County Industrial Association and the
Colorado State Fair in Pueblo held cowboy races. The one at the State Fair was
five miles long with the riders switching mounts every mile which made for an
exciting show at the mile markers. The State Fair had always had Wild West
Shows ranging from Pawnee to Buffalo Bill. These shows would gradually
become cowboy tournaments that would eventually become the rodeo we today.
However, this would be a gradual process that would occur throughout the state in
fits and starts. By 1890, a tournament of cowboys was planned for the city of
Denver at the Broadway Athletic Park. This rodeo would have events ranging
from roping and branding to potato racing. This was a highly controversial event,
as the mayor of Denver at the time, Wolfe Londoner, threatened to arrest everyone
if the event was held. The local Humane Society also protested the event due to
the innate cruelty to animals that occurred during events such as branding.16 The
show did go on, and this became the first cowboy contest held under electric
lights. After all of the problems with this event, Denver backed away from cowboy
15 Taylor
16 Taylor
12


contests, a tradition that would endure until the National Western Stock Show
began its rodeo in 1931.17
Around the turn of the century, it was often difficult to distinguish between
Wild West Shows and what would become known as rodeos. Wild West shows
were regular visitors to Colorado at this time. One promoter, Arizona Charlie,
made his way from Denver to Pueblo to Leadville in 1895, with the Humane
Society dogging his steps throughout and actually stopping the show in Denver.18
Despite their attempts, the Humane Society could not keep the cowboys down.
Thad Sowder was a popular and famous cowboy both in Colorado and in
Wyoming. His skills were legendary at the time. He won the Denver Horse Show
Association bronc riding contest, and the title in the Denver Festival of Mountain
and Plain. In fact this man was so famous that he is the mascot of the University of
Wyoming, and the cowboy seen on all Wyoming license plates.19 He was the
quintessential cowboy, who in the end joined Buffalo Bills Wild West Show to
help bring the American West to the rest of the world.
Another area in which cowboys could demonstrate skill on a horse was
beginning to take off in Colorado after the turn of the century. This was the
17Denver Greets Early Stock Show Guests Denver Post 19 January 1931
18 Taylor
19 Ralph Taylor Colorful Colorado 1900s Saw Expansion of Rodeos Pueblo Star Journal Sunday
Chieftain, 26 October 1969.
13


western movie business. Colorado was home to two motion picture companies
during the silent film era the Selig Polyscope Company, and The Colorado Motion
Picture Company, both of which were making films featuring men on horseback.
Casting cowboys was an obvious choice. Colorado was an important area for the
early film industry, and one of the most famous early westerns was shot here, the
or*
Great Train Robbery. These western films featured daring stunts to thrill the
audience and required able-bodied men who could ride a horse and perform these
stunts for the camera. Many cowboys got work this way. This was a job that was
somewhere between the Wild West Show and the range as the cowboys actors had
to ride and rope with apparent ease, allowing them to show the art of the cowboy
to a wider audience. Of course, this was before the perfection of stunts in movie
making, and many accidents occurred. Horses stomped on actors; actresses fell off
of horses while in the process of being rescued and were knocked unconscious.20 21
In other words, these athletes were injured in the same ways as their rodeo
counterparts were, but at least their money was guaranteed. For rodeo cowboys in
the arena, there are no guarantees.
Meanwhile early rodeo continued to develop and evolve, especially in the
small towns and communities throughout Colorado. Contests sprung up in
20 Emirich, David. Hollywood Colorado: The Selig Polyscope Company and the Colorado Motion
Picture Company. Post Modem Company: Lakewood, Colorado 1997. p 15
21Emirich. p 39-40
14


Glenwood Springs, at the Montrose Fair, at the Delta County Fair, the Las Animas
County Fair at the State Fair in Pueblo, and as part of Independence Day
celebrations statewide in towns such as Telluride. Others such as Gunnison,
according to its Website, claim to hold the Colorados oldest annual rodeo,
established in 1900.22 23 This does not take the rodeo first held in 1885 in Meeker,
Colorado into account. While the sport had not yet been christened with the rodeo
name, the culture of Colorado was racing to embrace these contests as more and
more small towns and communities rushed to add their own contests for the
entertainment of all. Rodeo was quickly becoming a major phenomenon in
Colorado, and it was gradually evolving into the rodeo we know today.
This evolution would also include the development of rodeo clowns. The
first rodeo clowns were usually injured cowboys whose job was to protect the
rough stock riders who were in danger from the animals. They have gradually
evolved into a specialized profession of their own, complete with schools and
training, and they are crucial for keeping the athletes safe once they have been
thrown from their animals. They are one of the more important aspects of rodeo,
and they are usually overlooked due to their clowning around. That clowning
around saves lives and many cowboys who have been thrown from their mounts
22 VisitGunnison.Com
(http://www.visitgunnison.com/navigate.cfm?nav=businesspage.cfm_businessid=368) Accessed
9/15/03
23 National Western Stock Show Manager 1982-2001 Guy Elliot. Interview by author, 27 August
2003.
15


can attest to the skills of this group of men who risk their lives by distracting large
angry animals away from defenseless thrown riders. The position and prestige of
the rodeo clown was not the only thing that was changing. Today, Radical Ryan
Rodriquez is a celebrity in his own right who performs during breaks in the action
using props such as trampolines and fire works to keep the crowd from getting
restless. Rodeo clowns are a combination between a stand up comedian and a
bodyguard for the bull riders. They must be out protecting the cowboys because
horses in the arena would just become a target for the bulls.
The contests were also changing as rodeo evolved. The standards of the
cowboy contest were not well established or standardized at this time, and there
was always room for improvement and innovation on the part of anyone. In 1900,
that innovation came in the form of a cowboy named Bill Picket at the Arkansas
Valley Fair in Rocky Ford, Colorado. Bill Picket was a Black cowboy, the first
who would be inducted into the cowboy hall of fame,24 who took a life-threatening
event in the ring and turned it into a brand new event. The Bull tossed Picket
overhead, but the cowboy held onto the horns. In effect it was a fall for the
bull...he grabbed the animals horns again and twisted his neck unit the big bull
was compelled to fall. This brought cheer from the crowd.25 Bulldogging, also
24 Black Wranglers Parade Through Five Points Rocky Mountain News 9 September 1990
25 Ralph Taylor Colorful Colorado 1900s Saw Expansion of Rodeos Pueblo Star Journal Sunday
Chieftain, 26 October 1969.
16


known as steer wrestling, was bom. This is the event that truly pits man against
beast, where man must be strong, fast and fearless. During the 1960s, Denver
Bronco football player John Hatley of Uvale, Texas, used to bulldog during the
off-season, making the size of his fellow players seem not so bad by comparison.
When one wrestles a steer weighing upwards of 1500 pounds, a linebacker of 250
pounds becomes a small nuisance comparatively speaking.
As Colorado moved further into the twentieth century, more and more
rodeos began to establish themselves. Some of these rodeos would become annual
events that would attract competitors from all over the country. In 1937, the first
Will Rogers Rodeo was held near Colorado Springs in what was known as Will
Rogers Stadium. This arena held 10,000 fans and was located across the street
from the famous Broadmoor Hotel. Eventually, both the venue and name of this
rodeo would change, but it lives as a successful and popular rodeo that is still
with us today. It has become The Pikes Peak Rodeo, and now it is one of the top
twenty rodeos sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. This
means that the top cowboys from all over the country come to Colorado Springs
to compete, earn points, and to increase their standings. This rodeo also featured
horse races, including a wild horse race where contestants had to catch a horse
with two Muggers, or partners who helped to control the horse. The riders
would then have to halter and saddle the horse. Next they would race the 26
26 Football Player Star of National Western, Greeley Tribune, 14 January 1961.
17


beleaguered animal to the far end of the arena and back. Once that was
accomplished the horse had to be unsaddled and the saddle carried across the
finish line.27
The Pikes Peak Rodeo is not the only big rodeo with deep roots in
Colorado. In 1922 an event known only as the Greeley Spud Days got its start.
This local celebration featured the Spud Rodeo and Races with the livestock
being provided by local farmers, the pies for the pie-eating contest being provided
by the local ladies of Greeley, and the entertainment provided by everyone, from
the cowboys to the competitors in the Two-Mile Ford Free-for-All. In this event,
Ford automobiles would drive four laps on a half-mile track. After the first lap,
they would change a tire, after the second, they would change a spark plug, and
after the third lap, they would have to add a quart of oil.28 From this first Spud
Days, an impressive and important rodeo for the state of Colorado would emerge.
By 1925, the livestock used in the rodeo in Greeley was the same they used
at Cheyenne Frontier Days, and eventually the citizens of Greeley were able to
witness the antics of horses such as Midnight and Five Minutes to Midnight, two
of the most impressive horses the rodeo world has seen to date. Of course, rodeos
would first have to survive the threat of the Womens Christian Temperance
Union. In 1928, the WTCU almost managed to cancel the rodeo due to the noise
27 Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Program 1955
28 Rita Carey Greelev Independce Stampede Celebrating 25 Years of Tradition 1996
18


of the happy celebrants.29 The women did not approve of the cowboy lifestyle
and were willing to protest to end the party even if they were unsuccessful. By
1955, the Spud Rodeo had changed its name to Go West Greeley and was holding
chariot races and adding barrel races for the women. By 1971, the name was
changed again to the Greeley Independence Stampede, which would remain its
name until 2004 when the Rocky Mountain Stampede was bom. Regardless of its
name, this annual Fourth of July rodeo is still a major stop for those looking to
compete in the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
Sadly, not all rodeos were to be successful during the early twentieth
century, and many have come and gone. Some of these rodeos were developed
due to the popularity of a neighboring rodeo. The Durango Spanish Trails Fiesta
was created in 1919 due to the success of the Ski Hi Stampede, which was
founded in Monte Visa that same year. The Spanish Trails Fiesta in Durango,
Colorado was originally held annually starting inl935, and according to publicity
for the rodeo it was to be staged not alone for entertainment value, but to retain
for its posterity the colorfulness of the lives and businesses of the pioneers and
ranchers of the picturesque San Juan Basin Rodeo Association.30 During World
War Two, many rodeos were put on hold, including the Spanish Trails. This event
29 Ibid.
30 Spanish Trails Fiesta Pamphlet Published by San Juan Basin Rodeo Association 1946.
19


was reborn as an annual event again in 1946 with the Durango High School Band
as its official musical accompaniment.
By 1946, it was a Rodeo Cowboys Association sponsored event, and it was
also a great cultural experience for those who attended. Other entertainments at
the rodeo included Native American Dances and horse races. The first
photographed horserace finishes were at the Fiesta. Those who traveled to
Durango could also experience some of the natural wonders from Mesa Verde to
Aztec National Park advertised in the official program with the motto Stay and
Play.31 32 Advertising tourist attractions was such a good idea that it was copied by
the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo in Colorado Springs in 1955, which also had a
program full of photos of sites ranging from theGarden of the Gods to ironically
enough Pikes Peak. This rodeo would eventually meet its demise in 1966, as
the rodeo was No longer self supporting,33 according to an editorial in the
Durango Herald. The paper then went on to site public apathy and the fact that
the hotels and shops were no longer interested in the rodeo as more reason why
the rodeo should not go on, and thus the Spanish Trails Fiesta ended its run.
31 Spanish Trails Fiesta Program Published by San Juan Basin Rodeo Association 1941.
32 Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Program 1955
33 Editorial The Durango Herald 14 March 1966
20


In 1923, the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic mens group, was to hold
the United States Championship Rodeo. This event met with much difficulty as
the Humane Society opposed the cruelty to animals, while the Ku Klux Klan
opposed the Catholics. This was the period in Denvers history when the Klan
ran the show, and many prominent citizens, including Major Stapleton, were
members of the group. Their opposition insured that the rodeo was a bust and
would never be held again. The problems with the Humane Society would be
addressed in the 1930s by the Rodeo Cowboys Association. They would draw up
a list of rules to protect the animals involved with the sport of rodeo.34 The Pro
Rodeo Cowboys Association currently has sixty rules and regulations in place
for the welfare of the animals. A short list includes the following.
No locked rowels, or rowels that will lock on spurs may be used on
bareback horses or saddle broncs. Spurs must be dulled.
Animals for all events shall be inspected before the draw. No sore, lame, or
sick animals, or animals with defective eyesight, shall be permitted in the
draw at any time.
A rodeo committee shall insure that a veterinarian is present for every
performance and section of slack.
If a member abuses an animal by any unnecessary, non-competitive or
competitive action, he may be disqualified for the remainder of the rodeo
and fined $250 for the first offense, with that fine progressively doubling
with each offense thereafter. Any member guilty of mistreatment of
livestock anywhere on the rodeo grounds shall be fined $250 for the first
offense, with that fine progressively doubling with any offense thereafter.
34 Taylor
21


