Note: I wrote this column back in August 2001 when I worked for John Tompkins and News Media Corporation. I’m grateful to the company for the opportunity to take trips like this one. Here’s the flashback:
A trip to see the ‘Daddy of ‘em all’
Last week I had the opportunity to meet with some fellow publishers in Wyoming and the best part of the trip was getting to see what’s billed as the nation’s largest rodeo, the Cheyenne Frontier Days.
There are rodeos all over the western United States and even in Canada, but Cheyenne’s is known as the “Daddy of ‘em all.”
The rodeo grounds is home to an extensive historical and art museum that I got to visit. It traces the rodeo’s history a long way back.
Would you believe the folks there started Frontier Days 105 years ago because they thought the old west and its traditions were fading away? Looking around Cheyenne that’s pretty hard to believe.
Nearly everyone wears cowboy shirts, hats, Wranglers and boots. I even saw some spurs on boots downtown. Everyone talks with an accent or drawl, even the visitors. You can’t eat anywhere without getting offered a big fat juicy steak. The twang of country music is about the only music heard. There are probably more horses than people around the town and almost as many pick-up trucks. I have a feeling it was only partly because of the rodeo.
The rodeo was where the excitement was (and you could smell it coming a mile away.) Most impressive was the bull riding. A cowboy ties one of his hands to rope around the bull’s chest, a rope around the bull’s groin is cinched tight to enrage him, the cage door is opened and the rider must hold on to the massive bull for eight seconds while holding his other hand in the air. Meanwhile, a posse of mounted rustlers and a couple of rodeo clowns look on to jump in when they’re needed.
I saw a few close calls. One rider got thrown off but his hand was stuck tied to the bull for eight seconds. He got tossed around like a rag doll until a clown lunged for the bull and yanked the ripcord. In a couple other incidents cowboys were thrown off and then run over by the bulls. Only luck kept the bulls’ hoofs from smashing their skulls.
About half the riders made it eight seconds and received a score, sort of like gymnastics, except up to 100 points. I saw the cowboys range between 50 and 91.
Other sports included saddled bronco riding, bareback bronco riding, calf roping, team steer roping and another crowd pleaser – steer wrestling.
A mounted cowboy comes charging out a gate chasing after 600-pound steer with horns. He flies off his horse like a Superman jumping on to the back of the steer and wrestling with its horns till it falls on its back.
At night the arena was turned into a stage for the sounds if Clay Walker, Toby Keith, Chris LeDoux and Brooks and Dunn.
The whole scene seemed a world away for city-raised boy like me, I can only imagine what people from the East Coast would think.
I was a little out of place in my Dockers and wingtips. Just to fit in, I got my first pair of Tony Llama boots, a couple of long-sleeved western shirts with extra starch, a leather belt with big chrome buttons and a white cowboy hat custom fit for my big head.
I had such a good time in Cheyenne that I even started to like the music by the time I left.
In a way, South Monterey County shares the same “western” spirit as Cheyenne’s Frontier Days, so don’t be surprised if you see me show up somewhere around here “cowboyed up” in my new duds.