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The Rodeo History and Facts. Rodeo History Early Years (1700s – 1890s) Introduction:

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The Rodeo

History and Facts


Rodeo History

Early Years (1700s – 1890s)


Rodeo is a window into the past while at the same time offers a unique and fully modern sport with an exciting and interesting atmosphere. The following slides present vocabulary and history identified with the rodeo.


The beginnings of rodeo can be traced back to the ranches of the early 1700’s, when the Spanish ruled the West.

The Spanish cattlemen, known as vaqueros, would influence the American cowboy with their clothing, language, traditions and equipment which would in turn influence the modern sport of rodeo. Duties on these early ranches included roping, horse breaking, riding, herding, branding, and much more.

The term vaquero literally in Spanish is "cowboy."Vaquero should not to be confused with the more formal term of caballero which literally means 'horseman' but is properly translated as “gentleman.”The term vaquero comes from two words:

Vaca the Spanish word for cow and Caballo the Spanish word for horse.


Birth of Western America

The early 1800’s saw the westward expansion of America’s border. Americans from the East came into contact with Spanish, Mexican, Californio, and Texican cowboys and began to copy and adapt their styles and traditions of working the ranches.

Ranchers would organize long cattle drives, to bring cattle from the stockyards into towns where trains would carry the cattle east. This was the golden age of the vaquero, who made his living on the many ranches

At the end of the long trails, these new American "Cowboys" would often hold informal competitions among themselves and the various different outfits to see which group had the best riders, ropers and all-around best drovers. It would be from these competitions that modern rodeo would eventually be born. The 1st recorded event took place at this time.


Barbed Wire and the Wild West Show

Eventually this open range era would come to an end with the expansion of the railroads and the introduction of barbed wire. There was no longer a need for long cattle drives. Many cowboys (and Native Americans as well), began to take jobs with a new American phenomenon, the Wild West Show.

Entrepreneurs like the legendary Buffalo Bill Cody began to organize these Wild West Shows. The shows were partly theater, and partly competition, with the objective of making money, glamorizing and preserving the disappearing American frontier. Much of the pageantry and showmanship of modern rodeo comes directly from these Wild West shows. Today rodeo competitors still call rodeos ‘shows’ and they participate in ‘performances’.


Cowboy Competitions

At the same time, other cowboys were supplementing their income at their usual informal competitions, which were now being held in front of paying spectators. Small towns across the frontier would hold annual stock horse shows, known as 'rodeos', or ‘gatherings’. Cowboys would often travel to these gatherings and put on what would be known then as ‘Cowboy Competitions’.

Of these two types of shows only the cowboy competitions would survive. Eventually Wild West Shows began to die out.The joining of competition with the gatherings would be the spark for what we now see as RODEO, originally two different aspects of western life joined to become a unique sport.

Spectators would now pay to see the competitions and cowboys would pay to compete, with their money going into the prize pool.

Many towns began to organize and promote their local rodeo, just as they do today.

In frontier towns all over the west the rodeo became the most anticipated event of the year.

Rodeos Lasting Traditions
  • There is no doubt that rodeo will continue through the 21st century. Whether we see continued growth or leveling off remains up to us, our ability to change while remaining true to the spirit of rodeo will be a challenging obstacle to face.
  • As we move further away from the livestock culture that dominated our early history, the importance of rodeo will undoubtedly increase.
  • Despite repeated attempts to destroy rodeo from different groups, rodeo will continue on where there remains a love of animals, competition, excitement, and the western experience.
  • Our duty as rodeo fans and participants is to learn all we can about the valuable history of our rodeo traditions in order to better defend it from those who wish to see it gone.
common competitive events
Common Competitive Events
  • Roping
    • The cowboy must use a type of looped rope, called a lariat or lasso, over the head of a calf or over the horns and around the back legs of a cattle.
  • Barrel Racing
    • The horse and rider must gallop around a pattern of barrels without knocking them over.
    • Timed for speed and agility.
  • Steer Wrestling
    • The cowboy jumps off a horse onto a steer and wrestles in to the ground.
    • Very dangerous!
  • Goat Tying
    • Event for women and pre-teen boys and girls.
    • The rider dismounts their horse, runs to the goat, wrestles it to the ground and ties it around the legs.
rough stock competitions
Rough Stock Competitions

Generally use two well-trained riders called “pick up men” to help the competitor if they fall.

  • Bronc Riding
    • The rider rides a bucking bronco (horse) with or without a saddle for as long as they can.
  • Bull Riding
    • Cowboys ride full grown bulls
    • Similar to bronc riding but much more dangerous.