No stock shall be confined or transported in vehicles for a period beyond
24 hours without being properly fed, watered and unloaded.35 36
Despite these rules for the sake of the animals, it would take a few years before
successful rodeo would be held in Denver at the National Western Stock Show,
and despite these rules the rodeo profession is still given a hard time by animal
rights groups today. The Humane Society still protests many rodeos, but the most
vocal protesters are an organization known as PETA, People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals. Today PETA is working on its Buck the Rodeo
campaign claiming on its Website that the sport of rodeo is an abusive spectacle
that has no place in a civilized society. Rodeo has long been at odds with groups
like this, and it doesnt appear that the tensions will ease any time soon.
As for the big city in Colorado, Denver, it remained behind the curve when
it came to annual rodeos. With many failed attempts at an annual rodeo, it would
take until the 1930s, and a silver anniversary, for the city to actually hold a proper
rodeo that would be a success from year to year. The National Western Stock
Show that began meeting on an annual basis in 1906 to show and sell animals to
other buyers throughout the west decided to add a rodeo to its festivities in
celebration of their 25th year in 1931. The Denver Post publicized the event by
noting, With the idea of providing something different for the Silver Jubilee
35 Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association Online
http://www.prorodeo.eom/Sport/Animals/3.welfareRules.html) accessed February 4,2003.
36 Buck the Rodeo (http://www.bucktherodeo.com/) Accessed 12 February 2004
22


show the committee has gone to great expense in introducing a rodeo in
connection with the horse show. The rodeo would be a success due in part to its
biggest star a bucking bronc named Midnight, a champion bucking horse that
according to the January 15th edition of the Post has thrown some so hard they
could not get up,37 38 The stage had been set for what would become a record-
breaking year for the Stock Show, and the inaugural year for the Big indoor
rodeo.39
The Stock Show of 1931 officially opened on January 19th, and the horses
and their riders played to a crowd of Shriners and high society, with the first event
of the year being the cowboys championship bareback riding.40 The bareback
riding was to be interspersed in with the traditional horse show that had been the
standard fare of the Stock Show in the past. The rodeo experiment was a hit from
its conception as shown by the article in the January 17th edition of The Denver
Post.
While it must not be forgotten that the cultured high hatting dress suit
horses from steam heated stables are to have their inning all the
broadcasting Saturday was about the untamed brutes from the sticks.. .Lead
37 Denver Greets Early Stock Show Guests, Denver Post, 15 January 1931.
38 King of Bucking Horses will be at Stock Show, Denver Post, 9 January 1931.
39Advertisement, Omaha Journal, 1 January 1931.
40 Charles E Lounsbury, East and West Meet Today in Big Horse Show and Rodeo, Rocky
Mountain News, 17 January 1931.
23


by the most unmannered crude loud snorting brute named Midnight, this
great gang of horse heathens busted through the gates of the stadium. 41
The rodeo was off to a strong start, and the local newspapers could not gush
enough about the wonders of the rodeo. Comments in the press ranged from,
Wild horses and cowboys set Silver Jubilee off with a bang,42 to If the first
day was a success the second was a WOW! Let her Buck and Ride em
Cowboy were heard above the applauding thousands43 and finally this high
praise from Denver Post writer Edith Eudora Kohl saying If you have seen a
thousand rodeos or if youve never seen one, this one will make every drop of red
blood run faster.44
Cowboys and bucking animals were to replace respectable young women.
Well-behaved horses were to be replaced by the meanest, nastiest horses that
could be found in the world. No longer would the challenge be to look good on
the horse, instead the challenge was to become how long you could stay on the
horse. Riding a horse was a life and death struggle. Kohl went on to rhapsodize
about the contestants, Cowboys, these world famous riders and ropers...who
41Horace V Stewart Huge Crowd Attends Stock Show Opening, Denver Post, 17 January 1931.
42 Rodeo Opens Denver Stock Show, Denver Post, 18 January 19/31.
43 Horace V Stewart Thorobreds and Broncs Share Arena, Denver Post, 19 January 1931.
44 Edith Eudora Kohl Modem Meets Primitive in Denvers Big Stock Show, Denver Post, 19
January 1931.
24


fearlessly take their lives into their hands every time they step foot in the stirrup
of the lawless vicious horses they ride.45
With its spills and thrills, rodeo is an uncertain sport for those who
participate, the cowboys are not always victorious; many were rushed to medical
facilities for various injuries during the 1931 show. Bob Wright dislocated his
hip while attempting to ride a wild Brahma Steer; he was rushed to Denver
General Hospital, as was a 21-year-old Francis Brussear.46 Owen Crosby, a 22-
year-old from Miles City, Montana was gored by a steer and was operated on at
St. Lukes Hospital for his injuries 47 Sadly, the most press a losing cowboy
could get was if he was seriously injured during the competition. Otherwise, it
was the winners and the horses that made headlines at this horse show and rodeo,
especially the horse Midnight who had more press than any of the luckless
cowboys who were unfortunate enough to draw this impossible-to-ride horse.
The real star of the show was this horse named Midnight. He garnished
headlines and photo opportunities that were all but denied to the cowboys who
attempted to ride him. During the 1931 rodeo, he was the champ. Of the 19 men
who drew his name for the Bronc Riding competition, not a single one of them
45 Kohl
46 Two Wild Steer Riders taken to Denver General, Rocky Mountain News, 24 January 1931.
47 Denver Rodeo Rider in Serious Condition, Rocky Mountain News, 25 January 1931.
25


managed to ride this horse, an impressive record for an impressive horse. The
man that did win the Bronc Riding competition, Pete Knight,48 49 was lucky enough
that he never once drew Midnight.
The birth of the National Western Rodeo coincided nicely with the goals
of the rodeo cowboys in the 1930s. Rodeo had many starts and fits throughout its
history. One of the goals of Rodeo was to gain respect as a sport in the 1930s. In
the early days, rodeo was fairly informal with promoters promising prize money
without always delivering. Yet cowboys as a group were determined to change the
system. Their goals were to keep rodeos fair and impartial, to have competent
judges at all competitions, and to have a system to determine the champion
cowboys with a points system based on money earned in the rodeo circuit.
This point system is what made the National Western Stock Show Rodeo
so popular from its conception in 1931. Not only is it the first big rodeo of the
year, following the National Finals Rodeo, but the purse is such that is also worth a
cowboys time to show up and compete. By 1932, the second year of the National
Western Stock Show Rodeo, the total prize money was $50,000.50 By 1982, 50
years later, the prize money was up to $300,000.51 The National Western Stock
48 Midnight a Grand Champion, Denver Post, 24 January 1931.
49 Ibid.
50 L. A. Chapin, Stock Show Rodeo Will Open Saturday, Denver Post, 10 January 1932.
51 Denver Rodeo Upgraded Grand Junction Sentinel, November 27 1981.
26


Show Rodeo gives cowboys an opportunity to start the year with a bang and big
bucks. However ten years after the first rodeo was held it would be overshadowed
by a much larger conflict, the Second World War. Rodeo experienced many
challenges during this period, the first being gas rationing and its effects on travel.
The government was allowing sporting events to take place during the war, but
getting from point to point was causing problems. This forced cowboys to save
gas coupons and carpool to make it to events scattered throughout the county.
Another problem facing the cowboys who stayed home was the perception that
they were able-bodied men who should have been fighting for their country. In
reality, many cowboys did go to war. In fact, Fritz Truan, the World Champion
saddle bronc rider of 1939, died in service to his country at Iwo Jima.
Yet Uncle Sam was reluctant to take all comers. Many of the cowboys
who remained at home were disabled in ways that prevented them from serving
their country in an obvious fashion, and the government didnt want to gamble
CO
with old rodeo injuries flaring up while they were on duty. Instead, they stayed
on the home front and kept the spirits of American up during the war. They simply
did what they did best, rodeo, while their organizations were busy pushing the sale 52 53
52 Dave Stout, History of the U.S. Rodeo Archives of Pro Rodeo Museum and Hall of Fame.
1978 Colorado Springs, CO. p. 13.
53 Ibid. p. 14
27


of war bonds to show the patriotism of rodeo cowboys. Cowboys were also
looking at changes in the sport. The 1940s would see the end of two hands being
used in rough stock events. For bareback riding, a suitcase rigging would be
developed so that cowboys could hang on a bit better than clutching the horses
mane.
In the era following World War II, rodeos in Colorado began to boom.
College and high schools began to form teams, and many counties and towns
throughout the state start their own rodeos and horse shows. One example of this
is the Arapaho County Fair, which was first held in 1947.54 This event featured
typical rodeo events such as bronc riding and steer wrestling. It also featured a
series of free-for-all races with a chariot race. Today, the Arapaho County Fair is
an annual event held in Deer Trail, Colorado, the site of the first rodeo in the
world. Rodeo has come full circle, and today it is a link to a past that is quickly
disappearing in the modem world.
54 Arapaho County Fair Souvenir Program 1947
28


Chapter Two
The Business of Rodeo
During the nineteenth century, as American expanded its boundaries and its
people further and further west, they brought with them many different types of
livestock. Oxen, horses, mules, and cows were driven into the prairies of modem
day Kansas and Colorado. This pushed the native tribes and the buffaloes out as
the cow gained a foothold in an environment that was almost ideally suited to its
well-being. Soon, the cattle industry was born. As any successful cattleman knows,
with cattle comes responsibility. Someone must keep a lookout over the valuable
product and insure its safety. Thus, the cowboy was bom. A typical day on the
range had cowboys roping cattle, branding cattle, and herding cattle. Today, we as
Americans have moved further and further from Our agricultural roots and
cowboys have redirected their energies from the range to the modern rodeo. Rodeo
is also a big business that has gone through many fits and starts as it worked its
way from small time wagers to a multi-million dollar industry.
After the Civil War, the American West was bursting with cattle.
Entrepreneurs began to herd the cattle and drive them to markets where they would
be well compensated. However, manpower was needed to get the cattle from the
range to the railroads, and many entrepreneurs took a leaf from the book of our
neighbors to the south. From the Vaqueros, the ideas and practices of the cowboys
29


were developed and perfected. These men lived on the range tending to their
herds. They often found themselves with time on their hands. These bored
cowboys began to make friendly wagers on their skills against their colleagues on
the range. Who could rope a cow the fastest; who could ride an un-ride able horse
the longest? Eventually these contests became a spectator sport for those of the
West, and by the late 1890s, many towns were holding cowboys contests in an
attempt to outdo one another.55
One of the best examples of this would be the rivalry that sprung up
between Denver and Cheyenne over who should be the real host of the famous
Frontier Days, which was first held in 1897 in Wyoming. This rivalry was
mentioned in the August 20, 1912 Wyoming Tribune noting that Now comes the
annual suggestion from residents of the larger city that, inasmuch as Frontier days
is so successful, the celebration should be appropriated by Cheyennes big
neighbor, Denver, and their made a fete of greater magnitude.56 Denver had made
a few unsuccessful attempts to steal the show, but it had failed. Instead, it would
have to console itself with a few sporadic rodeos and Wild West Shows to drive its
local economy, and to help the city to remember its rural heritage, which was
quickly fading into the not so distant past.
55 Clifford P. Westermeier Man Beast and Dust; the Story of Rodeo p 36
56 Westermeier p 37
30


