Rodeo – The Cowboy Olympics

As my family and I were making the long journey home from Anaheim, CA back to Abilene, TX last week following the RWA conference, we passed a billboard in Pecos, TX claiming to be the home of the world’s first rodeo. I smiled to myself as we passed, and didn’t think much more about it until it came time for me to put together a blog post. With all the wonderful Olympic events over the last fortnight, I wanted to keep with the spirit of competition, and what more classic western competition is there than the rodeo?







However, when I started digging into the history of rodeos, I quickly realized I had stumbled into dangerous territory. Pecos, TX isn’t the only town claiming to have hosted the first rodeo.

Now, I’m sure most of you know that rodeos evolved from friendly competitions cowboys would engage in at the end of long trail drives. They were a way to have fun, blow off steam, and blow up egos. Who was the best steer roper, bronco buster, or all-around drover? Well, let’s just have us a little friendly competition (along with some wagering, of course) to see who that might be. Each outfit would send their best men to represent the brand for bragging rights.

But who hosted the first organized rodeo?

Author Clifford P. Westermeier in his book Man, Beast, Dust: The Story of Rodeo cites a report in the Field and Farm Journal of Denver that claimed an Englishman named Emilnie Gardenshire and his horse, Montana Blizzard, competed in the first rodeo on July 4, 1869 at Deer Trail, CO and was named Champion Bronc Buster of the Plains and was awarded a new set of clothes in honor of his achievement. However, the most heated argument seems to be between the folks of Pecos, TX and those of Prescott, AZ.

So we’re gonna have us a little showdown.

Pecos, TX

July 4, 1883 – Recorded interviews (in 1928) from eyewitnesses who remembered attending the event. Men hanging out at Red Newell’s saloon decided to have a steer roping and bronco busting competition. Ranchers put up $40 in prize money making it the first organized rodeo with prize money. The rodeo did not recur on an annual basis, however, until 1929. Willard Porter, former rodeo director at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City agrees Pecos was chronologically first.


Prescott, AZ

July 4, 1888 – The first rodeo competition to charge admission and therefore make rodeo a spectator sport. It was organized by local merchants, area ranches were invited to compete, contests were documented, and prizes were given to the winners. It continued on an annual basis, though the location moved around slightly year to year. In 1985, the US Patent Office approved Prescott’s application to use the term “World’s Oldest Rodeo.”


The bullets really started to fly in 1985, when Pecos and Prescott shot it out with the makers of the game Trivial Pursuit. When the game listed Prescott as the place where rodeo was formalized, Pecos threatened to sue. Prescott threatened to sue if it was changed. When the dust settled, Prescott still had Trivial Pursuit’s vote as the oldest rodeo, although the people of Pecos hold fast to their claim.

Wherever rodeo originated, I’m just glad we have it, aren’t you? The world needs a place for hunky cowboys to strut their stuff.

So what is your favorite rodeo event? Would you vote for Pecos, TX or Prescott, AZ as being the first? Do you think rodeo events should be in the Olympics?

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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at:

21 thoughts on “Rodeo – The Cowboy Olympics”

  1. What an interesting concept….bull riding as an olympic sport… makes more sense than some of them now. I attended Cheyene Frontier Days last year for the first time and hope to go again next year. I can so see the wild horse race as an event. Always will be competition for those claiming to do something first and I’m not sure how it could ever be settled. You have made me want to research.

  2. Does it matter who had the first rodeo? Cause Wyoming has the Daddy of ‘Em All! :o) Seriously, I have to say Cheyenne Frontier Days is my favorite rodeo to attend, but I always enjoy the smaller county rodeos, as well. Being a crowd full of people you know and cheering on local cowboys.

    It’s funny you mentioned about rodeo being an Olympic sport. My dad and I just had that conversation the other day. We were talking about how the NFL wanted American football included in the Olympics and what a waste that would be, because the US would just dominate to such an extent it would be boring to watch. When I mentioned there was talk of rodeo becoming an Olympic event, we were all set to say the same and then we started listing the countries who had rodeos and dominate riders (i.e. Brazil, Canada, Australia, etc.) So, we came to the conclusion it should be included. But that’s just our humble opinion, and the IOC has not contacted us for our opinion…yet. :o)

  3. They should have Rodeo in the olympics,,they have a lot of stupid events,at least this would be more exciting than pingpong

  4. Hi, Kirsten. I like your style. Being the best outweighs being the first. 🙂

    How fun that you and your dad were talking about incorporating rodeo events into the Olympics. I figure if they have equestrian for all those fabulous, sleek, jumpers they can have some barrel racers, bronc busters, and bull riders. Right? I’d watch it.

