Enjoy Rodeo Are you one of the millions of Americans who enjoys a good rodeo? Have
you ever ordered rodeo gear, from saddles and ropes to wear of all
sorts? You can thank Buffalo Bill Cody for his role in “inventing,” or at least
widely popularizing, the modern rodeo.
Throughout America, rodeo fans and participants from kids to old timers
enjoy such celebrations of horsemanship and Old West lore as annual
“Frontier Days,” high school or college rodeo, and other contests of
horsemanship and cowboy skills. (I’m not a rodeo fan myself, although I’ve
been to a few and had a cousin who was a bona fide professional rodeo
clown.) I know there’s a professional rodeo circuit that’s been around for a
long time, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (P.R.C.A.), and that
cowboys and ranch hands from everywhere enjoy showing off their skills
and rising to the challenge of serious rodeo competition all over America.
But what I didn’t know was this: William F. (“Buffalo Bill”) Cody, one of the
truly “heroic” figures of the Old West, played a major role in the invention
and development of modern rodeo. It began when he returned to his then-
hometown of North Platte, Nebraska, in the summer of 1882 to find that the
town was doing nothing special to celebrate the Fourth of July. He blustered
about that fact, letting North Platte’s mayor and other town leaders know
that, in his mind, not having a big celebration for the Fourth was downright unpatriotic. They turned to Cody and appointed him to the job of coming up with something.
That Fourth of July celebration — dubbed an “Old Glory Blowout” by Buffalo Bill — is credited as the beginning of Cody’s U.S. touring show that became his full-blown “Wild West Show,” and also as the beginning of community-wide, formal rodeos.
Sure, rodeos began long before Cody’s day, as gatherings and displays of
riding and roping skills when cattle were rounded up;
and even as organized competitions where cowboys and other skilled riders showcased
and competed with each other. But several sources credit Cody’s “Old Glory
Blowout” in North Platte on that Fourth of July as the launching point of
annual, community-wide rodeos and growing interest in rodeos worldwide.
For more information about Cody and some terrific information about life
in the Old West, I would recommend two excellent books.You can probably
find them at a local bookstore, or on Amazon.com or eBay. The first is “The
Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill” by Don Russell (copyrighted 1960,
University of Oklahoma Press). Cody was one of the most fascinating characters in the Old West, and this book has incredible stories and solid reference notes about him. The other book you need to own about Cody is “Buffalo Bill Cody: The Man Behind the Legend,” by Robert A. Carter (copyrighted 2000, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.). Carter’s book is probably the better of the two only because it relies on more recent sources. I strongly recommend both books.
So the next time you order a saddle, some ropes, or any horse and rodeo gear, think of old Bill Cody. He won’t make anything off the deal, but I expect he’d be pleased!