By the 1910s, rodeo had established itself as an important part of the
culture of the West, but it had many starts and fits throughout its history. One of
the first goals of rodeo was to gain respect as a sport outside the traditional rodeo
community. In the early days, rodeo was fairly informal with promoters promising
prize money without always delivering. This was a problem for the cowboys who
would have to pay their way to any contest plus entry fees; if the prize money was
not delivered, they were often stuck with no reward to show for their travel, time,
and skill, plus they would have to pay their way home. Quite often, public
sympathy was not with the cowboys, who had earned quite the reputation.
Cowboys were notorious for not showing up for events, and for getting drunk and
causing trouble in the various towns hosting rodeos, which did not endear
themselves to the locals.57
In the 1920s, cowboys were competing just as hard as they had around the
turn of the century; yet, they were not the most organized group.58 As the end of
the Roaring Twenties neared, many cowboys throughout the country began to push
for the formation of a cohesive group, this was a slow and arduous task. One of the
first groups to form was the Rodeo Association of American (RAA), founded in
1929, which was working to standardize rules and the procedure of choosing a
57Westermeier. p. 99
58 Stout, p. 3
31


champion. The RAA was met with lots of resistance by those they were
attempting to help, the cowboys.59 They did achieve some of their goals, such as
standardizing a point system to determine rank based on one and a half point for
every dollar earned for riding events, while timed events only earned one point per
dollar. The RAA found it difficult to keep track of the money earned by cowboys
throughout the country, and in 1934, it is believed that the all around champion
never once left California to compete in a rodeo.60 Making it a stretch to call him a
World Champion.
Problems still persisted for the working cowboy, especially when it came
to money, but it was the money that was to be the key in the development of the
profession of rodeo. In some cases, the purse would be smaller than the total of
the entry fees of the contestants, which was a definite sore point for the riders who
felt that the entry fees should be added to the purse as a matter of principle.61 62
Cowboys were also angry at the system used to judge an event. Often times the
judges showed a tendency to give their good acquaintances a better score than the
unknown cowboys who were also competing in the same events. Many complaints
were heard from cowboys throughout the country over this issue. Another
59 Stout p. 3
60 Ibid. p. 3
61 Westermeier p 98
62 Westermeier p. 98
32


criticism directed at the judges was their ignorance of the events they were
judging. They may have been impartial, but they did not understand the subtleties
of the sport, which made it difficult for them to give an accurate score. Changes
were desperately needed if rodeo was going to become a respectable sport.
By 1936, the cowboys who were being taken advantage of had hit their
limits. They demanded that the purses be doubled at the Boston Rodeo in
Massachusetts by adding in the entry fees paid by every contestant into the original
purse prize. As the purse stood, not even the overall winners would have made
traveling expenses at this rodeo. The cowboys threatened a strike and had even
procured their tickets home ahead of time to prove that they were serious in their
demands. If they did not get what they wanted they would simply leave town.
/rn
When the show opened, the cowboys refused to ride despite the threats of the
promoter to throw their horses in the river. The cowboys responded to these threats
by moving their animals to another stable.63 64 These events lead rodeo cowboys
everywhere to stop working and in a show of solidarity the cowboys refused as a
group to fill in as scabs. The audience at Madison Square Gardens was treated to a
display of mediocrity. This was unacceptable to the spectators. The promoters
63 Kristine Fredrickson, American Rodeo From Buffalo Bill to Big Business. Texas A&M
University Press College Station 1983 p 39.
64 Stout p. 6
33


were then forced to raise the purses to a reasonable level and the real cowboys
agreed to compete.
The rodeo riders learned from this experience; they learned that if they
stuck together, they could accomplish things instead of remaining at the mercy of
the rodeo promoters. This was quite a shift from the solitary loner on the range
who is self-sufficient and dependent upon no one, or as one anthropologist
Elizabeth Atwood put it, The archetypal Lone Cowboy.65 The idea of the
cowboy union was beginning to be accepted by the cowboys in an era when
unionization was popular-the Great Depression. This group was known as the
Cowboys Turtle Association, or the Turtles for short. The reason behind this odd
name has a couple of different explanations. One version states that the turtleneck
sweaters worn by the group was the reason behind the clever moniker. Others
claim that the name reflected the slow movement of the group, especially at the
beginning of the process, which was similar to the slow movement of turtles. In
the end, they finally stuck their necks out to accomplish something together.
Despite the confusion over the name, the goals of this group were very simple: to
keep Rodeos fair and impartial and to have competent judges at all competitions.
Thankfully, the scoring system for rodeo developed by the RAA was already in
place. This would be one less thing for the Turtles to worry about.
65 Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence, Rodeo An Anthropologist Looks at the Wild and the Tame.
University of Chicago Press Chicago 1982 p 95.
34


Membership into the Turtles was fairly straightforward; all it took was a $5
fee and you were a member. The groups rules were published in the December
1936 edition of Hoofs and Homs Magazine. It required that any cowboy or
cowgirl caught competing in a rodeo in which a strike had been called would have
to pay $500; otherwise, they would be blacklisted and prevented from participating
in CTA sanctioned rodeos. That money would than be placed in a trust where it
would be used by the Turtles for further strike efforts as needed. Strikes had to be
called by all members of the Association. Fine money could also be collected for
disgraceful conduct. The Turtles also refused to mediate conflicts that occurred
between cowboys, but the groups did reserve the right to call for new judges
during a competition as needed.66
By 1937 new concerns had arisen. This was reflected in the rules that were
passed by the CTA in their second year. The new rules stated that all entry fees
had to be added to the purse of a rodeo, and that a prize list must be circulated 30
days before the event began. Rodeo judging panels must have two acting cowboy
contestants, and cowboys who made four rodeos in a year were no longer
considered amateurs and must register with the CTA. The designation of amateur
versus professional also raged throughout the rodeo world in the 1940s with many
disagreements over the status of cowboys as professionals. The issue was
66 Westermeier. P. 101
35


eventually solved in 1957 with the invention of the permit system. This allowed
non-members to compete in sanctioned rodeos, and has become an important tool
in developing the young cowboys of today into the world champions of tomorrow.
Lastly added to the new rules the CTA would pay any bill left by a
member; however, that member would become blacklisted if he failed to pay them
to
back. This last rule was passed to try to change the reckless image of the rodeo
cowboy into something respectable. This would be a slow process hindered by the
CTA themselves. The July 9, 1939 Saturday Evening Post published No Turtles
Need Apply, which detailed the struggles of the Turtles to achieve their goals
with rodeo promoters at the Pendleton Roundup, which feed into the publics
stereotypes of the reckless cowboy.67 68 69
In 1945, the Cowboys Turtle Association would become the Rodeo
Cowboys Association (RCA). Rodeo groups were becoming more organized and
cohesive. The biggest challenge facing this group in the first years of its existence
would be the question of how to determine the world champions of each event and
the best cowboy overall. At first this was determined by their points as calculated
by a system developed by the RAA. This was problematic as many rodeos did not
report money earned to the Association. Also, cowboys could make up large
67 Stout p. 19
68Westermeier. p. 115
69 Ibid p. 119
36


amounts of points in the larger rodeos, which gave them an unfair advantage over
cowboys who only competed in the smaller rodeos.70 What was needed was a true
world championship rodeo, and the process of planning and setting up such an
event began in 1958 at the annual RCA meeting in Denver under the direction of
Lex Connoly who was the only full time member of the RCA Board, and during
his tenure he would be responsible for providing insurance for cowboys,
promoting national television coverage, and most importantly developing the
World Champion Rodeo. This was a task that involved cowboys, promoters,
sponsors, and stock contractors.71 72 The first National Finals Rodeo would premier
in 1959 in Dallas, Texas. It was later moved to Los Angeles in 1962, to Oklahoma
City by 1965, and today is the culminating event in the rodeo season held annually
in Las Vegas since 1985.
As the sport of rodeo moved into the second half of the twentieth century,
it had become a much more organized group. It had made its headquarters in
Denver, Colorado in offices located near 17 Street and Champa. Along with
this move into stability came an insurance policy for rodeo cowboys who were
injured during the course of competition. The RCA managed to find an insurance
company that was willing to cover its cowboys-The Republic National Insurance
71 Stout p. 20
72 Stout p. 18
37


*7 o
Company of Dallas Texas. This company agreed to do this in exchange for either
a portion of the membership dues or the money paid for claims depending upon
which amount was larger. Today, cowboys on the Professional Bull Riding Circuit
(PBR), a group that is separate from the PRCA, are insured by Health South, a
group that donates its health services to injured cowboys. While Justin Medicineo
looks after the cowboys of the rival PRCA.73 74 After all, if any group needs health
insurance, it would have to be those who compete against animals weighing 10
times what they do.
The rates of injury are not helped by the fact that the animals used in rodeo
are being bred bigger and stronger. Stock contractors have been trying to create the
ultimate in bucking stock for as long as it has been profitable. With todays
advances in DNA technology, breeders are able to isolate the traits they want to
increase in animals that are becoming more and more difficult to ride, or as the
cowboys put it rank. One of the biggest and most famous of the stock
contractors is a man named Mike Cervi. Cervi began his career as a rodeo clown,
and today he owns two of the largest stock contracting companies in the world:
The Beutler Bros, and Cervi Rodeo Company and Cervi Championship Rodeo Co.
73 Stout p. 18
74 Kevin Simpson A World of Hurt^Denver Post 12/7/2003
38


Two brothers named Jake and Lynn Beutler originally ran the Beutler Bros.
Company out of Elk City Okalahoma, and Cervi purchased it in 1967. Cervi then
went on in 1975 to buy the Billy Minick Rodeo Co., which was once owned by
Gene Autry, renaming both companies after himself.75 Today, the Circle I brand is
one of the most prestigious in rodeo. It is also the second oldest brand in the state,
with the motto, Do or Die for the Circle I.76 Cervi has a simple goal for his
businesses, to produce a fast and exciting rodeo with the best bucking stock
available."77 Cervi has met this goal on numerous occasions. In 1983 and 2001,
Cervi was awarded stock contractor of the year by the Pro Rodeo Cowboy
Association. He was also inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame as a stock
contractor in 2003.
Todays best cowboys can earn millions of dollars, competing against
livestock that continues to improve. While competing in the arena is the traditional
way that cowboy earn their money, the successful modern cowboys also has a few
endorsements up his sleeve (and on his sleeve). The same could be said about the
traditional rodeo, where advertising and sponsorships are as important as the rodeo
action. Half a century ago, the Rodeo Cowboys Association was trying to ban
75 Cervi Championship Rodeo Company (http://cervirodeo.com/Founder.html) Accessed 1 March
2004
76 Ibid.
77 Cervi Championship Rodeo Company (http://cervirodeo.com/Founder.html) Accessed 1 March
2004
39


product placements by both rodeos and cowboys. They felt that it was too much.78
Today, ads dominate arenas, and cowboys have their names on everything from
beer to colognes. Charmayne James, a World Champion Barrel Rider, has her own
brand of ladies cologne. Other big sponsors of rodeos include American truck
companies, tobacco companies, and rodeo equipment companies.
Beer and trucks are obvious rodeo sponsors. After all who can imagine a
cowboys driving a BMW and sipping from a bottle of Evian? Cowboys typically
drive trucks because they live a lifestyle that requires a truck to haul gear from
place to place, and they often enjoy drinking a beer-American beer. Coors is one
of the major sponsors of the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association; they were the first
with a multi million-dollar contract with the PRCA, and today they have what is
known as the first right of refusal. They get first shot at sponsorship of the top
rodeos the rodeo world has to offer (i.e. the PRCA sanctioned events). If they
refuse the PRCA can then begin talking to other beer sponsors. Coors is also the
sponsor of The Man in the Can program, which was started in 1983. This is a
clever marketing strategy that features bull fighters, who are better known as rodeo
clowns, throughout the country. Forty-five barrel men compete each year for the
top spot at the National Finals Rodeo where they would receive a bronze belt
buckle plus $10,000 cash. They are also honored at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in
78 Stout, p. 19
40


Colorado Springs. These men are also compensated each time they roll out their
Coors barrel to protect the riders.
Sponsorships aside, the real action is in the arena, and in the case of
cowboys, points are money-literally. To make it to the National Rodeo Finals-the
goal of any cowboy worth his salt, a cowboy has to be in the top 15 in their event
to qualify. This makes the largest rodeos the most desirable because they have
the biggest prizes. The Denver Post reported in 2004 that a few years ago,
cowboys would have to compete in 100 rodeos. Today, if a cowboy makes it to the
big rodeos, it cuts that number down to 60. This also means the bigger rodeos
attract a lot of cowboys competing for those cash prizes. That is why Denvers
National Western Rodeo, with its $520,000 in prize money in 2004,79 80 81 is such an
important event that has grown so big that slack competitions must be used.
This first occurred in 1979, and has been a tradition ever since. A slack event is
when cowboys have a set of preliminary events without cash prizes to determine
who gets to compete for the money in front of an audience based on the average of
their times of scores at the slack events.
79 J. Sebastian Sinisi Stock Show Begins Long Trail for Top Rodeo Riders, Ropers Denver Post,
January 2004
80 Ibid.
81 Ibid.
41


Over the last century, the audience has changed as well as the cowboys.
The first rodeos took place during the day in the great outdoors. Those who were
watching tended to be locals from nearby towns and ranches. From these humble
beginnings, rodeo began to move indoors under the lights and appeal to a larger
audience who would have traveled from further than the next town over. Today,
rodeo has gone high tech and can be found playing on cable television at all hours
of the day. Television coverage of the finals rodeo at the National Western Stock
Show first occurred in 1954. It was broadcast on KBTV Channel 9 at 8 p.m.82 By
1974, CBS paid $7,000 to televise the event, which caused quite the controversy.83
CBS wanted to make sure that the televised rodeo featured the cream of the crop of
champion cowboys, and the Rodeo Cowboy Association agreed. However, many
of the champions had already gone home and would have to make a return trip.
National Western officials had to add $2,000 to the pot, while the RCA added
$500, to entice the cowboys to return and compete for the cameras.84
While the transition to television has been somewhat reluctant on the part
of rodeo promoters on occasion, in the digital age rodeo has been thriving on the
airwaves. Today, the rodeo aficionado can get his fix on cable channels such as
82 Earl Wennergren Looking in Denver Stock show rodeo to be televised for first time Denver
News 14 January 1954
83 A1 Nakkula Cowboys Wrangle Over TV Split Rocky Mountain News January 1974
84 Ibid.
42


