Have you ever heard about rodeos? 

Not the contemporary ones with the professional bull riders but the ones that took place in the magical Era of the Wild West…

They were something, alright! Blood, sweat, and adrenaline filled the atmosphere and alpha males battling each other for first place. I’ll leave you a minute to picture it…

Let’s start unraveling the essence of what “rodeo” was and how it came to be what it is now. Shall we start from the basics? Is that a yes? Great!

Well, the word “rodeo” originates from the Spanish word “rodear” which means “to encircle”. Understandably, rodeos grew out of normal cattle ranch activities and, subsequently, the title is justifiable. Even before the original establishment of rodeos, cowboys got together to test each other in contests related to their ranch and cattle work. They competed in knowledge and skills. 

Rodeos firstly began as small roping and riding contests among cowboys in towns near ranches or at camps at the end of the cattle trails. In Pecos, Texas, on July 4, 1883, cowboys from two ranches, the Hash Knife and the W Ranch, competed in roping and riding contests as a way to settle an argument (there was obviously no better way to settle their differences than this). This is recognized by historians of the West as the first real rodeo. The first exhibition for the “prize money” was held in Prescott, Arizona Territory, on the 4th of July, 1888.

Casual contests evolved into planned celebrations. Many were scheduled around national holidays, such as Independence Day, or during traditional roundup times in the spring and fall. (-Hey Honey, should we go on vacation for the weekend? -Goodness no! There is a rodeo in town!) 

Early rodeos took place in open grassy areas. They gained popularity and soon dedicated rodeo circuits developed. In those rodeos, the ones that participated were mostly cowboys. 

Undoubtedly, many ranchers tried to take part but they were at a disadvantage. The events the participants had to compete in included calf roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, bareback “bronco” riding, and barrel racing…no easy tasks for a soft fella! It took macho men to triumph in all the above-listed activities.

Although about 90% of rodeo contestants were men, women helped to popularize rodeo and several popular women bronc riders, such as Bertha Kaepernick, participated in men’s events. Even in the wild and dangerous West, women did not back down nor played by societal rules.

Girl power!

Now wildly popular across the country, the shows traveled throughout the eastern United States and even across Europe and showcased what was already a mythic frontier life.

You must have heard, at least once, of “Buffalo Bill”, have you not? 

I’m sure you are thinking right now “That’s right! But I am not sure who he was or what he did for a living”. 

Well, let me tell you! William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody was the first to recognize the broad national appeal of the stock “characters” of the American West and tried to import actual cowboys and Indians into his productions. Even though he did not want to name it as one, it was still, of course, a show. It was entertainment, little different in its broad outlines from the contemporary theater. 

Buffalo Bill created his first show in 1883. He created many storylines that showed how life was like in the “Wild West”. He depicted many over changing scenarios such as westward migration and Indian attacks.

The cowboy riding and roping events of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show and other traveling shows became so popular that many western towns created annual Cowboy Tournaments. The first professional rodeo was held in Prescott, Arizona, in 1888 which, as was mentioned above, had a cash prize. 

In 1929 the Rodeo Association of America was formed in Salinas, California, and most of the events became standard and are just like the ones we have come to know today. 

Well, my dear, now you know a little bit more about rodeos, their origins and their growth throughout the centuries…Bull riding, wrestling, and “bareback” horse riding are sports that have lasted for decades and are still popular today. People practice for years in order for them to participate in rodeos and others travel across the U.S to witness them.

How about you, then? Have you ever been to a rodeo contest? And if you have not, would you like to live an experience as such?

Don’t forget to leave a comment below, to let me know your thoughts!


Written by Cassidy Hanton

54 COMMENTS

  1. As a child my family would travel to different rodeos around the western states. My great uncle would perform in the rodeos.

  2. I have only been to one rodeo but would go to more if I could the hubby to go. I love the excitement and danger that goes along with it. The Cowboys aren’t bad either. I would love to read a book that was based around rodeos!

  3. Very interesting! I’d never heard anything about how the rodeos began…or how it got the name “rodeo”.

  4. Liked your comments and the fact that you researched the subject. I have little patience with authors who don’t make an effort to learn and know facts as well as the history and customs of the times they write about.

  5. Yes, I have been to rodeos. I lived in Lovington N M, where Jake Mc Clure competed and another local cowboy, Troy Fort grew up. . I also grew up in Willcox Arizona where Rex Allen is from, who was a Hollywood star who actually grew up on a ranch. I lived on a farm in the Kansas Settlement there which my dad bought from the Riggs brothers who had a 3 section (small) ranch there. A great life.

