Cowboys & Cattle; Dirt, Mud, Sweat & Blood;
All these words can only conjure up one image, one word RODEO.
Today's rodeo, performed by professional athletes for big stakes in
huge arenas filled with cheering spectators has
come along way from its roots in the 1800s roundup camps.
In the days of the ranchos, the annual roundup and branding of cattle
was always an occasion for a display of horsemanship and roping. When
the principal chores of the event called a rodeo (from the Spanish word
rodear meaning "to surround" pronounced "ro-day-oh") were completed,
there was usually an exhibition and contest of skills by the cowboys, or
The skills displayed had a rich history tracing back to the great horsemanship traditions of the Spanish conquistadores.
During the late 1700s and early 1800s, Spain held much of the land
that is now the American West. When the missions were established, their
secular activities included raising cows for America's flourishing
cattle market. The need grew for skilled horsemen to handle and manage
Many of the padres who ran the missions were sons of Spanish
nobility. They were trained in the celebrated skills of horsemanship and
roping practiced in Spain for centuries. They passed on these skills to
their workers, who became known as vaqueros.
When mission lands were converted to privately owned ranchos during
Mexico's rule, the vaqueros found work running cattle and managing the
After America gained control of these lands from Mexico in 1848, the
vaqueros continued to work the big ranchos alongside their American
counterparts bringing with them their expertise and traditions.
It was after the Civil War, when cattle herds spread out throughout
the West, that the ranks of the American cowboy grew. They worked for
cattle barons driving cattle to the bustling stockyards of fast-growing
But this era was short lived. Railroad stock cars replaced cattle
drives and open rangelands were divided up and defined by barbed wire.
The demand for labor dwindled. Many a cowboy had to seek a new way of
There had always been informal competitions around the stockyards,
where cowboys, fueled by wages and whiskey, would challenge each other
to see who was the best at cutting a cow or roping. Spectators gathered
around to watch the action.
In small towns throughout the west, stock horse shows (sometimes
called rodeos), where cowboys could supplement their shrinking income,
began to spring up on a regular basis. Clever showmen like Buffalo Bill
Cody began to organize and elaborate on these events. America's
fascination with the "Wild West" was turned into a business.
The standardized events that now characterize rodeo are bareback
riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, calf roping
and bull riding alongside barrel racing and breakaway roping.