ESPN and Outdoor Life Network, all of which have opened the sport up to a much
wider and more diverse audience via the remote control. Traditional rodeo is not
the only thing on the tube. The average channel surfer will find that today the bull
riders are getting a lot of TV time, especially since there are two competing tours
of bull riders. In fact, a rivalry of sorts has developed between the PRCA which
has its featured Xtreme Bulls tour along with the traditional array of rodeo events
and the Professional Bull Riders, who only ride bulls. The PBR, formed in 1992
after a split from the PRCA, has many televised contests. This has translated that
into more expensive tickets for live events that sell out regularly.85 Meanwhile, the
PRCA is fighting back with its Xtreme Bulls Tour. Bull riding has become one of
the most popular aspects of rodeo as it is often viewed as an extreme sport by
generation X, and it is leading the charge in attracting a younger demographic to
rodeo. A younger demographic translates into higher advertising revenues, at it
also allows for rodeo culture to be passed on to people who may have never ridden
a horse before, let alone a bull.
This serge in rodeo popularity has been good for many businesses that
directly relate to the sport. One of these is the Lancaster Rock n Roll Rodeo
School, established in 1971 in Arvada, Colorado. The school offers classes in both
bull riding and bull fighting for the greenhorn who wants to experience first hand
85 Paul Willis Top Names in Rodeo Converge on Mile High City Rocky Mountain News 9
January 2004
43


the adrenaline rush. They also are very involved in the rodeo equipment business
for both bull riding and other rodeo events. Features products such as chaps, which
are priced starting at $300, the disconcerting cowboy can also add extras such as
extra-long fringe or words at $5 per letter.86 A wide variety of protective vests are
also available. They also sell items such as helmets and face masks, which are very
slowly becoming more popular with bull riders who wish to avoid concussions.
These are required gear for anyone wishing to ride a bull at the school.
Helmets aside, no cowboy is complete without a proper hat, and some of
the best hats in the country come from the Southwest comer of Colorado where the
OFarrell Hat Makers of Durango are located. The hats created are not cheap, but
they are well worth the price, especially when one considers the incredible quality
of these world-famous hats. Consumers can choose from custom-made hats,
which are fitted to an individuals unique head shape using a conformature to
precisely map the shape of the head. Customers can also choose to go with a pre-
fabricated hat in a standard size. Forbes Magazine named these hats in its May
2001 issue as Americas Finest Hat.87
Another important piece of equipment for a cowboy or a cowgirl is a
saddle. There are different types of saddles for different events. Saddle Bronc
86 Rock-n-RolI Rodeo Gear Brochure
870Farrell Hatmakers of Durango (http://www.ofarrellhats.com/) Accessed 9 March 2004
44


riders must have what is known as an Association saddle, according to the PRCA
that translates into A saddle used in bronc riding built to definite PRCA
QQ
specifications. That means that it has been approved by the Professional Rodeo
Cowboy Association for this event, as has all of the rest of the equipment used,
down to the type of fleece protecting the horse. These saddles have been
standardized in the 20th century so that no one has an advantage over another rider,
which used to be a bit of a problem with some of the older saddles that would vary
from cowboy to cowboy. Today, these saddles usually lack a pommel, while
roping event saddles tend to have a rubberized pommel, which allows them to
easily tie the rope to their horse that is trained to keep the line taught while the
cowboy quickly finishes his task.
Some of the best saddle making companies are located in Colorado. One
of these is the Colorado Saddlery Company located in lower downtown Denver.
This company was founded in 1940 and makes its saddles the old fashioned way
with no synthetic materials.88 89 These saddles are of exceedingly high quality and
have developed a loyal following. John Wayne, the western film star, purchased
his saddles through the Colorado Saddlery Co. as does Paul Hogan and many other
celebrities. Another famous saddle company is the Old Pueblo Saddle Company
located in Pueblo, Colorado. This company won a best saddle award at the
88PRCA Definitions Handout
89Barbra Gibson The Lower Downtown Historic District Historic Denver Inc Denver Co 1995. p 30
45


Colorado State Fair in 1997 and has made saddles for men such as basketball
player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.90 They also make their saddles the way they were
made in the old west-with no man made materials. In fact saddle maker Allan
Byrne is constantly researching the techniques that were used in the old west to
create more authentic saddles. Both of these companies also produce other types
of equipment, but it is their saddles that get most of the attention.
As saddles differ, so do horses. These valuable, well-trained animals are
an important part of a rodeo team. A barrel racing horse must be able to run the
course quickly, yet be controlled enough to not knock over the barrels. This horse
must also be able to travel in a horse trailer all over the country. These animals
have been known to cost $50,000, which constitutes a definite investment in ones
event.91 Those who wrestle steer for a living need a hazer, the guy who attempts to
guide the steer on a rather fearless horse, while the wrestler himself must be on a
fast horse that doesnt mind his rider leaping off of him in the middle of a run.
These horses must be in good health in order to compete in these events, and the
care of a horse can be a costly, time-consuming endeavor, but these horses are an
important part of a rodeo contestants livelihood. In fact, they are just like part of
the family in some cases. In all, rodeo is a big and complex business that
90 Old Pueblo Saddle Company (http://oldpueblosaddle.com/saddlemaker.html) Accessed 10 March
2004.
91 The Sport of Cowboys: An Inside Look into the World of the Professional Rodeo. PRCA
Pamphlet
46


encompasses equipment, the stock, and the prize money. It seems almost logical
that a sport that evolved from a profession would today have such an elaborate
economic influence on the world around it.
47


Chapter Three
Rodeos for the Younguns
Rodeo is a family affair; one only has to look at the numerous families that
travel around the country going from one rodeo to the next. In order to pass on the
traditions to the next generation, rodeo families have to get their children involved
early, and the only way for young children, or anyone for that matter, to develop
the skills needed in rodeo is to teach them at an early age, and then practice
practice, practice. This is true of all sports, there are little league baseball teams,
soccer teams for 3-year-olds, and pee-wee football teams, and all of these groups
are dedicated to developing young athletes to train them and help them to become
the stars of tomorrow in their sport of choice. Rodeo has similar programs to get
these young boys and girls ready for the pros, and these programs allow cowboys
of all ages to perfect their skills and to win prizes so they can move on to the next
level where they will continue to work on developing as champions. Four-year-
olds can go from mutton busters, where they will get their first opportunity to
experience the thrill of the sport, to steer riding to bull riding within a short period
of time, allowing for the culture of rodeo to be passed on to the next generation.
Those involved in the timed events also go through a progression of events starting
with goat tying and advancing into steer roping and team roping.
48


One of the earliest events open to beginning cowboys and cowgirls is
mutton busting. This is an event that is an adorable favorite at many rodeos; it is
only open to the young and usually there is a maximum weight for the little
competitors. Contestants are placed on a sheep, usually protected by a padded vest
and a hockey-like mask and helmet similar to those just starting to be worn by bull
riders. The young mutton buster is then asked to hold on for dear life as the sheep
makes a run for the other end of the arena trying to buck off its young rider. The
winner is the one that holds on the longest. Some of these young rough-riders are
so good that they have to be forcibly pried off their sheep at the other end of the
arena. This is only the first of the many levels of competition open to the children
of rodeo; eventually if these children stick with the sport, they will eventually be
participating in the same events as their rodeo heroes, perhaps at places like the
National Finals Rodeo.
To that end, many different rodeos have been developed for the younger
generations of cowboys and cowgirls. Here in Colorado there are many rodeo
choices for kids to compete at, the most famous being the Little Britches Rodeo.
This event was first held here in Littleton, Colorado at the Arapaho County Fair
Grounds in 1952 before it went on to become a nationwide phenomenon. By 92
92 They May be Little but they are tough. Rocky Mountain News. 19 August 1993
49


1958, this rodeo had become the largest amateur junior rodeo in the nation.93 It
boasted 676 competitors, with 283 competing in senior boys brahma bull riding,
and 296 senor boys bareback riding contestants.94 The ages of the competitors
ranged from 8-years-old to 18, and these athletes came from all over North
America from cities as far away as New Iberia, Louisiana and Alberta, Canada.
Events included the standard rodeo faire as well as some more unusual events such
as wild cow milking. Here, five young men would work together to tangle with a
viscous plunging kicking rearing wild cow.95 Four members of the team would
work to control the cow while the fifth would attempt to milk the cow into a soda
pop bottle.
This rodeo would become the training grounds for young cowboys who
would someday become world champion cowboys. After all, the Little Britches
slogan is where legends begin.96 Men such as Ty Murray, the King of the
Cowboys, got their start in the Little Britches Rodeo. This would be the start of an
illustrious and legendary career in the sport, as Murray retired in 2002 with a
lifetime earning of more than $3 million, having been named all-around cowboy
93 Little Britches Rodeo Program 1958
94 Ibid.
95 Ibid.
96 National Little Britches Rodeo Association (http://www.nlbra.org/) Accessed 20 January 2004
50


champion seven times, and many other honors, prizes and titles throughout his 14
year career.97
The rodeo continued on at the Arapahoe County Fair Grounds for a number
of years until 1961 when the Little Britches Organization held a national
convention in Denver. It was decided that the Little Britches would go national,
and Denver would be its headquarters. Eventually, this rodeo, named after a book
of the same name written by local author Ralph Moody, would outgrow its Denver
location and move to its present headquarters in Colorado Springs in 1982. Today,
this is where their finals rodeo is held every year. Participants from around the
country gather to prove once and for all who the best cowboys and cowgirls are.
Today, this little rodeo association holds rodeos in thirty different states, with
over 1,700 young athletes participating in this program.98 This popular rodeo has
been covered by local television stations, and has been filmed by Walt Disney film
crews. In short, it is the one of the premier youth rodeos in the country.
The idea of the Little Britches rodeo would soon become national; with
Little Britches Rodeos being held all over the country to determine the best young
cowboy and cowgirl in America. However, the Little Britches of Colorado was the
97 Ty Murray King of the Cowboy, (http://www.tymurray.com/) accessed 22 September 2003
98 Ibid.
51


first, and The Grandbaby of them all,99 established to provide youngsters with
their very own rodeo. The Little Britches program is not just designed to create
rodeo stars; good sportsmanship is also an important area of emphasis for these
young cowboys and cowgirls. The mission of the Little Britches is a non-profit
venture to build sound, healthy minds and bodiesto develop character, self-
reliance and good sportsmanship through competition in the great sport of
rodeo.100
This rodeo is divided up by age category. The youngest participants range
in age from 5 to 7-years-old; this coed group is known as the Little Wranglers.
These children compete in four events: barrel racing, pole bending, flag racing,
and goat tail untying. The next age group is divided up by sex into the Junior Girls
and Junior Boys. Their ages range from 8 to 13-years-old. The girls events at
this level are breakaway roping, barrel racing, goat tying, trail course, and pole
bending. The boys compete in bareback riding, steer riding, bull riding, breakaway
roping, goat tying and flag racing. One coed event exists at this level, dally ribbon
roping, which is also known as team roping. The oldest groups are the Senior Girls
and Senior Boys, and they compete from age 14 until age 18, the boys compete in
steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, tie-down roping,
while the girls compete in breakaway roping, barrel racing, goat tying, trail course
99 They May be Little but they are tough. Rocky Mountain News. 19 August 1993
100 National Little Britches Rodeo Association (http://www.nlbra.org/) Accessed 20 January
2004
52


and pole bending. The senior boys and girls compete together in team roping
competition. These young contestants must adhere to strict guidelines. Participants
could be disqualified for any of the following: abuse of stock, officials, or other
contestants. Also, the winners are never awarded money as the Little Britches is an
amateur competition. Instead the winners receive various prizes ranging from
saddles and belt buckles to scholarships for college.
Today, the National Little Britches Finals Rodeo is held in Penrose
Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This event is estimated to bring $8.5
million into the Springs as 600 youngsters compete to see who the best of the best
is and who will be winning the $30,000 in scholarship money.101 In order to get to
this point, the athletes must qualify in one of the many Little Britches Rodeo
sanctioned events. These events are held throughout the country, and any rodeo
can become a franchise of the Little Britches Rodeo simply by filling out an
application and becoming approved. As of 2003,180 Little Britches Franchised
Rodeos were in existence.
Another Colorado group dedicated to seeing young men and women
successful on horseback is the Westemaires. While it is not a rodeo club this
group is dedicated to promoting the knowledge of horsemanship to a group that is
not usually associated with the rural lifestyle. They were founded in 1949 with the
101 National Little Britches Rodeo Association (http://www.nlbra.org/) Accessed 22 February
2004
53


