” Whirling lariats!
Raring, plunging broncs!
Flying, stamping, prancing hoofs!
Husky cowboys and vivacious cowgirls scoffing
Peril in their death-defying contests of the range.”
That’s Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Frontier Days advertisement in the Union Pacific Magazine.
Cheyenne Frontier Days is a 10 days celebration of the Old West traditions and heritage. It is not the oldest rodeo in the US (this title belongs to the rodeo in Prescott, AZ), but it is definitely the largest and the most popular.
After the Civil War cowboys were in the business of driving herds of cattle from Mexico and Texas to the military outposts in Wyoming. Some of the cattle went loose and roamed wild on the Northern Plains. It took lots of skills for cowboys to rope, tame, and to brand these wild animals. Cowboys often challenged each other in roping tricks and spontaneous competitions emerged. Cowboys also competed in riding bucking broncos. It was customary for ranchers in the West to let horses roam free in an open range. When these feral horses reached maturity they were captured in order to be “broken in” or tamed. Mustangs were captured too because they often roamed together with broncs in wild herds. The word bronco in Spanish means “rough” and also describes a horse.
Cheyenne Frontier Day rodeo was an invention of the travelling agent of the Union Pacific Railroad Frederic W. Angier. This event emerged as a result of his brilliant idea and organizational skills. It was intended to attract more passengers and increase sales. Angier contacted the mayor of Cheyenne, local businessmen and the newspaper editor. In just three weeks a volunteers’ committee was organized, money was raised, and the place of the rodeo was chosen, the Old Pioneer Park, near Fort D. A. Russell. The fist Cheyenne Frontier Day took place on September, 23 in 1897 and it was a great success.
The tradition of the annual celebration was established. The following year Buffalo Bill Cody brought his “Wild West Show of the Rough Riders of the World” which attracted even more spectators and fans. Sioux were a part of his show. A group of Shoshone Indians also arrived to be a part of the rodeo. Cheyenne Frontier Day became more and more popular with more activities and entertainment added to the initial one day celebration. Eventually, it grew so popular and stunning that it became “The Daddy of ‘em all.”
Nowadays, every other morning, visitors to Cheyenne Frontier Days were welcomed with free pancake breakfasts. Grand Parades, which took place every other day as well, are a wonderful introduction to the past and the present of Cheyenne. Numerous horse drown buggies, carriages, floats and stage coaches, represent local businesses and places such as the Yellowstone park transportation company, a Brewery, Cheyenne Deadwood Stage line, a funeral hearse, Boot hill (a cemetery for gunfighters, who died with their boots on), and Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum. The Parade starts from the Cheyenne State Capitol.
In 1898 Buffalo Bill with his Wild West Show participated in the Parade. Buffalo Bill became one of the notable people in the end of the 19 century due to the great popularity of his show. His real name was William F. Cody (1846-1917) and he was a fearless “Pony Express” rider, a U.S. army scout, an Indian fighter, a buffalo hunter, and later a performer and entrepreneur. He got his nickname for setting a record in killing 4,820 buffalo in the Northern Plains. Once, he and General Custer led a buffalo hunting trip for the Grand Duke Alexei of Russia. This trip was organized by President Ulysses S. Grant.
In 1910 the former President Theodore Roosevelt was one of the honorable spectators of the parade and of the rodeo. At other times, until 1925, the Parade was just a race of rowdy cowboys riding their wild broncos’ trying to rope pretty girls. The parades often surprised visitors with stage coach robberies or the hanging of a villain by vigilantes, which were performed by volunteers.
The “Behind the chute” tour is free to all visitors and is an interesting insight in the life of the animals participating in a rodeo. One of the contractors, who provided broncos and steers for the Cheyenne Frontier Days 2016, was introduced in the beginning of the tour.
Contractors raise and train broncs and bulls to perform in rodeo. All wild horses buck in the beginning, but some of them are not as persistent as the others. Broncos, which eventually stop bucking, become excellent saddle horses. Others are rebels at heart and continue bucking no matter what. These broncs become athletes-performers in rodeo. During training cowboys let bucking broncs throw them off. Cowboys do it in a safe manner, just by slipping off, to avoid injuries. Sometimes, cowboys loosely tie a dummy to the bronc’s back. Broncs learn that they have to buck and throw off everybody. Cowboys also train broncs to get away from the rider as soon as he falls. But some broncos, often the best of them, never learn this trick. They try to trample the rider on the ground and they are called “Outlaws.”
Chutes were initially introduced by Verne Elliot in the 1920s. Before that broncos were saddled in the arena. Elliot was an avid contestant in both timed and scored events of rodeo since 1907. After been injured he became a stock contractor. He was also known for introducing Brahma bull riding. Brahma bulls are very aggressive and dangerous to ride.
Elliot and his partner Eddie McCarty had been the owners of the famous broncs Midnight and Five Minutes to Midnight. Five Minutes to Midnight was smaller and weighted about 900 pounds, whereas Midnight weighed 1,300 pounds. They were both discovered in Alberta, Canada. The first man who rode Midnight was Pete Bruised Head, a Canadian Indian. Elliot was inducted into the Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame as were Midnight and Five Minutes to Midnight. Midnight was a star of the rodeo. He threw off almost everybody who tried to ride him.
The Rodeo starts around noon and it is the most exciting part of the day. It keeps visitors on the edge of their seats and takes their breath away. Cowboys and cowgirls come to Cheyenne from many states to compete and to demonstrate their skills, courage and endurance. But their performance is only half of their score. The other half is based on the performance of the animals. The more a bronco or a bull will buck, spin, or pitch trying the throw off the rider, the higher the score.
Broncs, bulls and steers are also considered to be athletes. Cowboys and cowgirls compete with each other, but also with animals in the arena. You never know who will be the star of a show: a cowboy or a bronco, or a bull. Everything can happen during performances: occasional somersaults in the steer wrestling events, dramatic falls, or running for your life to avoid being trampled by a bronco or gored by a bull. Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo is stunning, loud and fast paced. It celebrates the cowboys’ spirit and that special sense of humor when broken bones and injuries are considered petty nuisances and a reason to get back on one’s feet, shake the mud from chaps and go for the bigger prize with a grin on your face.
To be continued.
Wyoming Tales and Trails featuring Photographs and History of Old Wyoming by G.B Dobson: http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/frontierdays.html.