Where in Tarnation Did Rodeos Come From?
One day, a long time ago, someone, somewhere decided to get up on a wild horse and stay on it until it tired, avoiding being thrown off and stomped into the great everlasting. Thus, the rodeo was born.
The things humans do to impress their friends.
The word “rodeo” springs from the Spanish word “rodear,” meaning to encircle or surround, which is how vaqueros, or Spanish cattlemen, herded their cattle in the 1700s. Many aspects of Western cowboys, including their ranching methods, come from early Spanish settlers. During the 1800s, when America’s border expanded, and the states of Texas and California and the New Mexico Territory were formed, cowboys drove cattle to the Eastern U.S., where the population was exploding. When they returned home after finishing their annual cattle drives, they would celebrate by holding casual competitions among themselves, competing for the best roper, the best rider, and so on.
‘We’re first!’ ‘No, we are!’
Rodeos have been a popular pastime for decades, dotting the U.S. and Canada with annual competitions and festivals throughout the year. Have you ever wondered when and where these equine and bovine “field days” began? If you have, it’s quite likely you’ve come across multiple claims to fame with no clear winner.
Clifford P. Westermeier, the author of the book, “Man, Beast, Dust: The Story of Rodeo,” stated that it would be impossible to name the definitive time and place where the first rodeo for entertainment began, only that it began “out West.” The oldest rodeo for which Westermeier found proof dated back to 1869 in Colorado, where they organized a rodeo competition in the city of Deer Trail, with the winner awarded a new set of clothes.
Other “first ever” rodeos have been claimed by Pecos, Texas, and Prescott, Arizona, dating back to 1883 and 1888, respectively. This long-time debate between states was settled by the makers of Trivial Pursuit, where Prescott emerged the winner, qualifying the win using phrases like “formalized rodeo” and “organized rodeo.” Pecos still clings tight to the designation, whether Trivial Pursuit recognizes it or not.
Rodeos in the days of old were far simpler than the events and festivals put on today. One-day competitions consisted of the best rider of a bucking horse or bronco, the best roper, barrel racing, branding, and tie-down roping. They were held without fanfare, or even fans, between cowboys for good, old-fashioned fun and friendly competition.
A Bunch of Bull (Riding)
While roping and herding bulls were the central purpose for cowboys in the 1800s, riding bulls didn’t become a part of historic rodeo events until the early 1890s. Originally, a bull was ridden to death in a jaripeo event. This style of rodeo, along with bullfighting and prizefighting, was introduced in 1852, carried over from Spanish culture. Texas legislature later banned these activities as blood sports in 1891.
Eventually, traditional bulls were replaced by easier-to-manage steers and steer riding became a new sport at rodeo events. Bulls were only ridden until they stopped bucking (and kicking, spinning, rearing, and twisting).
(Don’t) Stop Clowning Around
One of the best aspects of a good rodeo event is the rodeo clown. These men and women receive their training on the job, beginning at smaller rodeo and riding events. Skilled at distraction, brave and experienced rodeo clowns have saved a good many riders’ lives by drawing an angry bull or horse away from a fallen rider.
Rodeo clowns also gain know-how by attending clown schools to learn clowning techniques and how to create their own personas. Rodeo clowns are sometimes—but not often—referred to as rodeo protection athletes, and they have the potential to earn a very solid income.
Two Bits, Four Bits, Six Bits, a Dollar
Today, the rodeo industry is a multibillion-dollar competitive event. Wyoming, South Dakota, and Texas claim the rodeo as their official state sport. Men and women compete in rodeo and the sport is governed by professional associations. Skilled riders take home impressive earnings from rodeo events. Sage Kimzey, a 23-year-old bull rider, earned $436,479 in winnings in 2017. Prizes today far exceed the first prizes awarded. For instance, the 2018 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo prize awards exceed $1,700,000 with an economic impact of over $250 million.
That’s a lot of bucking bits.
So, there you have it. The origins of rodeo plus a little extra. However, the best way to learn about rodeo is to experience it. Get yourself, your family and your friends to the 2018 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo February 8 – 25. Got tickets?