goal of getting 9 to 19-year-olds who live in Jefferson County back to their rural
roots of the not so distant past.102 This group maintains its headquarters, Fort
Westemaire, adjacent to the Jefferson County Fair Grounds in Golden, Colorado
with two indoor arenas and one outdoor arena, classrooms, and stables for its
multitude of horses. As a youngster progresses through the program from
Tenderfoots, who are the rookies, they can perfect their skills and eventually join
many elite performance groups such as the Precisionettes or the Red Cavalry. The
Westernaires are dedicated not only to the precision of their drill team, but also to
the standards of its members. The group does not allow drug, alcohol or tobacco
use of any kind by participants; instead it emphasizes teamwork and the shared
Western heritage of Colorado, and caring for animals. In fact, Westernaires are all
provided with rule book that outlines everything from the procedure to rent horses
to the dress codes which are very detailed for both the boys and girls and are based
on what level you have achieved in the group.103
This is a very hard-working bunch of students that holds many events
throughout the year to keep its members in top shape, always preparing for the
next events and raising money. The Westernaires are a non-profit group that
maintains a rather large number of horses for its members, many of whom do not
102 The Westernaires (http://www.westemaires.org/index.html) Accessed 1 March 2004
103 Ibid.
54


have the resources to own their own horse.104 The feeding of these animals
requires a lot of money, and members pay only a small fee each year. Therefore,
the organization holds many fundraising event that members must work either as
performers or as the behind-the-scenes help.105 The money raised by this group
goes a long way. They have been competing at the National Western Stock Show
since the early 1950s; in 2004, they performed the tricks of the Russian Cossacks
as the audience watched these young men jumping from horse to horse with bated
breath. In 1997, they were given an opportunity to perform for the leaders of the
world including former President Clinton when The Summit of the Eight was held
in Denver.
School aged children were not the only ones who needed to perfect their
skills in the ring, so the idea of the college rodeos was bom. College rodeo
officially began in 1948 when representatives from twelve colleges met in Texas
to form a governing board for their sport, the National Intercollegiate Rodeo
Association (NIRA). Their first official meeting of the NIRA would be held in
Denver from April 14-15, 1949, where the constitution for collegiate rodeo would
be approved.106 The constitution dealt with issues ranging from the rodeo structure
to the academic eligibility requirements for the athletes who were to be students
104 The Westemaires
105 Ibid.
106 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, (http://www.collegerodeo.com/history.shtml)
Accessed 22 September 2003
55


first. Colleges from Colorado, Texas, Wyoming and three other states would create
13 teams that would then compete against other teams within a set region,
allowing for these cowboys and cowgirls to develop their skills for the
professional rodeo circuit while ideally working on a degree at the same time.107
At the end of the first season, a national championship event was held to see who
the top college rodeo cowboys were.
College rodeo wouldnt really begin to hit its stride until the 1960s. In
1962, ABCs Wide World of Sports featured the National College Rodeo Finals,
and by 1967, 97 schools were members of the NIRA, many of those schools were
two-year junior colleges, not just four year universities.108 The 1970s saw a quite
a few changes as rodeo moved into the modem world. Computers were being used
to determine rankings. College rodeo also saw the advent of corporate sponsorship
for their amateur competitions. College rodeo is still very popular today, and
many colleges offer rodeo scholarships which include stipends for boarding your
horse along with providing fees and tuition for the student athlete. Today, the
NIRA puts on over 100 rodeos a year within its various regions, and the program
has seen many famous athletes pass through its competitions such as Ty Murray
107 Elliot
108 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. (http://www.collegerodeo.com/history.shtml)
Accessed 20 January 2004
56


who worked his way up from the Little Britches to College Champion to World
Champion.
Here in Colorado the first intercollegiate rodeo was held in Boulder at the
University of Colorado in April of 1961.109 Participants came from 15 different
universities to hone their skills and compete for the honor of their respective
schools. These college rodeos would not just be limited to the four year
universities either. In 1972, Arapaho Community College, which was a member
of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, started their own invitational
rodeo named after a local cowboy, Red Fenwick, who at the time was writing a
column in The Denver Post. The Fenwick Stampede would take place annually in
April, with 19 colleges from the central Rocky Mountain region competing,
including rodeo powerhouses Colorado State University and Casper Wyoming
College.110 Unfortunately, college rodeos are waning in the 21st century. In 2003,
the Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colorado was forced to disband due to
higher education budget cuts at the state level.111 The program could not continue
without enough money to support itself.
Colleges were not the only schools that were promoting rodeo as
extracurricular activities. High Schools in Colorado also were forming rodeo
109 First Intercollegiate Rodeo at University of Colorado Denver Post. 16 April 1961.
110 Red Fenwick. Well It Happened- A Fenwick Stampede. Denver Post 23 April 1972
111 Stanton Gartin, Northeastern Junior College Rodeo Advisor. Email February 10 2004
57


teams. In fact, there exists both a National High School Rodeo Association and a
Colorado High School Rodeo Association. High school Rodeo got its start in 1947
in Hallettsville, Texas with 100 students competing that year. The mission of High
School Rodeo, according to the NHSRA web site, is to encourage youth to stay in
school and to promote the highest type of conduct and sportsmanship. These
are noble goals to say the least, and goals that are echoed by many of the rodeo
club sponsors and rodeo parents today.
In 1951, the group became a multi-state non-profit organization, by 1957
the sport was receiving write-ups in Teen Magazine, and today nationally the sport
boasts 12,000 members from 39 states and also members from Canada and
1 1 o
Australia. In Colorado, the sport of rodeo just keeps on growing. More and
more clubs continue to join the Colorado High School Rodeo Association, the one
of the latest being the Valley Rodeo Club which was founded in 1997. Today high
school students compete in events ranging from bull riding (with a signed release
form from parents, of course) to pole bending and goat tying for the ladies.
The Colorado High School Rodeo Association is an uncomfortable
position when it comes to liability versus personal responsibility. The CHSRA is a
mostly volunteer organization and they lack the power and the inclination to tell 112 113
112 National High School Rodeo Association, (http://www.nhsra.org/fameset.html) Accessed 22
February 2004
113 Ibid.
58


parents that an injured student cannot compete, except in the cases of injuries that
are too big and visible to ignore.114 Injury and rodeo go hand in hand; however,
many cowboys refuse to listen to a well-meaning medical professional when it
comes to things like taking time off to recover properly. The CHSRA also have not
made safety gear such as helmets mandatory; they are waiting for the entire culture
to change, and this is gradually happening. In the meantime, high school students
from all over the state continue to compete.
Jay Sear, age 15, from Arvada, Colorado has been riding since she was 8
months old. Today, she is a member of the Lazy Lopers 4-H Club and participates
in events from pole bending to calf roping. She even rode a bull once-just for fun
and just for two seconds. She has gained a lot from her experiences in the CHSRA.
She enjoys the traveling even though it can be difficult to balance school and
rodeo. She often ends up doing homework in between events to keep her grades
up. Not all rodeo clubs have eligibility requirements, but for Jays mother to allow
her to compete her grades have to meet certain standards. This is a sport that
requires discipline both in and out of the arena. Jay is also responsible for the care
of her seven horses. She goes from school to the boarding stables to groom the
114 Kevin Simpson Spurred by a Dream Denver Post 8 December 2003
59


horses that she rides in her competitions. In short, she is always on the move,
which personifies the sport.115
Here in Colorado, teams from various schools and areas, twenty-one in all,
meet and compete at high school events. These students are also working to hone
their skills for the professional rodeos. Teams such as the Bear Creek Rodeo Club
and the Ute Mountain High School Rodeo Club, along with quite a few
independents116 117 are at these events looking for college scholarships to propel them
to the next level. Like their college rodeo counterparts, at the end of the year a
champion must be chosen, and like professional rodeo, is determined by points.
Events take place all over the state throughout the school year, with the ultimate
goal being the National High School Rodeo Finals. A complex system uses an
athletes top 10 rodeo performances, plus the first state finals round, plus the
second state finals round, plus the championship round, plus the average points of
an individuals top ten rodeos. The top four finishers compete in a national
competition held each year, while finishers five through ten qualify for the Silver
State rodeo.
However, it is much simpler to qualify for the state finals in Colorado.
According to Valley Club Rodeo sponsor, Tom Bashline, all a student has to do in
115 Jay Sear Interview by author, 8 March 2004. Denver Colorado.
116 Colorado State High School Rodeo Association, (http://www.cshsra.org/cshsra_mainpage.htm)
Accessed 24 September, 2003.
117 Ibid.
60


order to participate in the state finals is compete in two rodeos throughout the
course of a season. This is easier than it sounds as every day counts as a rodeo. As
long a student competes both days at a weekend rodeo in the same event, they are
eligible for the finals. The CHSRA season runs from August until July of the
following year when the High School National Finals Rodeo is held. They have
four weekends in the fall. Then they do not compete in the wintertime. Instead
they take a break for the weather and holidays and resume their season in the early
spring. In the spring, there are 10 weekend events plus the state finals.118 Many
high school riders throughout the state will also go to some of the smaller local
events during the off-season to try to make some money on the side, and the power
of that money can be very seductive to these young men of the rodeo world.119
When riders turn 18 they qualify for the Pro Rodeo Association of
America (PRCA). This leaves a few of the best cowboys with a big decision to
make. They can decide to go on to a college rodeo team, especially if they have a
scholarship offer. This route would allow them to get an education-something to
live off of once their rodeo careers are over. Or they can go directly to the big
money and uncertainty of the pros. It is a trade-off one way or another, and only
the individual can decided which choice is right for them. There are no guarantees
118 Tom Bashline Valley Rodeo Club Sponsor. Interview by author 22, February 2004. Denver
Colorado
119 Kevin Simpson Spurred by a Dream Denver Post 8 December 2003
61


in the rodeo world, save one. You will get hurt; the only questions are when,
where, and how badly.
One Chance Tate, of Cortez Colorado, a high school rodeo participant, was
quoted in the December 8, 2003 Denver Post as saying I rode with a broken
pelvis before.. .a concussion aint going to hurt much. I plan on making pro. I
cant sissy out now. This young man personifies the toughness of the cowboy.
He was injured on a Saturday, attended a dance that night, and was riding again on
Sunday.120 121 High school club sponsor Tom Bashline has seen quite a few of his
students move on to college rodeo clubs, and into the pro rodeo circuit. He has
even sent a student into the Professional Armed Forces Rodeo Association, which
is the rodeo for those fighting for our country.
Another relative newcomer to the rodeo circuit for young competitors is the
Colorado Junior Rodeo Association, which was founded in 1994. The stated goal
of this group is to provide a quality event allowing youth to advance their rodeo
talent in the spirit of fair competition and the appreciation of good
sportsmanship.122 This group allows 1,000 youth ages 5 to 18 a chance to
compete in mostly timed events. This group also has a chance for the whole family
120 Simpson
121 Ibid.
122 Colorado Junior Rodeo Association. (http://www.coloradojrrodeo.com/Aboutus.htm) Accessed
22 February 2004
62


to participate in the Junior Senior team-roping event. Here, mom or dad can join
their children in the arena to show off their roping skills. This organization also
has its own finals rodeo in Salilda, Colorado, where those top 15 contestants who
won the most money at CJRA sanctioned events are allowed to compete for the
$90,000 in prize money in the CJRA Finals.123 The money is nice, but in the end,
these events are about family-passing the tradition of rodeo from grandparents to
parents to children.
Many current rodeo sponsors are veterans of the Colorado High School
Rodeo Association or the Little Britches. Basin Rodeo Club sponsor Brenda
Cundiff notes that she sees many of the people she competed against when she was
a contestant in the CHSRA now driving their children to these weekend events.124
She also feels that this is a great way to spend time with her children. With all of
these various levels of rodeo, it is possible for a rider to spend most of his life
running from one rodeo to another. In many cases, rodeo is a family affair, keeping
everyone one the move for most of the summer and a lot of the rest of the year as
well. Bruce Ford, one of the rodeos more influential cowboys has fond memories
of watching his father compete at the National Western Rodeo and Cheyenne
Frontier Days. I remember sitting there, watching the guys ride, and loving the
123 Ibid.
124 Brenda Cundiff, Basin Rodeo Club Sponsor Interview by author, 19 February 2004. Denver
Colorado
63


roar of the crowd. I knew that one day that was where I would be.125 This shows
that rodeo is in the blood in more ways than one, and that rodeo can cycle through
the generations. Today Fords children also compete in rodeo, and have actually
become champion riders just like their father. In fact, Royce Ford is a champion in
his own right having earned $148,584 in 2003 and finishing second at the National
Finals Rodeo.126 Rodeo is a family affair where traditions are passed on keeping
the sport alive and well.
125 Melanie Daye, Bruce Ford, A Living Legend Colorado Country Life. January 2002.
126 Janies B. Meadow Cowboy Built Ford-Tough Rocky Mountain News 10 January 2004
64


