July 4, 1869: Outfits from the Hashknife, Camp Stool and Mill Iron ranches convened in Deer Trail, Colorado, for a match rodeo to determine the best cowboy of the cattle trails. The Mill Iron’s Emilnie Gardenshire won the event aboard the Hashknife’s Montana Blizzard, earning himself a brand-new suit and title, Champion Bronco Buster of the Plains. This 4th of July marks the 150th anniversary of the event, which will feature a commemorative bronc riding match, in addition to the rodeo. The prizes, fittingly, will include a $1,000 gift certificate for a brand-new suit.
July 4, 1876: Emancipated slave Nat Love (1854–1921) moved west from Tennessee to become a cattle trail cowboy for a Texas panhandle outfit before landing in a long-term gig with a Gila-River-region ranch in Arizona. After delivering a load of cattle to Deadwood, South Dakota, the miners and gamblers of the area pooled $200 (more than $4,500 in today’s dollar) for a July 4th mustang roping contest—marking what may be the first known jackpot. Nat Love was able to rope, saddle, mount and buck out his mustang in nine minutes, earning him the world’s first champion roper title—Champion Roper of the Western Cattle Country—as well as the moniker, Deadwood Dick.
July 4, 1882: Buffalo Bill Cody hosts the “Old Glory Blowout” in North Platte, Nebraska. Though it was more show than rodeo, it demonstrated that townspeople were willing to gather and celebrate cowboy competition, that ropers and riders numbering in the thousands were willing to compete for sponsored prizes, and, to prospecting producers, that there was money to be made in all of it.
July 4, 1883: Pecos, Texas, hosts its first West of the Pecos rodeo. The event continues to be held each 4th of July, and lays claim to being “The World’s First Rodeo.” As an organized event that appears to be the first to award cash prizes to its contestants, the claim has merit, although it wasn’t until the 1910s that the word “rodeo” was used to describe these events, which were then known as “cowboy competitions.”
July 4, 1888: Juan Leivas goes down in history as the first cowboy to be crowned with a professional rodeo title in Prescott, Arizona, in a cowboy contest that evolved into the world-famous Prescott Frontier Days in 1913. Prescott is legally dubbed “The World’s Oldest Rodeo” in homage to Leivas, who set the stage for future professional cowboys and –girls, who—to this day—are signing up for cash prizes and championship titles at the biggest and oldest rodeos in the world.