Rodeo occupies a unique position in modern sports, having developed from an American culture that is rapidly changing. Rodeo is a window into the past while at the same time offers a unique and fully modern sport with an exciting and interesting atmosphere. Learn about the history of rodeo through the early years of its development.
Be sure to read the first part of this feature, Rodeo History: The Early Years.
The Early Organizations (1890s - 1950's):
With the disappearing lifestyle of the western frontier, the popularity of rodeo grew, and rodeos began to spread all across the country. Cowboys who had been facing grim prospects could now travel and make a living by rodeo alone. This was the birth of the professional rodeo competitor. New and organized rules were needed to protect the safety of the cowboys and animals, and to standardize the events.
Many of the major rodeo committees from larger rodeos came together in 1929 to cement uniform rules of competition for the emerging sport of rodeo. The new organization was dubbed the Rodeo Association of America (RAA). It now became possible to document and determine champions in each event. Yet even with this new organization there were still problems. Promoters often took advantage of the cowboys, judging was far from fair, and prize money often turned out less than agreed upon.
Turtles Strike Back
In 1936 a hallmark moment happened in the history of rodeo. A group of roughly 60 cowboys at the Boston Garden Rodeo, became angry over promoter W.T. Johnsons refusal to advertise the rodeo and to add their entry fees to the prize money. They decided to stage a walk-out and refused to compete. Johnson tried to find replacements without success and finally conceded.
With their demands met and a new found sense of worth, the cowboys formed the Cowboy Turtles Association. They called themselves turtles because, as the story goes, they were slow to organize but finally stuck their necks out. The Cowboy Turtles changed their name in 1945 to the Rodeo Cowboys Association and the modern sport of rodeo was born. Many early cowboys such as Fritz Truan, were also boxers, which is how the rodeo buckle became the preferred trophy of rodeo events.
Continue on to the third part of this feature, Rodeo History: The Modern Era.