The Fourth of July, Frontier Style

The Fourth of July was celebrated big time in the Old West.  From mining camps to wild cow towns, those early settlers used the day to whoop it up with dances, speeches, parades, foot races, and turkey shoots.  Not to be left out, even American Indians celebrated the day with pow-wows and dances. 

Some celebrations even took place in remote areas. In 1830, Mountain man William L. Sublette, on his way to Wind River with 81 men and 10 wagons, celebrated the holiday next to a large 130-foot-high rock.  Claiming to have “kept the 4th of July in due style,” Sublette named the large boulder Independence Rock.

Independence Rock

Located in what is now Wyoming, the rock became a signpost for travelers on the Oregon and Mormon trails. Companies arriving at the rock by July fourth knew they had made good time and would beat the mountain snows.  Celebrations included inscribing names on the rock and shooting off guns. 

Not every community celebrated with guns and fireworks.  In 1864, a mining town in Nevada decided to celebrate its first fourth with a dance.  Music, flag, and dance committees were formed. Of the three, the music committee was the most challenging as the only musician was a violinist who had an affinity for whiskey. His drinks had to be carefully regulated before the celebration.  

Stag Dance

Since the town lacked a flag, the flag committee pieced one together from a quilt.  Fortunately, a traveling family camping nearby provided the blue fabric.  The family included a mother and four girls, which meant more women for the dance.  The problem was the girls had no shoes, which would have made it difficult to dance on the rough wood floors.   The miners solved the problem by taking up a collection of brogans, and the dance went off without a hitch. 

William “Buffalo Bill” Cody made history in North Platte, Nebraska on July 4, 1882, when he mounted an exhibition of cowboy “sports.”  This was the beginning of his Wild West shows and what we now call a rodeo.

Not to be outdone, Dodge City did something different two years later for the Fourth of July to attract attention and business; It hosted the first professional Mexican bullfight on U.S. soil. Though the event was a financial success, it was not without controversy.  Many, including Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals, denounced the sport as barbaric.

Compared to the rest of the country, Denver’s first Fourth of July celebration was oddly subdued. Drinking or carousing was not allowed.  Instead, the Declaration of Independence was read, followed by prayers, “chaste and appropriate oration” and wholesome band music.

This year, most public celebrations have been canceled.  But we Americans will find a way to keep “the 4th of July in due style.”  Just like they did in the Old West.

How are you and your family celebrating the Fourth this year?


He may be a Texas Ranger, but he only has eyes for the outlaw’s beautiful daughter. Amazon



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31 thoughts on “The Fourth of July, Frontier Style”

  1. Fire works have been going off here for about a month now. Most are tired of the noise hoping it will stop after the 4th. Interesting how they celebrated so long ago.

    • Hi Kim, We’re having the same problem here. Fireworks have been going off every night for a month. I think people are just bored from staying home and this is their way of protesting.

  2. Happy 4th of July to you and everyone her on P & P. Our 4th will be low key. Barbecue, I plan to read as several of my favorite authors have released new books this week.
    This will be a different 4th our country. It’s one for the record books in which we do not want a repeat of 2020.
    Have a Blessed 4th.

  3. I enjoyed learning about Fourth of July back then. No plans for us. Tomorrow night the town next to us has fireworks, so we will drive to the edge of our neighborhood and park to watch them. Where we park, no one ever parks with us, so social distancing will be easy.

      • I always worry about fires too. When I was in my teens, I had a friend and they always shot them off behind their house. One time a spark caught the entire field behind the houses on fire and it moved fast. Luckily the fire fighters got it put out right before it got to any of the houses. People in my neighborhood shoot them off every year. I was up reading last night and about 11:00, I heard some going off. I dread the rest of this weekend and how noisy it will be.

  4. I guess we want be celebrating this year because I just had back surgery on June 30 so I am really soar right now.

  5. Wow, quite interesting about the different types of celebrations. We still have parades and fireworks here this weekend. Not quite sure what we will do because it is supposed to be upper 90’s in temp and I hate heat!

  6. Happy 4th of July to you Mrs Margaret!! My Hubs always smokes some ribs and Boston Butts on the grill so no changes here at our house from what we always do just spend time with the family.

  7. Happy 4th! My mom always told us the fireworks were for her, since it was her birthday. When grandkids were small we would take them to watch fireworks off the barge floating down the river. Lots of fun but years ago. Now it’s just another quiet day (except for all the locals shooting off fireworks every night here. too). Probably cook out, watch PBS celebration.

    Enjoyed the post! Thanks.

  8. Hi Sally, My daughter’s birthday is the third and as a child, she insisted the fireworks were for her. It seems like a lot of us are planning a quiet fourth. Take care.

  9. We will be sitting in our front yard watching the private fireworks in the town 15 miles away by road. Our hilltop view also allows us to see a number of displays from other farms in the area. It will be interesting to see how many there are this year with so many of the public events cancelled.

  10. We will be celebrating at home and then packing our camper to go to Wyoming to ATV the Big Horn Mountains. God bless the USA! Happy Independence Day Margaret. I loved reading your blog today. So special.

  11. I’ll be staying inside in the A/C and either watch a Capitol Fourth on PBS or watch fireworks from Orlando, or both, or neither, if they don’t happen. With this Covid stuff, so many things are being cancelled. I do know I’ll be inside in the A/C, as it’s been sooo hot here on the Space Coast of FL. It’s also supposed to rain the 4th, so we may have some natural fireworks going on with the lightening, since FL is the lightening capitol of the US.

  12. This is so interesting, Thank you for sharing about it. My husband and I are going to go to our daughters house , they live a couple of blocks away from us and we have been hanging out off and on, we will be having dinner with our daughter, son in law and our granddaughter and grandson we have with them and that we watch off and on. We will enjoy our grandchildren enjoying their fireworks.

  13. Thank you for the information on celebrations of the 4th. I can see how early on it was rather difficult to find women to dance with. I am sure any woman there would find it difficult to sit a dance out.

    This year will be quiet for us. We haven’t really discussed it. We are in our 70’s and I have a compromised immune system, so we have been very careful. Doctor appointments are about all I’ve gone out for since March 11. One daughter and her family we haven’t seen since Christmas are about 6 hours away in N. C. Even though they are following all the precautions, cases are surging there, so she doesn’t want us to visit. Our son and his wife live here but they socialize with their friends and we are sure none of them are wearing masks. Our other daughter and her family also live nearby and feel the precautions are not necessary. They all work where they are exposed constantly every day. So we are trying to keep our interactions to a minimum. So my husband and I will spend the day working in our gardens and grill something for a quiet meal. We really look forward to being able to visit family around the country and having get togethers here at our house, hopefully, by the holidays.

    I hope you have a wonderful weekend celebrating the 4th of July. Stay safe and healthy.

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