Chapter Four
Alternative Cowboys and Cowgirls
Rodeo is a sport that has traditionally been seen as the domain of white
male athletes. However, the reality is quite different, and the perceptions of rodeo
are not always in sync with reality. While it is true that many of the most famous
participants in the sport have been white men, there have also been many
contributions by many other groups such as Hispanics, Blacks, and women. In
fact, the sport of rodeo owes a great debt to all three of these groups for many of
its events, such as steer wrestling, and its traditions. Without the influence of these
three groups the events and culture or rodeo would be very different from the
rodeo we know today. Unfortunately, it would take until the second half of the
twentieth century for the sport to embrace these overlooked but crucial groups and
return rodeo to its ethnic roots in Colorado.
Traditionally, rodeo is as a sport with few minorities; however this
tradition has been changing as more and more cowboys of color reclaim their
rodeo heritage. The myth of the white West is inaccurate, as many cowboys in the
Old West were not white. This is a belief that is perpetuated by the Hollywood
western. Instead, many of the cowboys in the Old West were freed slaves who had
65


left their former owners and homes for the wide-open space and for opportunities
that could not be found in the segregated post Civil War South that was ruled by
Jim Crow Laws and full of antipathy towards the newly freed. Even more
cowboys were of Spanish decent, a culture where the art of the cowboy had begun,
long before it was adopted by whites looking to become rich off of the cattle that
lived wild in the West. Yet both African Americans and Hispanics, with the
notable exception of the Picket brothers and a few others, would spend the early
part of the Twentieth century estranged from the sport they had helped to create. It
would take until the 1970s for rodeo to re-embrace its ethnic roots. Jack Weston
writes the following in his book The American Cowboy:
Much of the rodeo tradition goes back to Sixteenth century Spain, rodeo
culture than traveled to the Americas by way of the migration of many
Spanish to the New World who were in the business of raising cattle.
Mexico was at too early a stage of capitalism in the late (eighteen) sixties
to develop a cattle industry. And because the Mexicans collected cattle by
trapping them in pens around a few watering places or in the brush by
tying them to stalking oxen, and because the drove no herd regularly to
distant markets, they did not provide al the range and trail methods and
skills that Texans were later required to invent.127
These early Spanish settlers created the vaquero, the Hispanic version of
the cowboy. Early vaqueros would often participate in contests of skill at fiestas,
127 Jack Weston, The Real American Cowboy. Schocken Books New York 1985 p. 3.
66


which was usually held at the end of a cattle drive. However, these contests
were usually only a minor portion of the party, the most important part of the fiesta
was the music, dancing, and feasting. Other times the vaqueros would use these
contests to entertain one another on the weekends during long cattle drives.128 129 130 131 It
would take a long time for these early contests to reach a white rodeo audience in
Colorado. In fact, many of the events of the sport come from these old Hispanic
contests and skills that were used by the Vaqueros in their daily lives on the trail.
In his thesis, Man Beast and Dust, Clifford P. Westermeier states, for many years
in the cattle industry the best ropers were Mexican Vaqueros who moved
northward from the Rio Grande and had joined the large cattle outfits. The
cattle industry was a natural progression from Hispanic to Anglo culture driven by
supply and demand in the post-Civil War era, and the sport of rodeo was also a
natural progression between the two cultures, one that still permeates rodeo today.
In 1972, a Mexican style rodeo known as a Charreada was held in Denver,
in conjunction with the formation of the Denver Charro Association. This was a
ioi
chance for Mexican-American men to compete in a Latin flavored rodeo,
According to a Rocky Mountain News article that year. The Charreada would
128 Clifford P. Westermeier Man Beast and Dust; The Story of Rodeo, p. 32
129 Ellen Sweets Keeping Tradition Alive in the Historic Mexican Charreada Denver Post 8
January 2004
130 Westermeier p. 31
131 Mexican Charreada a Delightful Event. Rocky Mountain News 27 November 1972
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include many roping events lacking in traditional Anglo rodeos. Events such as
Piales en al Lienzo, or roping the hind legs of a horse causing him to trip, and the
Manganas a Caballo, the art of tripping one horse with a rope while on horseback
yourself. Most of the events at this competition were judged on skill, instead of
using the clock to determine the winner, and almost half of the events were
Floreando, or rope art, a marked difference from the Americanized rodeo events
such as steer wrestling, where strength is more important that precision. Of course,
like all aspects of rodeo, the animal rights activists did not care for the treatment of
the animals by the Charros, or cowboys, showing them the same respect they show
rodeos.
The Charro is also filled with events that require strength and skill. The
best example of this is the Paso de la Muerte, the death jump. This is the most
dangerous of the Charro disciplines. Here a Charro jumps from the back of a
trained horse onto the back of a wild horse that has never been ridden before. The
jumper is aided by his fellow Charros, who attempt to guide the wild horse.
However, in the end, the Charro who is jumping is on his own at the crucial
moment, it is only his skill and a little bit of luck that will get him on the back of
that second untrained horse. This is a skill that would be used to catch and tame
wild horses in the West a hundred years ago. Today, it is a thrilling spectacle for
those of us sitting on the edges of our seats, and another reminder of a past that
should not be forgotten or left behind.
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The Charro is a proud symbol of the past. The clothing worn by Charros is
a military uniform, going back to the Mexican Revolution, so Charros do not
remove their hats during the singing of national anthems, unlike cowboys who do.
Charros are also involved in rough stock events such as bareback riding and bull
riding; however even these events differ from their Anglo counterparts. In
American rodeo, participants ride until the buzzer sounds after a set number of
seconds have passed, depending upon the event. Anglo cowboys only use one
hand to hold on to a bucking animal. Charro riders use two hands in the rough
stock events. Charros ride until they are either thrown, or the horse or bull stops
bucking. This can be for a rather long time in the case of some animals making life
difficult for the poor Charro that draws a horse with lots of stamina.
By 1976, the popularity of the Charreada would continue to spread into
cities such as Pueblo, where the First International Charro Competition would be
held from August 25-29,1976.132 Here rope art, or Floreando, would make up half
of the events. Today, Charreada can be found at many popular events such as the
Colorado State Fair. The National Western Stock Show has also joined in the
Latin traditions by adding a Mexican Rodeo Extravaganza in 1995. The
Extravaganza was the dream of Jerry Diaz, also known as Charro de Corazon,
Charro of the Heart. The show began as a small portion of the National Western
Stock Show and has only gotten bigger as it has developed. Today, this show is
132 Kit Flannery Charros Head for Pueblo Denver Post 22 August 1972
69


one of the biggest draws at the National Western Stock Show and one of the more
unusual shows, but it is one with a rich cultural tradition that educates many about
rodeos cultural history.
This annual show has featured acts such as Los Zapatistas, a female
precision sidesaddle riding team, which is also part of the cultural heritage of
Mexico. These women and their horses perform incredible feats making elaborate
patterns and passes that seem to be almost impossible with out some accident
occurring. Yet these athletes are so well trained that while the horses may come
within fractions of inches of one another, no collisions occur. Other acts at the
Extravaganza include Gerardo Jerry Diaz, the founder, who is still in charge his
dream project today. Diaz has a number of well-trained horses that perform
amazing feats. His act includes anything from horses dancing in time to the music
to horses that allow Diaz to take a brief nap on their belly while the horse is also
laying down for his nap. It becomes apparent in this event to the biggest city
slicker that these horses are something special. Diaz also is a skilled roper who
makes his rope made of the same cactus that is used in making tequila, dance. He
can twirl his rope while standing on the back of a galloping horse which becomes
even more impressive when one realized that he is also twirling the rope around
70


the two of them as they move.133 The Mexican Rodeo Extravaganza is evidence
that rodeo in Colorado had come full circle.
The Extravaganza returns to the original cultural roots of the rodeo with the
influence of Mexico and South America. The whole show is set to the sounds of a
mariachi band, in fact Charros thrive on the noise of the band and the crowd and
ask for applause and encouragement. This is different from a regular rodeo where
silence is the norm while the cowboys ply their trade. The announcing at the
Mexican Extravaganza is in both English and Spanish, and the show appeals to a
wider demographic than the traditional rodeo would.134 135 Coverage for the Mexican
rodeo appears in English newspapers such as The Rocky Mountain News and The
Denver Post. This rodeo is also covered in La Voz, a Spanish publication located
in Denver. By 2003, the Mexican Rodeo Extravaganza was one of the more
i popular shows at the Stock Show and was one of the fastest selling events. It is
also a reminder that rodeo is a diverse sport that is derived from many cultures and
colors.
The Hispanic influence is not the only one overlooked when one thinks of
the sport or rodeo. Another overlooked group that has been very important to the
133 Hector Gutierrez, Stock Show Will Have a Taste of Latino Talent, Rocky Mountain News, 2
January 1995.
134 Steve Lipher, Mexican Rodeo Rousing Success, Denver Post, 11 January 1995.
135 Jim Kehl, Stock Show Ticket Sales Sizzle, Denver Pos^ 10 January 2003.
71


development to rodeo is the African American cowboy. In many rodeos, this was
a figure that was all but missing in the stands or in the arena. However, in the
1970s, rodeo also saw the reemergence of the black cowboy, an often-overlooked
figure in the Old West of popular culture, but one that had a rather large presence
in the reality of the Old West. One of the scouts of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
was black, starting a trend that would be overlooked for years. Later in the
Nineteenth century, many freed slaves would head west after the Civil War to tend
to the herds of cattle who were freely roaming the plains. Even before that time
many slaves were already working the range and breaking horses for their masters.
They were becoming highly competent cowboys. In 1887, a cowboy tournament
would be held that would pit white cowboys against black cowboys. Famous
cattleman Charles Goodnight was known to trust his black cowhands with the
payrolls.136 In one case Bose Ikerd was once given $20,000 in cash, and he never
once lost a dime.
However, many of the blacks on the cattle drives were relegated to cooking
duties. It would take until the early 1900s for the Pickett brothers, who were
black, to bring the idea of the non-white cowboy back to life in a rodeo arena, if
only for a brief moment. William Pickett was a revolutionary rider who invented
bull dogging, he would be one of many black cowboys to grace a rodeo arena. Bill
136 Bill Bwaltmy Footsteps: African American History Cobblestone Publications March/ April
1999
72


Pickett would also be the first who would be inducted into the cowboy hall of fame
in 1971. He was the most famous of the black cowboys. A film was produced
by the Norman Film Manufacturing Company of Jacksonville, Florida called The
Bull Dogger, starring Pickett. Teddy Roosevelt once said, Picketts name will go
down in Western history as being one of the best trained ropers and riders the West
has produced.137 138 139
Bill Pickett is considered by most to be the inventor of bulldogging, also
known as steer wrestling. In 1900 at the Arkansas Valley Fair in Rocky Ford,
Colorado, Pickett took a life-threatening action in the ring and turned it into a
brand new event. Ralph Taylor, a local historian from the 1960s, recounts the
encounter in a 1969 edition of the Pueblo Chieftain by saying The Bull tossed
Picket overhead, but the cowboy held onto the horns. In effect it was a fall for the
bull...he grabbed the animals horns again and twisted his neck unit the big bull
was compelled to fall. This brought cheer from the crowd. Bulldogging was
born. There are many different theories as to why this event is called bulldogging.
The most colorful involves Pickett himself. It was believed that Bill Picket would
actually bite the cattle on the lips and ears, similar to the methods used by dogs to
137 Black Wranglers Parade Through Five Points Rocky Mountain News 9 September 1990
138 Bill Pickett Display Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame
139 Ralph Taylor Colorful Colorado 1900s Saw Expansion of Rodeos Pueblo Star Journal Sunday
Chieftain. 26 October 1969.
73


herd the cattle, hence the name bulldogging.140 Pickett was also known for
hoolihaning. This is when a cowboy plants the horns of the steer into the ground.
This is considered to be very dangerous for the steer, and today it is against the
rules to plant the animals horns. Either way, steer wrestling is not an event for the
faint of heart. This is the event that truly pits man against beast, where all
competitors must be strong, fast, and fearless to overcome a rather large animal
that is usually quite uncooperative.
Since Bill Pickett, bulldogging has become an accepted rodeo practice
both in competition and for fun and entertainment. One more unusual bulldogging
incident also took place in the old movie towns of Colorado. Around the turn of
the century, many westerns were produced in the state featuring cowboys turned
actors and stuntmen. One of the actors, Mr. Tom Mix, was spending his free time
bulldogging steers from an automobile in 1911, as opposed to the traditional horse
seen in rodeo competition.141 The incident was recorded in the Canyon City
Record, and it directly refers to bulldogging showing both the spread of the
event, and the influence of Pickett as the term had spread that far in a mere eleven
years.
140 Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo A Salute to the Black Cowboys; Rodeo Soul Souvenir
Program 1994
141 Emirich p. 39
74


As for the rest of the black cowboys, there would be few chances to
compete during the first half of the Twentieth Century. In 1947, the Negro
Cowboys Rodeo Association would be formed. This group would organize some
weekend rodeos to be held for black cowboys. One of the most famous black
cowboys from Colorado, Alonzo Pettie, was instrumental in these rodeos. Pettie,
born in 1910, began his career on wild bulls and broncs where he suffered a series
of injuries. At an event in 1929, he injured his shoulder while on a bronco and than
continued on to ride a bull, with his arm in a sling.142 He won. In those days,
blacks were not allowed to participate in most rodeos. However, they were
permitted to entertain the crowd by riding the rough stock animals and being
tossed into the dirt. These black cowboys were paid per animal they would ride.
Pettie remembers If you were a good rider well you would go ahead and
ride...and if you would get bucked off you would get your $2 to $3 or whatever...
you could make $10or$12a day like that143 After a couple of years in the army
during World War II, Pettie started the all-black rodeos. These were mostly
weekend affairs where black cowboys would compete against one another for
small amounts of money. Unfortunately for Pettie, he would be so severely
injured at one of these competitions that his rodeo career would be ended forever.
142 Douglas Martin Alonzo Petite A Creator of Black Rodeo; 93 New York Times New Service
143 Ibid.
75


