WAGONS WEST! CHEYENNE FRONTIER DAYS!!

Continuing on down the trail from the majestic Tetons, this week we’re lookin’ at a whole different kind of spectacle.  Let’s talk rodeo folks!! And if we’re talkin’ rodeo we must be talkin’ the largest outdoor rodeo in the world. The Daddy of ‘Em All…Cheyenne Frontier Days!

YEEE-HAAAW!! Strap on your spurs we’re in for a rip snortin’, six-shootin’, bronc bustin’, bull riden’, steer ropin’, bulldoggin’ thrills and chills ride!

Acting on a suggestion from Frederick W. Angier, Traveling Passenger Agent of the Union Pacific Railroad, in 1897 plans for the first “Frontier Day,” were formulated in the Trivoli Saloon at the corner of 16th Street and Carey (the Saloon serves as the present day Chamber of Commerce).  On September 23, 1897, a legacy of the old west began with the first Frontier Day.

Flags decorated the town and a special excursion train brought in a band and visitors. The Sun-Leader reported on the “thousands of visitors from all over the state and from Colorado and Nebraska.” The first Frontier Day presented ox teams, vigilantes, and stage holdups as major parts of the presentation. The first Frontier Day parades consisted merely of cowboys racing down the street “perhaps scaring women, children and dogs.” The first celebration only lasted one day. It started at noon with a cannon fired by Battery A of the 76th Field Artillery and concluded with a Grand Ball at Keefe Hall.

Bill Jones won the saddle bronc contest, and the only marring incident on the first Frontier Day was when bleachers were smashed by wild horses, which had broken loose and spectators fled for safety. The following year William F. Cody’s “Wild West Show and Congress of Rough Riders of the World” attracted an audience of 6,000 to the festivities. The event was such a success it was expanded to two days, but continued to be referred to as “Frontier Day” until 1910.

Frontier Day gained national attention in 1904 with the spectacular performance by black cowboy Will Pickett. Pickett, who is credited for single-handedly inventing the Bulldogging contest, observed that cowdogs would bring steers down by biting the steer on the muzzle. Thus Pickett would, “attack a fiery, wild-eyed, and powerful steer, dash under the broad breast of the great brute, turn and sink his strong ivory teeth into the upper lip of the animal, and throwing his shoulder against the neck of the steer, strain and twist until the animal, with its head drawn on way under the controlling influence of those merciless teeth and its body forced another, until the brute, under the strain of slowly bending neck, quivered, trembled and the sank to the ground.”

Pickett’s performance was reported nationally in Harper’s Weekly and he was offered a place in the Miller Bros. 101 Wild West show. He was the first black man inducted into the Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Women, though participating in rodeos since the 1880s, made their first appearance in the Frontier Day rodeo in 1904. Bertha Kaepernick gave and exhibition of bronc riding.

By 1908, Cheyenne Frontier Day, was recognized as the premier rodeo in the United States and cowboys from all over the country came to compete. That year the citizens of Wyoming were shocked by at least two of these out of state cowboys. The Basin, Wyoming newspaper The Big Horn County Rustler reported, in their August 28th edition, “for the first time in history neither the world’s champion bronc buster or steer roper was from Wyoming, also neither man was a resident of the group of states immediately surrounding Wyoming.” The steer roping champion was Ikua Purdy of Hawaii.

The bronc riding champion that year was Dick Stanley of Portland, Oregon. Stanley won the championship “by the most splendid exhibition of horsemanship ever seen in a frontier arena…Stanley performed a feat never before accomplished by a buster, riding to finish old Steamboat and spurring the horse at every jump. Many men have ridden old Steamboat for years the undisputed worst bucker of the world, but never before did a rider spur the equine warrior and manage to remain on his back until he was subdued.”

After his death in 1910, it was discovered that Dick Stanley was really, Earl Carl Shobe, and he had jumped bail in Wyoming some years before on charges of murder and post office robbery.

