Rodeo competitions feature an array of events. Some have obvious origins: bareback and saddle bronc riding are how cowboys break wild horses. Others have more curious backstories. Check out the origins of three rodeo events.
This event started in the 1930s as a female-focused event. It isn’t a common ranching activity but is a good indicator of speed and control.
Rodeo organizers wanted more women involved in safer events, so they designed a contest to judge which woman had the best outfit, best-looking horse and most skill riding in a pattern around three barrels.
“To include women more, the committees could either host roping events that women could compete in, or barrel racing,” said Megan Winterfeldt, ProRodeo Hall of Fame exhibits and collections coordinator. “Because there’s less involved with barrel racing setup-wise, it became the more popular one.”
Originally, the rider made a figure eight pattern around the barrels, but it eventually evolved to the more challenging cloverleaf pattern, where the fastest rider wins.
Sometimes referred to as bulldogging, the event dates back to about 1900, when Texas cowboy Bill Pickett came up with a unique method of getting a steer to the ground.
“To shock the crowd, [Pickett] would jump off the back of a good horse onto a steer, drag it to a stop and then he would bite its lip and force it to fall to the ground and he’d just hold it there with his teeth for a few seconds,” said Michael Kassel, assistant director and exhibits curator at The Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum.
Pickett apparently got the idea watching herd dogs do a similar act when they were wrangling cows. He traveled to Mexico, Canada, South America and England to show off his odd, impressive skill.
“It started as an exhibition thing,” said Winterfeldt. “Other people learned the trick and then they decided that it was better just to use your hands (and) a little more hygienic.”
The event doesn’t have much practicality in ranching life, but it is an incredibly difficult feat to force an animal to the ground by the horns using only one’s hands.
“There are a lot of cowboys that do it, but it’s rough on people,” Kassel said. “You have to be a certain size, a certain weight and have a certain speed to be able to do that.”
No matter the size, though, steer wrestling can easily result in injury.
“It has pretty inherent risks,” Kassel said. “Jumping off of a perfectly good horse onto an uncooperative animal can end up rather badly.”
This sport may date back thousands of years to the Greeks, who possibly included bull wrestling as a sport in the ancient Olympics. Throughout time, bulls have had the allure as one of humankind’s most dangerous adversaries.
“For everybody that has cattle as part of their lifestyle, the bulls are always a famed opponent or an antagonist,” Kassel said. “The bull has always been a natural opponent for men.”
The sport has roots in Spanish and Mexican bullfighting but has evolved over the past few centuries to its own distinct version.
The modern event has remained about the same for close to one hundred years, dating back to around 1930, when Earl Bascom introduced the Brahma strain of bulls to rodeo. Before that, many rodeos only had steer riding or small bull riding. Bascom’s introduction of Brahma bulls made the already dangerous event that much more difficult.
Brahma bulls were bigger and meaner than average bulls or steers, bringing intense anticipation to the potentially lethal event.
“What self-respecting cowboy would try and ride a bull?” Kassel said. “It just doesn’t make sense. But with the amount of fight these animals had, it was fun to watch.”
For more rodeo insider stories, pick up a complimentary copy of the official Sheridan WYO Rodeo magazine by The Sheridan Press, available at 144 E. Grinnell Plaza.