He would go on to work for the Sears Roebuck Co, and in 1996, he would become
a Levis Jeans model in their Red Tab Heritage Campaign.
Those weekend rodeos were just the first step in legitimizing blacks in the
sport of rodeo. In 1968 the Black Cowboy Association would be formed, and in
1971, a black cowboy, Bill Pickett, would be inducted into the cowboy hall of
fame.144 145 There would be a smattering of successful black cowboys in the rodeo
business during this time, ranging from Charlie Sampson, world champion bull-
rider and Timex spokesman (which makes sense when you realize that bull-riders
also take a licking and keep on ticking) to Leon Coffee the famous rodeo clown.
However, there was no real rodeo emphasis in the black community. That all
changed in Denver in 1984 when the late Bill Picket was honored with an all-black
rodeo named after him. The Bill Picket Invitational Rodeo began its life at the
Adams County Fair Grounds that year. It was founded by Lu Vason, a concert
promoter who turned rodeo buff when he attended Cheyenne Frontier Days in
1977. Here, Vason noticed that everyone was having a good time, himself
included. However there were no black faces in the crowd or on the horses in the
144 Borderlands an El Paso Community College Local History Project
(http://www.epcc.edU/ftp/Homes/monicaw/borderlands/2 l_black_cowboys.htm) Accessed 26
September 2003.
145 Lu Vason, Founder of Bill Pickett Rodeo, Interview by author 13 January 2004, Denver
Colorado.
76


Thus an idea was bom, that of an all black rodeo with a mission of
educating the world about black cowboys who had been left out of the history
books, cowboys such as Bill Pickett. Vason faced some challenges going from
concerts to rodeo, and learned quite a bit about the intricacies of the sport. Two of
the biggest problems he faced were finding a venue for the event, and finding
stock contractors to ensure that there were animals for the event. The first rodeo
was a learning process, but it has been a successful one that has opened many
doors for black cowboys. Today, many successful black cowboys can claim to
have gotten their start at the Bill Pickett Rodeo, and some have even gone on to
become world champions, such as Fred Whitfield.
The Bill Pickett Rodeo was first held in 1984, and it would be the first
blacks only rodeo since the 1940s in Colorado.146 Today, The Bill Pickett
Invitational Rodeo is America's only touring Black rodeo, making stops in cities
from Denver to Oakland to Philadelphia. Its events range from Bulldogging to
Ladies Steer Undecorating where women on horseback must chase down a steer
and pull the ribbon off of the shoulder. Part of the profits go to the Bill Pickett
Memorial Scholarship Fund,147 which supports young black athletes who are
interested in pursuing careers in rodeo. It has also succeeded in getting blacks
146 Black Wranglers Parade Through Five Points Rocky Mountain News 9 August 1990.
147 Bill Pickett Rodeo Star (http://www.coax.net/people/lwf/pickett.htm) Accessed 26 September
2003.
77


involved in the sport of rodeo and recreating a more accurate picture of the old
west, an old west that was made up of men and women of all colors.
One of the myths of the old West is that of the cowboys and Indians
fighting with each other. This may in fact have some basis, though many of
todays cowboys are Native Americans. The Indians have come full circle,
ironically to preserve their heritage. The introduction of the horse into the culture
of the tribes of the west was a momentous event. These horses had been
introduced by the Spanish Conquistadors; some had escaped to breed in the wild.
Later these wild horses were captured by many of the tribes who tended to name
the exotic creatures as dogs. The Blackfoot Tribe called horses Elk Dogs, while
the Lakota referred to horses as Holy Dogs.148 The tribes believed that horses
were gifts from the Great Spirit, a belief that was reinforced by the absence of
white men at this time. A common belief expressed in Peter Iversons book Riders
of the West; Portraits from Indian Rode. With the right horse anything was
possible,149 and with the horse the nomadic groups flourished, as hunting became
easier with the tribes able to move more quickly.
Eventually, the tribes were conquered by the pioneers, and the passage of
the Dawes Act confined the tribes to reservations. Despite the troubles, an outlet
for the old ways was being developed in rodeo. Many Indians were able to take
148 Peter Iverson, Riders of the West; Portraits from Indian Rodeo (Greystone Books, University of
Washington Press; Seattle 1999). p 1
149 Ibid, p 2
78


their skills on horseback and channel them into the developing sport. Problems did
exist. For instance, many Indians felt that the judges were biased against them, so
many who competed stuck with the timed events instead of the rough stock events.
There was less likelihood of the clock being biased. Indians also faced problems
in leaving the reservations, and finding the money for travel and entry fees.
Despite this many Indians did make it in early rodeo. One of the most famous of
these was Will Rogers, a part Cherokee, who incidentally was a hazer for Bill
Pickett. Other famous Indians cowboys were Jackson Sundown of the Nez Perce
tribe, and Tom Three Persons of the Blood Indian tribe.150 By 1957, the All Indian
Rodeo Cowboy Association was founded. It later became the All Indian
Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (AIPRCA). This group founded schools
for both judges and riders; it also worked to promote cultural events, such as Pow
Wows, to accompany the rodeo contests. Being a cowboy seemed to be a good
way to remain an Indian.151 By 1976, the first National Finals Rodeo was held by
the AIPRCA at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah. Today, the organization
has five different regions in Canada and nine different regions in the United States.
Minority groups were not the only ones embracing rodeo. Women also
wanted to get in on the action. As America moved into the 1940s rodeo gained
more and more popularity in Colorado. It went from being an almost exclusively
150 Ibid, p 11
151 Ibid, p 20
79


male sport to including some female participation. The 46 show at the National
Western Stock Show seemed to have been a precursor to women competing in
timed events, and competing for prize money and points along side their male
counter parts. Not only were women competing, they were also winning the
admiration of the crowd. The Rocky Mountain News reported The crowd had
more applause for Miss Sawyer who rose from the tanbark where Belen had
thrown her, dusted the dirt from her white riding habit and returned to the saddle to
give a masterful exhibition of horse handling.152 153
Three years later, in August of 1949, the first all girls rodeo was held in
Denver. Some of the events were the typical events that could be found at male
rodeos, events such as steer riding, calf roping and bronco riding. The women also
had a few events that were uniquely their own, such as wild cow milking, western
pleasure riding, western trail horse riding, and the cloverleaf race. Today, the
cloverleaf race is better known as barrel racing, a sport in which only the ladies
compete.
The first all-girls rodeo had moments that were full of excitement, such as
when Miss Shirley Chafin was taken to Denver General with the broken ribs she
had garnered in her cloverleaf race. Other events were not nearly as exciting; not a
152 James Cadwell, Big Rodeo Crowd Thrilled by Prima Donna Mounts, Denver Post, 14 January
1946.
153 First All Girls Rodeo is a Thumping Success. Rocky Mountain News. 8 August 1949
80


single calf was roped. Sunny Webschall of Golden was overheard saying Hey,
call time. We cant run that steer to death.154 Other girls rodeos were a bit more
action packed, although not always in good ways. The first all-girls rodeo held in
Colorado Springs had more than its fair share of mishaps. Out of 45 entrants,
Frances Wees of Big Springs, Texas was knocked unconscious, while Eddie
Moore of Long Beach, California was almost totally thrown from her horse, as
reported by the Colorado Springs Gazette.155 Only her boot managed somehow to
stay in the stirrup. In all, two accidents out of 45 is fairly good odds, and these all
girls rodeos were a start of what would eventually become the Womens
Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA).
Women were also able to show their skills in the 1952 National Western
Stock Show, which was to be the biggest in National Western history. Some
spectators came to see the new Denver Coliseum, while others came for the
entertainment and the spectacle of the horse show and rodeo just as they had
always done. With the new Coliseum came new thrills as well. Two famous
female trick riders who had preformed in Hollywood, Shirley and Sharron Lucas,
were scheduled to perform that year. These two women were famous for their
death-defying stunts performed while on the back of a horse. These stunts
included the colorfully named suicide drags, where the women would be
154 First All Girls Rodeo is a Thumping Success.
155 Thrill Packed Girls Rodeo Marked by two Accidents Colorado Springs Gazette 24, June 1951
81


dragged behind the horses, split to the neck and the hippodrome stand,156 157 158 both
of which defy description. All of these stunts were guaranteed to wow audiences,
and to showcase the talents of women riders in an era where many women stayed
at home.
The girls of the rodeo would start slow, and work their way towards
equality. One of the ways they did this was through developing their natural talent
and skills on horseback. In 1963, an 11-year-old girl competed in the barrel racing
competition at the National Western Stock Show Rodeo. Candice Merritt, the
talented barrel racer, was competing in her first year as a working member of the
Girls Rodeo Association. This group was founded in 1948 with 74 original
members and has since morphed into the WPRA with over 2,000 members. Of
course, rodeo was still considered a mans world, and women have been trying to
catch up ever since, even if it meant not competing.
The 1985 National Western Stock Show would be the year when the
women would take a stand. This was the year they protested their status compared
to the men. The barrel racers refused to race citing unequal pay as compared to
their male counter parts. The National Western was offering the women $10,000
156 World Famous Stars at National Western, Denver Monitor. 21 December 1951.
157 Young Barrel Racer Thrills Rodeo Crowd, Denver News. 16 January 1963.
158 Womens Professional Rodeo Association (http://www.wpra.com/rodeohistory.htm) Accessed
23 January 2004.
82


up from $7,500 the previous year. The women were demanding $17,000.159 The
women argued that barrel racing was one of the most expensive sports in rodeo
because of the costs of their animals, which are crucial to the event, and the cost of
the rest of their equipment. They wanted a more equal share of the prize money to
make up for this, and they ended up boycotting the rodeo that year. They would
return the next year, in 1986, after the National Western met their demands and
allowed for the $17,000 in prize money.
The National Western was actually behind the curve when in came to
treating women as equals. The Coors Brewing Company of Golden, Colorado,
which had been sponsoring the Chute Out series of rodeos throughout the country,
was the first to pay a bonus stipend to the female barrel racers. This extra cash
would put the womens prize money on par with what the men were earning.
Coors has sponsored female as well as male rodeo stars. The most famous barrel
racer, Charmayne James, with a lifetime earnings of $1.9 million dollars and
eleven world championships, was one of Coors many endorsers until she retired
from the world of rodeo to become a mother. Today, barrel racing is the most
obvious rodeo event for women to compete in, however, within the WPRA,
women can compete in many of the events that men do. There are also the rodeo
queens, ambassadors of the sport of rodeo.
159 Western Rodeo Lacks Events For Women Only, Grand Junction Sentinel. 9 January 1985.
83


The rodeo queen programs throughout the country are another way that
women participate in rodeo. In Colorado, the rodeo queen Miss Rodeo Colorado
is chosen at the Fourth of July Rodeo in Greeley, formally known as the Greeley
Stampede. She then represents the state at events such as the PRCA National
Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas as well as making many appearances throughout
Colorado, such as at the National Western Stock Show.160 Many rodeo queens get
their starts at smaller rodeos, such as the Colorado State High School Rodeo
Queen, and work their way up to the big time with the ultimate goal to become
Miss Rodeo America. Besides the title and prestige, the winner of this contest also
receives a $10,000 scholarship to help pay for college.
Rodeo Queens have a unique role in rodeo culture. They have clothes that
denote their status as Rodeo Queens, which can be bought at specialty stores.
They also have clinics and camps to help them train to become Rodeo Queens.
According to the Rodeo Queen Website queens are judged in three areas. The first
is their appearance; here an aspiring rodeo queen must look the part of a western
girl. Pants and western-style shirts are the norm. Secondly, contestants are judged
on their personality. This is where contestants show off their knowledge of the
rodeo world and current events. Last, but certainly not least, is horsemanship. This
is the most crucial part of the formula. Rodeo Queens make many appearances on
160 Miss Rodeo Colorado (http://www.missrodeocolorado.org/queen.htm) Accesses 6 February
2004
84


horseback in parades and escort the winners of the various rodeo events around the
arena for a victory lap. The ability to ride is important for any good rodeo queen,
and potential queens will draw unknown horses, just like the men in rough stock
events do.161 Stock contractors provide these horses, and the women will then
have the opportunity to display their skill for the judges on their unfamiliar horse.
Finally, rodeo queens must meet the following two requirements. They must have
never been married and they must be under the age of 24-years-old.
All of these groups have come a long way to take their place in the sport of
rodeo, yet all three of these groups bring a unique touch to this sport which is seen
as the domain of white males. Time, however, marches on, and nothing remains
the same. Those old traditions are changing allowing for rodeo to reach new
groups of people, from city slicker to minorities to girls. After all, the sport of
rodeo is an important part of our history, and it is important to acknowledge the
contributions of all groups.
161 Miss Rodeo America (http://www.missrodeo.com/compete.html) Accessed 6 February 2004
85


