This year’s Deer Trail Rodeo in Colorado marks the 150th anniversary of its first iteration. Here are five historical roping and rodeo events that paved the way to Cowboy Christmas.
A poster advertising the 2019 Deer Trail Rodeo's 150th anniversary, featuring a cowboy riding a bucking horse.

150 years of rodeo in Deer Trail, Colorado—Home of the World's First Rodeo

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.

Emancipated slave and historic cowboy Nat Love poses with his saddle and rifle.

Freed slave Nat Love moved West and became known as Deadwood Dick, Champion Roper of the Western Cattle Company.

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.

Historic, black and white photo of an African-American Cowboy on a horse.

Cowboys of yesteryear paved the way for today's team ropers and rodeo professionals. From the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. 

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.”

black and white image of downtown Deer Trail showing a mercantile, a general store, and a hardware and lumbar store, with early-edition automobiles in the street.

Historic Deer Trail, Colorado.

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.  

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