Life in the Old West

True stories, tall tales, memorabilia of the American West

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Order rodeo gear — then thank Buffalo Bill for it

Order rodeo gear, from saddles and ropes to rodeo wear of all sorts, then thank Buffalo Bill Cody for his role in “inventing” or at least popularizing modern rodeos.

Throughout America rodeo fans and participants from kids to old timers enjoy annual “Frontier Days” and high school or college rodeo contests. (I’m not a rodeo fan myself, although I’ve been to a few and had a cousin who was a bona fide professional rodeo clown.) I know there’s a professional rodeo circuit that’s been around for a long time, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (P.R.C.A.), and that cowboys and ranch hands from everywhere enjoy showing off their skills and rising to the challenge of serious rodeo competition all over America.

But what I didn’t know was this: William F. (“Buffalo Bill”) Cody, one of the truly “heroic” figures of the Old West, played a major role in the invention and development of modern rodeo. It began when he returned to his then-hometown of North Platte, Nebraska, in the summer of 1882 to find that the town was doing nothing special to celebrate the Fourth of July. He indicated to North Platte’s mayor and other town leaders that not having a big celebration for the Fourth was downright unpatriotic. They turned to Cody and appointed him to come up with something.

That Fourth of July celebration — dubbed an “Old Glory Blowout” by Buffalo Bill — is credited as the beginning of Cody’s U.S. touring show that became his full-blown “Wild West Show,” and also as the beginning of community-wide, formal rodeos.

Sure, rodeos began long before Cody’s day, as a gathering and display of riding and roping skills when cattle were rounded up; and even as organized competitions where cowboys and other skilled riders showcased and competed with each other. But several sources credit Cody’s “Old Glory Blowout” in North Platte on that Fourth of July as the launching point of annual, community-wide rodeos and growing interest in rodeos worldwide.

For more information about Cody and some terrific information about life in the Old West, I would recommend two excellent books. You can probably find them at a local bookstore, or on Amazon and eBay. The first is “The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill” by Don Russell (copyrighted 1960, University of Oklahoma Press). Cody was one of the most fascinating characters in the Old West, and this book has incredible stories and solid reference notes about him. The other book you need to own about Cody is “Buffalo Bill Cody: The Man Behind the Legend,” by Robert A. Carter (copyrighted 2000, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.). Carter’s book is probably the better of the two only because it relies on more recent sources. I strongly recommend both books.

Next time you order rodeo gear or anything related to the Old West, think of Buffalo Bill. I suspect the old showman and merchandiser would be pleased.

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