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Saddling a wild horse, circa 1900
Saddling a wild horse, circa 1900 - Courtesy of the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

Cheyenne Frontier Days

Among the world's largest outdoor rodeos, Cheyenne Frontier Days celebrates the Western cowboy competing at his sport, and a town dedicated to providing Wyoming hospitality and flair to the throngs of visitors flocking to Cheyenne each July to witness the exciting events and participate in related festivities.

Following the Civil War, cowboys arrived on the northern plains to herd longhorn cattle up the trails from Mexico and Texas to provide beef to various military posts in the Wyoming territory. They were skilled and fearless horsemen. Cheyenne, in the heart of ranch land, saw many early attempts at staging cowboy sports. In 1896, a bunch of cowboys from the nearby Two Bar Ranch put on an impromptu cowboy contest in Cheyenne. In 1897, Cheyenne's new mayor created a board of trade to pursue badly needed economic development. At the same time, the Union Pacific Railroad was encouraging towns along the rail line to hold festivals. The railroad would benefit by selling excursion tickets, and the town would gain from tourists attracted to the festival. Within three weeks, the first Frontier Days was held on the Territorial Fairgrounds. It was advertised as a bronco busting and steer roping contest, was mostly pony races, At the conclusion of the roundup, the men from all the ranches involved gathered to sort cattle and brand calves. They roped steers and demonstrated rope tricks. They also challenged each other in the activity that was a true test of a cowboy's skill, riding bucking broncos.

The following year, the rodeo was expanded to two days, and included a parade featuring Buffalo Bill's entire troupe, and Indians were given a permanent place at the rodeo. That year, 6,000 people watched a fast paced Wild West Show, then trooped to the old fairgrounds, now called Frontier Park, for an afternoon of cowboy sports and horse races. In 1903, Cheyenne Frontier Days hosted President Theodore Roosevelt to a special performance. During the 1920s and 1930s, movie stars Pauline Frederick, William S. Hart, Tim McCoy and others were regular visitors to Frontier Days. So was the humorist Will Rogers.

The term "rodeo," as we use it today, was first used by the Cheyenne Frontier Days Committee during the mid-1920s. Until then, the word had its Spanish meaning of a roundup. Frontier Days' rodeo events comprise saddle bronco riding, bull dogging or steer wrestling, calf roping, bareback riding, bull riding, rodeo clowns and bull riders. A wild horse race has closed each afternoon's rodeo since the beginning of Frontier days. The world's championship bucking contest is among the most popular events. Other events include horse races, artillery drills and Indian war dances.

At early rodeos, downtown was the center of night time activity, which included a carnival and street dancing on specially built pavilions, some half a block long. Because of noise and traffic, in 1929 "Frontier Nights" was established at Frontier Park and a night show was introduced. Colorful rodeo women have been part of the event since early Frontier Days. Cowgirls compete in trick riding, fancy roping, riding bucking broncos, and some daring women have tried their hand at bull dogging and steer roping. Their own event, the Ladies' Relay Race, always thrill spectators.

In 1998, 183,000 visitors paid to see the rodeos and night shows. More than 300,000 people travel through Cheyenne during the last two weeks of July, helping Frontier Days to generate $2.5 million in sales for the city.

Documentation includes a detailed narrative legacy report, 28 photographs, a video 100 Years of Cheyenne Frontier Days.

Originally submitted by: Mike Enzi, Senator Craig Thomas, Senator & Rep. Barbara Cubin(At Large).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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