  6. That was a very nice article.
    And actually I moved to Texas about 6 months ago and was lucky to go to the San Antonio rodeo.
    And its is amazing to see the wide array of talent. And to watch the barrel racing. These events take skill to get the timing down correctly. And God Bless the rodeo clowns. That job would scare me to death.
    And how quickly even the young ones lasso and tie the calves up.
    And you gotta be pretty tough to withstand all the pressure being put on your body.
    But definitely on some peoples blood. Just something they gotta be a part of.

      • Having never gone through the “I want a pony” stage as a young girl, it is ironic that I married a cowboy. We have been to many rodeos. My husband even competed for awhile. We are acquainted with many professional cowboys, most of whom are retired. Profiling takes a tremendous toll on their bodies. My husband actually had the doctor set his spur into his cast once. I pitched a fit.
        He store when we decided to start our family.
        These professionals are dedicated athletes. They train constantly. It.is very expensive too. Their animals, tack, and travel expenses and a lot of career dreams!
        You should do an article on rodeo livestock. People will.be surprised to learn how they are bred, trained, and their prices! Rodeo clowns deserve an article of their own. They are true heros.
        I enjoy all of your articles, keep ’em coming!

  7. I really haven’t thought about how they came about, but it makes sense.
    I have never been to one, just what I’ve watched in movies and read in books

  8. Thank you , that was very enlightening, I love reading, mostly historical novels, but lately, I have been reading western romances, and I find the friendliness and companionship, between the characters, extremely enjoyable, it will be nice if they can be downloaded to my second kindle, as I miss out on a lot of books going to my iPad kindle, and I have difficulty downloading them. Thank you Rita Cole, [email protected]

  9. Been to many rodeos in my years in Texas and Arizona. Have been to the Prescott AZ rodeo as well as the one in Canadian Texas which argues THEY are the oldest official rodeo.

  10. I enjoyed your article and learning about the history of the rodeo. My husband have actually attended a rodeo while on vacation. We also watched a college competition in a stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. We have friends here in Kentucky that raise cattle and horses. Their 3 girls and in 4H and are all 3 competing in 4H contests in this area and out of town. We think horses are beautiful animals and very talented when trained and ridden properly.

  11. Very informative and succinct. The old photos add a lot to the narrative. The rough and tumble of the rodeo must have been quite exciting in the past and no doubt still is. I think Australia has a small circuit and the best riders may go to the U. S. to try tneir luck.. Thanks for the article Cassidy.

  12. I enjoyed this article about rodeos. I have cousins that competed in and won in rodeos in New Mexico and one cousin actually won the calf roping championship in Vegas. I loved going to them then and I love them now. Thanks for the very interesting article.

  13. Yes ma’am i was raised in yhe rodeo sports and i did participate back in the days of my younger years, back in the 60’s and 70’s. Finding you rodeos info amazing thank you,.

  14. Cassidy:
    I have been to three rodeos in my life that I remember. One in Burwell, Nebraska and twice in South Dakota. The 2nd time in South Dakota was when my husband and I were invited by a married couple that we had harvested for for many years and parked our camper at their farm. One of our grandsons was along with us.

  15. Gosh, I have learned something new today: rodeo comes from the Spanish word rodear (to encircle). Wonderful meaning & a very exciting action filled event today. Yes, I have been to one here in Australia & was amazed by the antics of all the ‘cowboys’/cowgirls especially in the roping & branding events. The bull riding/bronco riding is also breathtaking & I cannot imagine myself enduring this ride even though it last for only 8 seconds!!

  16. Enjoyed your article and learn a lot from it. We used to go to the rodeo every Friday or Saturday night in n.y, also have been to the rodeo in Las Vegas and in Florida at the River Ranch. Love going to them.

  17. I have been to a rodeo that traveled to our town and I took my boys i found it enjoyable but dangerous i applaud their bravery

  18. I have loved cowboy story’s from Roy Rogers , Lone Ranger, wayett Erbb, Jessie James, wild Bill, ect. I love mail order brids, Ranchers, and bad boy cowboys. LOVE

  19. Went to my first rodeo in Cody, WY in 1980’s. It was thrilling. Drove thru Cody last year on vacation and it was a hopping town. Thank you for your info on rodeos. It takes a brave soul.. Love your books!!

  20. I love reading ur articles. They’re always so informative n I learn something new each time. Never been to a rodeo but would to see one. Always watch on TV,(when I can get the remote from hub). U once ran an article about the Victorian era. Don’t think I could’ve survived that era “unscathed”. My mouth would not stay shut.

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