The 1847 diaries of travelling Irish military captain Mayne Reid provide perhaps the earliest rodeo documentation of vaqueros roping and throwing steers in the streets of Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory. These fiesta antics, transposed to cattle-driving communities such as Cheyenne (Wyoming Territory), Pecos City (Texas) and the pre-1900 ranches of what later became Alberta, fostered rodeo in its purest form.
In the Canadian West, broncobusting was considered sport at the Military Colonization Company ranch, and rope-throwing competitions were commonplace at the Fort Macleod Agricultural Fair in the 1880s. At the Walrond corral, John Ware is credited with some of the earliest exhibits of steer wrestling in 1892. The first Canadian rodeo was held in Raymond, Alta, in 1903. But it was not until the American show business phenomenon of the "Wild West Show" came to Canada in the early 1900s that spectators paid to see cowboy stunts.
Former American cowpuncher Guy Weadick is responsible for promoting Wild West Shows in Canada, and in 1908 took his idea for an annual frontier day celebration, "pioneer reunion" and cowboy competition for world championship titles to Calgary. With help from local politicians and businessmen, Weadick amassed over $100 000 for the first Calgary Stampede in 1912. It was a 6-day pageant and rodeo attracting more than 40 000 spectators a day, as well as legendary cowboys of the day - including some of Pancho Villa's bandits - in pursuit of $20 000 in prizes and world titles. WWI stalled the momentum of rodeo competition, but the Victory Stampede at Calgary (1919) revived cowboy contests in Canada permanently. Rodeo became an annual international event at Calgary in 1923 combined with an exhibition.
Rodeo's popularity sparked the growth of rodeo organizations in the 1930s, first with the Rodeo Assn of America (which represented primarily rodeo managers). In 1936, at an RAA rodeo in the Boston Gardens, Canadian and American cowboys broke the stranglehold that circuit managers had on rodeo purses when they staged a boycott; rodeo's first strike by professional cowboys succeeded in winning for competitors a greater percentage of the gate and precipitated the formation of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys' Assn in the US and the Canadian Rodeo Cowboys' Assn, founded 1944.
Despite periodic incursions to rearrange rodeo competition along team sport lines, the basic premise of individual human strength and precision against animal and clock has remained.
Among Canadians who have achieved international success as world champions in rodeo are Pete Knight (Crossfield, Alta), 4-time saddle bronc champ between 1932 and 1936; Nate Waldrum (Strathmore, Alta), bareback champ in 1933; Carl Olson (Calgary, Alta), saddle bronc champ in 1947; Marty Wood (Bowness, Alta), saddle bronc champ in 1958, 1964 and 1966; Winston Bruce (Calgary, Alta), saddle bronc champ in 1961; Kenny McLean (Okanagan Falls, BC), saddle bronc champ in 1962; Mel Hyland (Surrey, BC), saddle bronc champ in 1972; Jim Gladstone (Cardston, Alta), calf roping champ in 1977; Cody Snyder (Redcliff, Alta), first Canadian to win the world bull-riding championship in 1983;
Author TED BARRIS
Ted Barris, Rodeo Cowboys: The Last Heroes (1981); B. Berry, Let 'Er Buck! The Rodeo (1971); C. Eamer and T. Jones, The Canadian Rodeo Book (1982); D.K. Hall, Rodeo (1976); B. St. John, On Down the Road (1977).
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Professional Rodeo Association
Get to know the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association.
The official website for the Calgary Stampede, the world-renowned annual event that celebrates western heritage and traditions.
Earl Bascom: The Father of Modern Rodeo
See an article about Canadian rodeo pioneer and inventor Earl Bascom. From the Tri-State Livestock News website.
Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall Of Fame
Check out the biographies of Canada's most acclaimed rodeo performers.
Ray Knight Calf Roping
See a photograph of Ray Knight on horseback in a calf roping competition at the Calgary Stampede. From the Calgary Stampede Archives, University of Calgary.