Rodeo, sport involving a series of riding and roping contests derived from the working skills of the American cowboy as developed during the second half of the 19th century to support the open-range cattle industry in North America. Although its development as a sport occurred mainly in northern Mexico, the United States, and western Canada, rodeo’s popularity is global. In particular, many similar events and competitions can be found in South America, including the coleo of Venezuela and Colombia. The charreada of Mexico is a similar competition that evolved from the haciendas of colonial Mexico; its rodeo-like events are typically not timed but judged in terms of artistic merit.
Origins And History
Rodeos (from the Spanish rodear, “to encircle”) grew out of the work and play of 19th-century American cowboys and their Spanish-Mexican antecedents. They evolved from a time when cowboys would gather together during seasonal roundups or in the “cow towns” at the end of cattle-driving trails and vie for the unofficial title of best bucking-horse rider, roper, and so on. As the cowboys’ occupation was curtailed in scope by the railroads and by the fences that marked the end of the Open Range era, the contests became regular formal programs of entertainment. Many locales claim the distinction of being the first place to hold a rodeo in the United States—among them Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1872 and Winfield, Kansas, in 1882—but such early contests were merely exhibitions of riding and roping skills and not the highly organized shows that modern rodeo became.
Starting in the 1880s, various Wild West shows presented “cowboy tournaments” around the United States, associating the demonstration of western open-range practices with sporting performance. Prescott, Arizona Territory, held the first annual rodeo on July 4, 1888. Organized by a town committee, it included public advertising, admission charges, and championship prizes, establishing the venue as a true competitive spectator sport. Prescott was followed by major annual rodeo venues such as Cheyenne Frontier Days (1897), the Pendleton (Oregon) Round-Up (1910), and the Calgary Stampede (1912).