RODEO HISTORY A TO Z
Prescott, Arizona, started having a rodeo in 1888, and was held on the 4th of July. They had held gatherings on the 4th of July before but after a few years it didn’t seemed to hold the attention of the people and the numbers attending diminished. So in 1888 a committee was formed that invited cowboys to compete in bronc riding, steer roping and tying, plus cow pony racing. Prizes were awarded including a sterling silver trophy for the “Best Cowboy”. Juan Leivas won the All-Around a received a saddle, bridle, spurs and the trophy.
Cheyenne Frontier Days (Wyoming) began in 1897 on September 23rd. More than 15,000 people attended after they decided to advertise all over the country and had special trains put to use to bring folks to Cheyenne. Many wild horses roamed the country near Cheyenne in those days and cowboys brought around fifty of them to town for the event. Bill Jones won the Champion Bucking and Pitching Contest and was given $25. The owner of the horse he rode received $100.
Pendleton, Oregon, had a two-day broncbusting competition in 1909. Lee Caldwell took first place and the second day C. S. Topton won. The following year, 1910, Roy Raley headed a group of business men who formed the Northwest Frontier Celebration Association and filed as a non-profit organization with a budget of $2,860. They also sold five hundred shares in capital stock at $10 each. They called their event Pendleton RoundUp. It began by holding Indian and military activities, cowboy racing, and bronco busting for the championship of the Northwest.
In 1912 Calgary was formed by four wealthy cattlemen putting up $25,000 each. Guy Weadick ramrodded the first Calgary Stampede and send Ad P. Day to Cheyenne to sign up fifty top contestants. The Stampede was advertised across Canada, the United States and even in to Mexico, with excursion trains with special rates, scheduled to bring spectators as well as the competing cowboys and cowgirls. Tom Three Persons won $1,000, a saddle and a gold belt buckle at that first event. One hundred-twenty thousand people attended the six day event.
Iowa’s Championship Rodeo began in 1923. It was the successor to an Old Soldier’s Reunion, which began in 1889. The Reunion consisted of “a ball game, an occasional balloon ascension and a few ballyhoos, together with a speaking program, although the music of a wheezy old merry-go-round used to ‘kill off’ the speakers who vainly labored against it”. (This was written in the book “50 Years of Rodeo with Williams, Jobe, Gibson American Legion Post No. 128, Sidney, Iowa Rodeo”.) In 1923 when the Reunion was about to disband, for lack of interest, the American Legion decided to try bronc riding and the ‘bad’ horses from the area were brought in. A rope was stretched around a baseball diamond, the horses were snubbed down, saddled and mounted and the rodeo was on. This amusement went on for four days. In 1925 the Legion boys shipped a carload of ponies, built corrals, paid riders $5 per mount and the third annual also ended well. Meanwhile the sponsors were learning where mistakes were made and had them corrected. It was written – “and so many improvements were made at very little cost but with an awful lot of hard work,”. It took a few years of improvements, but the rodeo continued to grow and became large enough to compete with Cheyenne Frontier Days although Sidney only had a population of 1,000 people. The cowboys coming from far away had to tent or stay with local families. It has continued for 93 years and the next Sidney rodeo will be held August 2nd through 6th, 2017, with $85,360 in prize money (listed as 133rd in the 600 PRCA rodeos money-wise.) Fans will be watching from an 8,000 seat grandstand, and yet their population is still around 1190 residents.
Some competitions were only held a few times: The Festival of Mountain and Plain in Denver, Colorado, began in 1895 with parades, band competitions and merry-making as the main fare. However, after a few years the parades and activities seemed to lose their excitement for those attending. The officials decided to include the World’s Championship Broncho Busting Contest in 1901. This was the first event to designated a “World Champion”, while giving away a cash prize, plus awarding a symbolic championship belt worth $500 which, if won three times by the champion, could be retired permanently. The first winner was Thad Sowder. His first bronc contest win was in 1900 at Cheyenne Frontier Days. In 1901 he rode a tough horse until it stopped bucking or until a gun was shot off. The following year, 1902 in Denver at the Festival, he was invited back to defend his title. There were 64 riders, and 89 horses, including the famous ‘Steamboat’. Sowder drew and rode Steamboat and was declared the champion for the second consecutive time. The Festival ended in 1902 and not held in 1903 but it was determined to have the Broncho Busting Contest anyway and continue to use the Festival rules.After all they had that championship belt, worth $500, which if won three times could be kept by the winner. Sowder was there, The final contest was between Sowder and William McNeerlan, of Virginia Dale, Colorado. Sowder brought “Bald Hornet”, a bronc which McNeerlan rode, and Sowder rode McNeerlan’s horse “7-X-L Outlaw”. The purse was $1,000, but no decision was reached by the judges. Why the judges could not reach a decision as to which rider was the winner remains a mystery. The belt, that was not won three times, was turned over to the State Historical Society of Colorado and has been on display in the History Museum in Denver. Sowder lived in Cheyenne in 1900, but later made the Lazy D Ranch, near Julesburg, in northeast Colorado, his home.
The first rodeo to be held back East was ramrodded by Guy Weadick, the producer that started the Calgary Stampede. It was held at Sheepshead Bay Speedway in Brooklyn in 1916. It was to last 12 days and prizes were to be $50,000 in cash. It was advertised far and wide and was the biggest rodeo ever held anywhere, at that time, in (1) number of days and (2) amount of prize money. Two railroad parties of cowboys and cowgirls were assembled, one in Cheyenne, Wyoming and one in Fort Worth, Texas, so they could get baggage cars to ship their horses. Foghorn Clancy wrote in his book “My Fifty Years in Rodeo”, “We had our own special Pullman car for the Cheyenne group. My salary for announcing the show was to be $350. I felt I was in the big money class!” All the cowboys and cowgirls were so excited to go to New York, see the sights, and compete, too! Unfortunately, the New York Stampede was a financial failure. There was a severe infantile paralysis epidemic that had struck New York and if that wasn’t enough to keep people from attending, (Polio epidemics encouraged folks to stay away from crowded gatherings). there was also a streetcar strike going on. There was no way the spectators from other burrough’s could get to Sheepshead Bay. The streetcar was a major means of transportation in those days. Low attendance caused some of the financial backers to pull back some of the monies they had promised. Everyone that won in their event was paid, but the amount was greatly diminished. On the positive side, it brought the best cowboys and cowgirls to the East, and it gave the sport a tremendous boost. By 1922, rodeos happened in New York every year until 1959 when the National Finals Rodeo began to be held. Although there is no comparison, the rodeo in New York City has often been considered the ‘unofficial predecessor to the Finals Rodeo. Eastern crowds were always huge.
Until the next installment, may your troubles be less, may your blessings be more, and may nothing but happiness come through your door!