Are you one of the millions of Americans who enjoy a good rodeo? Have you ever ordered rodeo gear, from saddles and ropes to rodeo wear of all sorts? You can thank Buffalo Bill Cody for his role in "inventing," or at least widely popularizing, the modern rodeo.
Throughout America, rodeo fans and participants from kids to old timers enjoy such celebrations of horsemanship and old west lore as annual "frontier days," high school or college rodeo, and other contests of horsemanship and cowboy skills. (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 (PRCA), 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 did not 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 blustered about that fact, letting North Platte's mayor and other town leaders know that, in his mind, not having a big celebration for the Fourth was downright unpatriotic. They turned to Cody and appointed him to the job of coming up with something.
That Fourth of July celebration – dubbed an "Old Glory Blowout" by Buffalo Bill – is credited as the beginning of Cody's US 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 gatherings and displays 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.com or 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.
So the next time you order a saddle, some ropes, or any horse and rodeo gear, think of old Bill Cody. He won't make anything off the deal, but I expect he'd be pleased!