    When the IOC contacts you, let them know I’d be willing to cast a vote in favor, too. 😉

  5. Hi, Vickie. I’m voting with you for adding rodeo events to the Olympic games. I’d pick watching that over handball or field hockey. I never can follow those since I don’t undersatnd the rules. You don’t have to understand of the rules of rodeo to enjoy watching the epic struggle of man vs. beast.

  6. I’d rather watch bull riding than a lot of other sports! It fits, too. Riders need the coordination of a gymnast, the strength of a weightlifter and courage that’s off the charts.

  7. Hi Karen – Interesting about the fight over which was the first rodeo. I’ll know the answer now when I play trivial pursuit. ;}

    I love rodeos. I think bullriding is my favorite. Maybe because it’s so dangerous and there’s a part of me that thinks the guys are crazy to do it. But I think the stunts the rodeo clowns do, are also very dangerous. I give those guys a lot of credit.

  8. You are so right about those rodeo clowns, Charlene. Sometime I think they have to even braver than the riders since they have to be ready to put themselves between the bull and the rider at a moment’s notice. It might be interesting to dig into their origins one of these days.

  9. You are correct, Karen that link was a fun article and I can see that no one will probablyn ever win that argument.

  10. Can’t say that rodeo should be in the Olympics. Among other things, the animal rights groups would make a mess of things. One other thing is the lack of its presence in so many areas. It isn’t a sport that would be easily adopted by many countries. The Americas and Australia (maybe New Zealand) are the focal point of these competitions. It is kind of nice have a competition that is truly unique to our area.
    Aside from that, it would probably have to be cleaned up for Olympic competition. Lets face it, the dust and dirt are part of the competition and the rodeo’s charm.

    Although they are nail biters, I like the bull riding and bronc riding. The animals have the advantage in both. The nerve, strength, and skill needed by all involved – riders, clowns, and pick-up riders -is hard to match. I think they are nuts, but it is a thrill to watch.

    Our first rodeo was the Pike’s Peak or Bust Days Rodeo. We had moved there from the Northeast and it was all new to us. Back then it was pretty much just a western thing. Today, there are rodeo competitions all over.

    If we get back out West, we would really like to attend the Cheyenne Frontier Days and the Calgary Stampede. One of these days, I hope.

  11. Glad you enjoyed the article, Connie. And I think you are right about the argument continuing with no end in sight.

    Patricia – You’re probably right about the lack of other nations interested in competing. It is a rather unique sport. Somehow I just don’t picture the prim and proper Brits sipping tea and eating tiny cakes amid the dirt and dust of a bull-riding contest. 🙂

  12. I agree with Pat. The animal rights people would be all over it–more so than they already are.
    I also think there are many countries that would rather eat the calf than rope it for fun.
    My family are all team ropers, so those are the sports we look to when we go to a rodeo. The All Indian Rodeo in Fallon, Nevada is an all time favorite of ours.
    My first rodeo was in Mammoth Lakes. It was the early 1950’s. The arena was made up of all the pickups faced inwards to form a circle. Then if you were lucky you drove away without any dents in the hood or worse–broken windshields. But it was so much fun. I never went to a BIG Rodeo. Only the local, small town ones. Our ranches competed a lot. Now there are Ranch Rodeos springing up all over. Those are really fun to go to.
    But no Olympics! The American Cowboy is ours alone. I don’t want to share him with anybody. Especially an uppity Brit! (Sorry).

  13. I love it, Mary! Let’s keep the cowboys where they belong!!! Perfect.

    What a fabulous description of the local rodeo with the pick up trucks as the coral! I can just picture that.

    I think the small, local rodeo competitions carry the true spirit of rodeo history, where local ranches sent their best men to compete for fun and bragging rights.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  14. Wonderful post, Karen, and by the way, it was beyond fabulous meeting you in person at RWA. I like the bull riding but roping a calf doesn’t inspire me much. 🙁 I had a great time at the Friday Night Rodeo in Bandera TX when I visited two years ago. I am planning to go back in October, but rodeo season is over then, boo. Thanks for this info!

  15. I loved getting to meet you in person, too, Tanya. Fabulous!

    I have to admit that you won’t usually find me in the rodeo crowd. I’m more likely to be at home with my nose in a book featuring an historic cowboy, but I sure do respect the skill it takes to do what those modern rodeo cowboys do!

  16. Loved your blog. I honestly think Pecos was the first to have a rodeo. But the Prescott one was undoubtedly larger so it got more publicity. All four stories of our second anthology took place during a rodeo in the fictional town of Kasota Springs. Those were certainly fun stories to write. Rodeos have so much going on that there’s never a loss of action.

    Did you happen to stop and see Judge Roy Bean’s place of business while you were in Pecos? I hear it’s interesting.

  17. Thanks, Linda. I remember Kasota Springs! Fun stuff. 🙂

    We didn’t actually stop in Pecos. We had too many hours to drive that day (12), so we just blew right by. I might have to go back when I can spend more time and check out the Judge’s place.

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