Until I decided to look into the history of the rodeo, I took it for granted that it was an American sporting event. Not so. Actually, rodeo started out as simply a part of cattle ranching, with roots going back to the Spanish ranches of the early 1700’s. Spanish vaqueros influenced the cowboy clothing, language, traditions and equipment, and that in turn influenced the sport of rodeo. Early ranch duties, like roping, horse breaking, riding, herding, branding, and more, are still the same today, except for modern methods and equipment.
Wickipedia gives this great description of the first rodeo (according to Harris Newmark) in 1858 in Los Angeles County: The third week in February witnessed one of the most interesting gatherings of rancheros characteristic of Southern California life I have ever seen. It was a typical rodeo, lasting two or three days, for the separating and regrouping of cattle and horses, and took place at the residence of William Workman at La Puente rancho. Strictly speaking, the rodeo continued but two days, or less; for, inasmuch as the cattle to be sorted and branded had to be deprived for the time being of their customary nourishment, the work was necessarily one of dispatch. Under the direction of a Judge of the Plains—on this occasion, the polished cavalier, Don Felipe Lugo—they were examined, parted and branded, or re-branded, with hot irons impressing a mark (generally a letter or odd monogram) duly registered at the Court House and protected by the County Recorder's certificate. Never have I seen finer horsemanship than was there displayed by those whose task it was to pursue the animal and throw the lasso around the head or leg; and as often as most of those present had probably seen the feat performed, great was their enthusiasm when each vaquero brought down his victim. Among the guests were most of the rancheros of wealth and note, together with their attendants, all of whom made up a company ready to enjoy the unlimited hospitality for which the Workmans were so renowned.
Aside from the business in hand of disposing of such an enormous number of mixed-up cattle in so short a time, what made the occasion one of keen delight was the remarkable, almost astounding ability of the horseman in controlling his animal; for lassoing cattle was not his only forte. The vaquero of early days was a clever rider and handler of horses, particularly the bronco—so often erroneously spelled broncho—sometimes a mustang, sometimes an Indian pony. Out of a drove that had never been saddled, he would lasso one, attach a halter to his neck and blindfold him by means of a strap some two or three inches in width fastened to the halter; after which he would suddenly mount the bronco and remove the blind, when the horse, unaccustomed to discipline or restraint, would buck and kick for over a quarter of a mile, and then stop only because of exhaustion. With seldom a mishap, however, the vaquero almost invariably broke the mustang to the saddle within three or four days. This little Mexican horse, while perhaps not so graceful as his American brother, was noted for endurance; and he could lope from morning till night, if necessary, without evidence of serious fatigue.
Speaking of this dexterity, I may add that now and then the early Californian vaquero gave a good exhibition of his prowess in the town itself. Runaways, due in part to the absence of hitching posts but frequently to carelessness, occurred daily; and sometimes a clever horseman who happened to be near would pursue, overtake and lasso the frightened steed before serious harm had been done.
Who would have believed that the Spanish introduced bull riding? Not me. They also invented steer wrestling (wrestling the steer to the ground by riding up behind it, grabbing its tail, and twisting it to the ground). Bull wrestling had been part of an ancient tradition throughout the ancient Mediterranean world including Spain. The ancient Minoans of Crete practiced bull jumping, bull riding, and bull wrestling. Bull wrestling may have been one of the Olympic sports events of the ancient Greeks.
Following the Texas Revolution and the U. S. Mexican War, contests sprang up between ranches. Bronc riding, bull riding, and roping contests eventually appeared at race tracks, fairgrounds, and festivals. William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) created the first major rodeo and the first Wild West show in North Platte, Nebraska in 1882. Following this success, Cody organized his touring Wild West show, leaving other entrepreneurs to create what became professional rodeo. Rodeos and Wild West shows enjoyed a parallel existence, employing many of the same stars, while capitalizing on the continuing allure of the mythic West. Women joined the Wild West and contest rodeo circuits in the 1890s and their participation grew as the activities spread geographically. Animal welfare groups began targeting rodeo from the earliest times, and have continued their efforts with varying degrees of success ever since.
So that’s the history of rodeo. Anyone know how many books have been written centering around rodeos?
Charlene Raddon began her fiction career in the third grade when she announced in Show & Tell that a baby sister she never had was killed by a black widow spider. She often penned stories featuring mistreated young girls whose mother accused of crimes her sister had actually committed. Her first serious attempt at writing fiction came in 1980 when she woke up from a vivid dream that compelled her to drag out a portable typewriter and begin writing. She’s been at it ever since. An early love for romance novels and the Wild West led her to choose the historical romance genre but she also writes contemporary romance. At present, she has five books published in paperback by Kensington Books (one under the pseudonym Rachel Summers), and four eBooks published by Tirgearr Publishing.
Charlene’s awards include: RWA Golden Heart Finalist, Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award Nomination, Affair de Coeur Magazine Reader/Writer Poll for Best Historical of the Year. Her books have won or place in several contests.
Find Charlene at http://www.charleneraddon.com