SHERIDAN — The Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo board has invested more than $468,000 worth of improvements toward the Sheridan County Fairgrounds since 2005. The contributions were celebrated this morning by an official action of the Sheridan County Commissioners to acknowledge the hard work of the board and accept the gift on behalf of the community.
In less than a decade, the Wyo-Rodeo has contributed money to have heat and air conditioning in the fairgrounds exhibit hall (a cost that was split with the Fair Board), portable pens for livestock, the Gold Buckle Club grandstand and additional chute-side seating, Wi-Fi equipment and structural improvements to the crow’s nest. This collection of improvements is the most significant since the main grandstand was reconstructed in 1988.
“There are two things accomplished over the years by doing all this stuff for the fairgrounds,” Sheridan County Commissioner and former rodeo board Trustee Tom Ringley said. “First of all, they needed to do it so they could have the rodeo, and second of all, they gave it to the community so the community could use it the rest of the year.
“From the time they built the first grandstands in 1931, the understanding was always that there was going to be a rodeo, but that it was a community asset,” Ringley said.
He added that large purchases were not always possible for the Wyo-Rodeo board, but an influx in attendance in the last decade has generated more revenue for facility improvements.
“We’ve never done this before — the transferring of assets,” Ringley said. “We’ve never spent so much money up there before, either. We thought we should have an agreement these belong to the community.”
Attendance at the Wyo-Rodeo has jumped from approximately 8,000 people 10 or so years ago to an estimated 20,000 last year.
While the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo could have chosen to operate as a for-profit business, Board President Zane Garstad said Sheridan’s rodeo was designed to benefit the community as a whole.
“It’s our way of saying we get a lot from our community and we want to give back as well,” Garstad said. “It makes sense to turn that over to the fairgrounds and the county. It’s awesome we could do that.”
Garstad said a core group of key supporters has not only kept the rodeo going strong in recent years, but has allowed for its growth.
“The Gold Buckle Club has been instrumental in allowing us to fund projects,” he said, referring to the organization that provides significant annual pledges for the continuance of the show.
Garstad said the event is evidence that despite changing times, Sheridan is, at its heart, a cowboy town.
“We are so fortunate because the community really owns our event,” Garstad said.
While Ringley works for the county as a commissioner and his son, Jamie Ringley, runs the fairgrounds for the county, neither stands to make any personal financial gains with the transfer of assets.
A storied history
In addition to being a longtime board member and associate of Wyo-Rodeo organizers, Ringley has earned the hat of event historian. His 2004 memoir of the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo, details the event’s more than 80-year history, teasing out the perseverance of the community that helped the rodeo withstand the test of time and become a staple of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit.
According to Ringley’s historical account, Sheridan was a sleepy town in the summertime before the inception of the rodeo in 1931. Ringley’s book contains a section from a written argument for creating a local rodeo that summarizes the town’s pre-rodeo days.
“Any day from July 1st to September 1st you could shoot a shotgun down the Main Street and have no fear of injuring anyone,” it read.
Many of the reasons locals went to such lengths to create the event were the same as they are today: to bring the community together and capitalize on the inevitable tourist draw of a big show.
As early as 1885, there was substantial rodeo activity in Sheridan County. The earliest Sheridan-based rodeo took place at an old fairgrounds that existed on the land that is now occupied by the Mill Inn. However, by the early 1920s, rodeos had largely left town and were instead found by only a few thousand in the surrounding areas of UCross, Soldier Creek,Story, Clearmont and Wyola.
Efforts of the newly formed rodeo board were to have a consolidated event in Sheridan to save taxpayers money, put forth a collective advertising effort and create a midsummer activity for the community.
The board ultimately invested $10,000, which is equivocal to more than $150,000 today, to construct the first grandstands at the fairground.
“If you think about it, it was quite a commitment they first took on,” Ringley said. “They spent that much money just to have a rodeo. Then, they’ve continued on through the years.”
The first Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo was a three-day event that featured not only the mainstay rodeo events, but a night show featuring theatrical performances from hundreds of Crow Indians. Over the years, the show was modified to best accommodate available resources and the current political climate.
While rodeo queens, pageants and traditions have come and gone over the years, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo has happened every year since 1931, with the exception of 1942 and 1943 because of World War II. Attendance at the rodeo began to decline in the 1960s, when television and the availability of other entertainment became a major competitor for the rodeo performance, but the recent decade has been met with an influx of community support and an estimated attendance of about 20,000 people.