Chapter Five
Modem Day Cows and Cowpokes
Red Fenwick once said, I cant decide which way I like rodeo better-the
old time, bare-knuckle, hell bent for pay day competition it used to be, or the more
sophisticated, and records keeping sport that it has become. The man had a point,
as rodeo has changed with the times. It has come along way from Deer Trail,
Colorado and that early cowboy contest, or even before that momentous occasion
when men rode the range betting on each others skills to kill time. Yet from its
simple origins on the trail, rodeo has evolved into a modem form of entertainment
for a modem audience. It has gone from daylight competitions in the great
outdoors of the West to indoor laser light shows complete with a techno remix of
the Bonanza theme song and pyrotechnics, which illustrate just how far the sport
has come. Today, rock-and-roll music is as likely to play as classic country music;
in fact the rock-and-roll seems to be the preference these days.
Cowboys have also experienced a revolution right along with their sport.
The image of the lone drifter of the plains who might let off some steam when he
hits the end of the trail at various unsavory establishments has been gradually
replaced by families driving from rodeo to rodeo with equipment and horses in
tow. These men and women take their sport very seriously, as well they should.
They work just as hard as those toiling away on the gridiron or the basketball
86


court. They take their sport just as seriously as other athletes, and they have
started to train for their competitions as any other athlete might do, although this
has been a slower change than the promoters might like to admit. They also take
their safety seriously as more and more bull riders are wearing protective helmets
and vests, which were developed in 1993. Tuff Hedemen, a former bull-rider-
tumed-rodeo-promoter ponders how bull riders survive. What surprises me is that
I /TO
more people dont die When one is up against an animal that is 10 times the
size of the average cowboy, some safety gear seems to make a lot of sense,
although it has been slow going. For bull-riders, the vests were the easier
equipment to convert into the cowboy culture, as they look and fit like a western
style vest. The vests can be worn while the bull riders keep their image as tough
athletes who fear nothing, which cant be far from the truth. They also incur fewer
injuries with the vests, which would logically allow for more performances and
more money. A vest is a good investment; however, the vests can only do so
much. They help protect organs in the chest cavity from the inevitable stomping of
a one-ton bull, but every so often the bulls do get in a lucky shot. When one
leaves the chute, it is just the rider against the bull, And the bulls do not care.
The Professional Bull Riders, competing against the PRCAs Xtreme Bulls
Tour, market themselves as the worlds first extreme sport with a $1 million top 162 163
162 Kevin Simpson A World of Hurt Denver Post 7 December 2003
163Ibid.
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prize at their national championships. When those in-the-know refer to bull-riding
they say its The most dangerous eight second in sports,164 and they have a
point. According to a series of articles that appeared in the Denver Post in
December 2003, The percentage of exposures resulting in injury for rough stock
events.. .is five times greater than football, more than six times greater than
wrestling, and more than 12 times greater than ice hockey.165 In short, the sport
is dangerous, which is part of the appeal. Despite these statistics, it has been harder
to convince these same cowboys who wear vests that helmets are also an important
piece of safety equipment, although you do see more and more cowboys giving up
their hats in favor of preventing concussions. Wiley Peterson, one of the top riders
on the PBR, wears one. You can hang on to tradition and lose your teeth, or lose
some tradition and keep your teeth...this is an extreme sport, and its moving away
from the cowboy feel to it.166 167
Despite this gradual shift, the greatest obstacle to safety gear would have to
be the culture of the cowboy. Bull riders of the past wore cowboys hats, and the
cowboys of the present seem slow to embrace the change to helmets, despite the
fact that 12 percent of all bull riding injuries are concussions. One of the first
164 Ibid.
165 Ibid.
166 Ibid.
167 Ibid.
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steps towards helmets began with World Champion Charlie Sampson, who after
being seriously injured in a command performance for the president, was forced to
wear a lacrosse helmet with mask to prevent further injury and death. Today, that
particular helmet can be viewed at the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. Unfortunately
wearing a helmet is a rare occurrence, even today. Many cowboys feel that
wearing a helmet slows down their reaction times and makes them more
vulnerable to injury due to the false confidence this equipment provides. This is
complicated by the fact that these early helmets are just modified hockey helmets,
which are lighter than the original. These helmets do help with some head trauma,
but not all serious head injuries in bull-riding are going to be prevented with a
mere helmet. That is just a fact of life for bull-riders.
In 1981, the Justin Boots Company sponsored a study to track rodeo
injuries. Today, they have compiled a database from the last 20 plus years that
allow for better treatment of injuries which lets cowboys to get back in the arena
quicker. Another group of researchers at the West Texas A&M University have
found that those who compete in rodeo have a 89 percent chance of being injured
over the course of a season; in comparison, college football players only have a 47
percent chance of injury.168 169 For the cowboy, getting in and out of physical therapy
quickly is imperative to have a successful and lucrative career. These statistics are
168 Ibid.
169 Ibid.
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all well and good, but what of the stoic culture of the cowboy? One can assume
that not all injuries are reported; in fact, it is highly likely that many of the lesser
injuries are ignored by many series competitors. A typical cowboy attitude
according to one orthopedic surgeon is, I had two six-packs and it still hurts.
I nr\
What do I do? Cowboys will often compete injured because they can. Royce
Ford once competed with a broken foot; he simply went out and bought a boot that
would fit after his injury caused the foot to swell three sizes. He may have been
forced to use crutches to get around, but one doesnt need to be able to walk to ride
a bronc. If the cowboys dont compete, they cant win, and without winning
they couldnt make any money. Although the attitude of cowboys towards the
medical profession is changing, it is going to be slow-going as part of the appeal of
the sport is its inherent danger. Part of the challenges facing health-care
professionals that help the cowboys are the cowboys themselves.
It is that danger and adrenaline rush that has given way to an unusual
phenomenon, the bull-riding school. Larry Lancaster operates the Rock and Roll
Rodeo School out of Arvada, Colorado that also instructs students in bull-fighting
if that is their dream. Lancaster caters mostly to men aged 15 to 25, with a few
women signing on, but not many. The school allows the rookies to ride smaller
bulls, usually weighing between 200 to 700 pounds less than the bulls used in 170 171
170 Ibid.
171 James B. Meadows Cowboy Built Ford Tough Rocky Mountain News 10 January 2004.
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competition. These bulls also tend to buck less than those used by professional
bull-riders.172 While the bulls are smaller, the thrill remains the same, although
safety regulations at the school are much tougher than those of the PRCA. The
school provides all protective gear such as vests, helmets, and protective braces for
the neck and back. The school focuses on proper techniques to help keep their
clientele safe and coming back for more. They also train students in the art of bull
fighting. Bull-fighters are an integral part of keeping the riders safe once they are
off the bull, the First line of defense173 according to official PRCA documents.
They are responsible for distracting the bull from the often disoriented rider.
These men must be very athletic as they are constantly leaping out of harms way
and the bulls reach.
These amateur cowboys are merely weekend warriors when compared to
real working cowboys who also just happen to compete in their own rodeos. The
Working Ranch Cowboy Association is a group that is Preserving the heritage
and life-style of the Working Ranch Cowboy (WRCA).174 This group was
founded in 1995 to promote the rodeo skills of real life ranch hands in the modern
world. While these men and women may not be competing in the PRCA, they are
172 Dahlia Jean Weinstien Bell Sounding at Rodeo School? Hold On. Rocky Mountain News
January 2004
173 The Sport of Cowboys: An Inside Look into the World of Professional Rodeo PRCA Pamphlet
p.2
174 Working Ranch Cowboy Association (http://www.wrca.org/) Accessed 9 March 2004
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athletes in their own right. These are the men and women still living the lifestyle
that gave birth to rodeo. In fact, to join, they must be either ranch owners or
employed on a working ranch; on occasion, exceptions will be made based on
unemployment caused by range conditions. The members pay dues based on
their status at the ranch, with cowboys paying less in dues than an owner would.
The WRCA has is own sanctioned rodeos in both Hugo, Colorado and Colorado
Springs, Colorado, and it also has its own World Championship Rodeo. The
WRCA differs from the PRCA in that its events are tailored to the skills needed by
a working cowboy,
In the Ranch Horse Show, one of the events at a WRCA event, a
contestant and his horse must complete a set of skills within a five-minute time
limit, ranging from boxing in a cow to roping a cow to how quickly the horse can
perform certain key maneuvers. On occasion a rerun will be given, but according
to the official rule book, this is only given if the cow is blind, crippled, insane, or
leaves the arena working floor. In other words, this is a rather rare occurrence.
Contestants are both scored and timed, and only the most competent cowboys and
cowgirls can win. Other contests include chasing and saddling wild horses, the
17
mock branding of calves, and the milking of wild horses. 175 176
175 Ibid.
176 Ranchers Rodeo Colorado Country Life June 2003
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Another type of rodeo that is often overlooked is the Weekend Rodeo.
These rodeos are held for tourists in mountain towns throughout the state, such as
Steamboat Springs and Winter Park. These are not a recent development as they
have been around almost as long as rodeo itself, when locals would compete for a
quick 20 bucks. Those were the days when some guys, not your typical cowboys
but people from the ski area, would maybe have a beer or two and bet on a bull on
a dare,177 reminisces J.C. Trujillo of Steamboat, who was an elite bareback rider
before he retired. Weekend rodeos are a great way to introduce a new audience to
an already growing sport, but a sport that has some of the most well mannered
athletes in the world.
Rodeo riders look out for each other. The WRCA is dedicated to its
Cowboy Crisis Fund, which helps cowboys and their families in times of need.
This can happen quite a bit on the rodeo circuit. There are many other groups that
also exist to help cowboy. Health South, a physical therapy group, donates its
resources to aid injured cowboys, while others will hire cowboys for less
dangerous and less thrilling work that will look much better on an application for
heath insurance than bronc buster. Cowboys have a short career in which to find
their fortune, and many will turn to agents to arrange endorsement deals which can
also pull a cowboy family through a tight spot after an injury. The PBR also has
177 Melinda Mawdsley The Cowboy Life Steamboat Pilot 21 June 2003
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set aside money from its television revenues to help its injured bull riders and their
families while they get back on their feet and back on the bulls.
Cowboys only get paid if they enter and win. No guarantees exist in rodeo,
and helping one another out is one of the basic tenets of the cowboy out of
necessity more than anything else. Cowboys who have enough to make it to a
particular rodeo may lack the resources to pay for a hotel room. Cowboy Bruce
Ford recalls, There were times I in a sleeping bag in a horse stall at rodeos
because I couldnt afford a room, and then there have been some of the most
glamorous stays one old country boy can imagine. The fortunes of cowboys on
the rodeo circuit are always in flux from glamour to starving and back again, so
they do what they can for their colleagues.
During World War I and World War II, the cowboys who could not
volunteer were dedicated to the war efforts through the promotion of war bonds
and conservation of resources. Today this spirit can still be seen at rodeos among
competitors. Even though cowboys themselves may be competing in the same
event does not mean that they are only looking out for themselves. If fact,
cowboys are always sharing, be it equipment, information about a particular
bucking horse or nasty bull, or simply a ride to the next big event, cowboys are the
shining example of good sportsmanship. Unlike stars of other sports, cowboys are
genuinely approachable. They love to talk to the fans and sign autographs. They
tend to be natural ambassadors for their sport. This was not always the case. After
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all, the reputation of the cowboy was not always so sparkling clean, but today
good behavior and even better manners are the norm.
This good behavior and kindness is also demonstrated by the treatment of
animals in the sport. Any cowboy in a rough stock event knows that half of the
score comes from the animal and half from the cowboy. If an animal athlete does
not perform to its highest capabilities, neither can the cowboy. Riders who draw a
less than spectacular mount will then have the option of a re-ride; however, that
can be a daunting choice fraught with danger. Riders involved in timed events are
even more dependent upon their animals for prizes. If a horse is not up to snuff, a
cowboys options are limited; it is hard to compete with an uncooperative animal
under you. Therefore, it is logical to assume that riders will take better care of the
animals than they do of themselves. This is true both during an animal's days of
competition and after they have been retired to pasture. Harry Void, one of the
stock contractors in Colorado, keeps his retired bucking broncs in a nice pasture in
Avondale. We like to keep our horses around forever. Its like an old folks home,
and it can get costly, but theyve earned their keep.178
To this end, the PRCA has developed a set of guidelines for the treatment
of livestock. This is a set of rules that actually go back to the 1930s. Today, the
PRCA consults with the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) and
178 Animal Welfare; The Care and Treatment of Professional Rodeo Livestock PRCA Brochure. P
4
95