Steamboat continued to compete until John Coble sold out. He donated Steamboat to the Cheyenne Elks Lodge. In 1914, Steamboat contracted blood poisoning from a barbed wire fence and met his end. The horse was inducted into the Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979.

Legends, both man and beast, continued to be made at Frontier Park and cowboys from around the country enter to test their metal at the Daddy.

The Basin Republican reported in July 1909, “entries are still coming in for various events at Frontier and judging from the official program…there will be more contests and more interesting features than ever before. Six fine band [sic] have been engaged to supply music, and in addition to the purely wild west sports, Uncle Sam’s crack Ninth Cavalry will do some special stunts…”

Only war could threaten the Daddy, but after World War I ended the question on the people of Cheyenne’s mind was whether there would be Frontier Days. In November 1918, the Wyoming State Tribune put their minds to ease. “With the War over, troop movements stopped, and many of the best performers who have been in the army probably out, and ready to appear again by the time the show is held, things are said to be looking up for a good Frontier celebration next summer.” Trains were running under normal conditions without troop and munitions being transported, so tourists could once again travel West.

One blight caused concern for the success of that year’s show. Prohibition. How would being a dry state effect people’s desire to come to Cheyenne “a wide open town in the minds of many…They come to frontier [sic] to see a wide open cow town, and when the town is no longer that, the effect on the number of people who come here for the show forms a subject of much speculation.”  They didn’t speculate too long, and in July 1919 Frontier Days was held in all its pageantry to large crowds.

Parades, concerts, pancake breakfasts, Indian dancers, the largest outdoor rodeo in the world, and more cowboys than you can lasso in a year, the Daddy of ‘em All never disappoints. So put it on your bucket list, or better yet high tail it to Cheyenne this July and live the experience.

And while you’re in the neighborhood mosey on over to Fort Laramie or the Wyoming Territorial Prison and Old West Park.

Whatever you do, get a move on pilgrims and get your hides down to old Cheyenne!

Sources

“Basin Republican.” July 27, 1909. page 1

“Big Horn County Rustler.” August 28, 1908. page 1

“Wyoming State Tribune.” No. 288. November 20, 1918. page 6.

Wyoming Tales and Trails. http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/frontierdays.html

Kirsten Lynn @ 2012

12 thoughts on “WAGONS WEST! CHEYENNE FRONTIER DAYS!!

  1. I am embarrassed to admit that in all the years I have lived in Wyoming, I have only been to Frontier Days once. I really can’t even count that one because it was to see Kiss ;) We are hoping to take the kids this year though!!

    • Hi Staci! Hope you get to go this year! I was lucky and I had family in Cheyenne, so for many years we planned our visit around Frontier Days. It was always such a great time.

  2. Great post! Full of fascinating information. It sounds a lot like the Pendleton Round UP, in Oregon with the way it was started and the great riders of the past.

    • Thanks, Paty! The two rodeos have much in common. It was actually in 1908, that Frontier Days surpassed the Pendleton Roundup as the premier rodeo in the United States.

  3. I’ve always loved the rodeo, but haven’t made it up to enjoy the show in Wyoming.
    I should. I have friends and family in the state.
    thank you for showing me all the fun.

    • Hi, Sandy! If you’re looking for a great time Frontier Days is it! Not just the rodeo, but all the activities and programs they have during the week. Hope you make it someday!

  4. As a lover of rodeo and the Wild West, I really enjoyed your post and learning the history of Frontier Days, a rodeo I haven’t been to but hope to attend someday. It is on the bucket list!:)

    • Hi Anne! If you love rodeo than Frontier Days is a must, and as I mentioned to Sandy it’s not just the rodeo, but all the activities surrounding the rodeo and downtown Cheyenne, as well. I know you’d love it, and hope you get to go soon!

    • Oh Terry, I hope you get to go to Frontier Days soon! I know you’d love it. I’ve always wanted to go to the Calgary Stampede, too.

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