How Rodeo Became a Symbol of the American Frontier

The crowd went wild.

A cowboy, one hand on a stick and the other in the air, trying his best to get the horse to jump, kick and try to knock him down.

Part sport and part spectacle, the rodeo has become a symbol of the American frontier – yet its journey to becoming such an icon is international and has spanned 500 years.

Border Tradition

Mike Kassel, curator said: “If I wanted to describe a horse race to someone who has never had a chance to see it before, I want people to get into the spirit of a classic human-to-human competition. horse. and deputy director of the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum.

“We’re talking about receiving, for all intents and purposes, ferocious animals, animals that are very wild and free, and will fight to stay that way.”

The skills required to tame the animals are on full display at the rodeo. Rooted in tradition, the sport embodies the work cowboys have done to keep the livestock industry afloat – taming horses, steers and other large animals – for over 500 years.

He added: “There has always been this genuine desire to see what one can do against the forces of nature. “Animals certainly embody a lot of power and uncontrollable fury or unpredictability that could never be scripted.”

Saddles, steak and bragging rights

The origin of the rodeo dates back to the late 15th century. According to Kassel, at this time, cattle were brought in from Europe and raised on farms in areas of North and South America.

The skills of a rodeo began to spread north to the United States.
REUTERS / Todd Korol

Some of the earliest cattle-raising pioneers were men known as “vaqueros” in what would later become Mexico.

“They’ve developed all sorts of skills, like being able to use ropes, being able to grab animals, pull animals out of a brush, or herd livestock and take them to the barn,” says Kassel.

These skills began to spread to the northern United States.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, America’s border towns were growing, and cowboys saw an opportunity – they wanted to bring cattle to these towns, where they could be turned into food.

“It was the beginning of the big beef industry,” says Kassel.

To bring herds to these new towns, American men learned to strip the horses and manage the large herds of the Mexicans before them.

As cattle ranching and cowboy livelihoods began to flourish, so did the sport of rodeo.

“Cowboys and kangaroos always have a bit of guts when trying to prove who can break the wildest or worst horse better than anyone, or who will be the fastest to tie a calf or someone who directs and can again, maybe to subdue them and get them ready for use or drag them out to the cage to tag or get potions,” says Kassel.

Domesticated animals are on display at the rodeo.
REUTERS / Todd Korol

Then they started holding small competitions on or around the ranch and betting against each other.

“It’s a delight for vaqueros, and it really gives a lot of those men the right to brag about who’s the best,” says Kassel.

From there, smaller competitions developed, creating a clash in American culture at the time. According to Kassel, in the mid to late 19th century, people learned all about the wonderful experiences of explorers and people trying to master the western frontier.

“And cowboys, men of strong independence, are out to challenge these animals in a wild land, like an American ideal,” says Kassel.

“Cowboys fit perfectly into this wild and untamed countryside that everyone, not just here in the United States, but around the world, finds appealing.”

See you in Cheyenne

As cowboys became more popular, so did the rodeo in what would later be known as the Cowboy State.

Wyoming had one of the largest and wealthiest livestock industries in the country prior to 1886, according to Kassel. He noted that the town of Cheyenne, which had a population of about 8,000 at the time, had about 25 millionaires who made their money from the cattle industry.

But around 1886, a blizzard struck and destroyed the town’s beef industry. Over the next decade, Cheyenne’s glory days began to fade.

“In 1897, the community of Cheyenne, Wyoming was looking for a shot in the arm,” says Kassel.

Cue Frederick Angier, a ticket salesman for the Union Pacific Railroad Company.

Rodeo patrons began holding small competitions on or around the ranches and placing bets on each other.
Rodeo patrons began holding small competitions on or around the ranches and placing bets on each other.
Jeff McIntosh / Canadian Press via AP

According to Kassel, the story goes that as he was sitting at a Union Pacific warehouse in Cheyenne, he noticed some cowboys trying to get a horse into a covered wagon. The horse is fighting and the cowboys are colored with their tongues – and they begin to attract a crowd.

“Ranger himself was very emotional to see this, and he had this great idea,” Why isn’t there this kind of scene for those, like so many of our audience, who haven’t been on their own? Western experience, they have never seen cowboys? Kassel said.

He notes that Angier goes even further. In addition to having an event showcase this human-animal showcase, it will also celebrate cowboys, rodeos and the entire Old West experience in Cheyenne.

And so, in September 1897, the community celebrated the first Cheyenne Border Days. (After a few cold years in September – and August – the event has been moved to July.)

Today, some 125 years after the inaugural event, Cheyenne Frontier Days has grown into the largest open-air car race in the world.

amazing beasts

“What we have here in the sport of rodeo are people who will be able to witness some incredible contests of skill and incredible brute force that these very brave people, men and women, must do to tame them. big animals,” says Kassel.

“It’s just something that people need to see,” he added. “It’s a show that will continue to be popular as long as people love that thrill.”

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