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History of Texas Rodeos

February 16, 2024 Texas, Texas History, Rodeo

Most Texans probably assume that football is the official state sport as the Lone Star State shines brightly each fall from Friday Night Lights high school football games to tailgating families at Saturday afternoon college games to cheering on the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans on NFL Sundays.

Since 1997, however, rodeo has been the official state sport in Texas (thanks to Texas House Concurrent Resolution No. 6, 75th Legislature, Regular Session), and for good reason, as Texas Monthly wrote, “Every season in Texas is rodeo season.

Rodeo stakes its claim to be the official Texas state sport with a rich rodeo history that includes:

  • One of the world’s first recorded rodeos (Pecos in 1883).
  • The world’s largest indoor rodeo (Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo)
  • The rodeo with the world’s longest all-western parade (Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo).
  • The world’s only year-round rodeo (Stockyards Championship Rodeo).
  • The Texas High School Rodeo Association season stretches twice as long as football with 125 rodeos per year across 10 regions, starting in August and ending with the Texas High School Finals Rodeo in June.

Roots of Texas Rodeos

Rodeo is a sport that grew out of the cattle industry in the American West, according to the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) but traces its roots back to the Spanish conquistadors and Mexican vaqueros with horses introduced into the Southwest by 1519 and cattle by 1521.

“Some areas, particularly in deep South Texas, had the environment conducive to the proliferation of stray cattle and horses. By the 1600s and 1700s Spanish-Mexican settlements and ranches were started in areas such as the lower Rio Grande. Some of these settlers became vaqueros for Capt. Richard King, who established the King Ranch in 1853 near Kingsville, Texas,” explained the TSHA.

The range cowboys and the cattle industry flourished in Texas in the 19th century.

“After the Civil War, with the abundance of wild cattle in the Southwest and a market in the East, the era of the cattle drives, large ranches, and range cowboys began. Skills of the range cowboy led to competitive contests that eventually resulted in standard events for rodeo,” says TSHA.

It was not unusual for cowboys to show off their skills on special occasions such as Fourth of July celebrations (known in some places as Cowboy Christmas!) and these events and contests became today’s rodeo.

Pecos Holds the Claim to One of the Earliest Rodeos on Record

The TSHA says that Pecos holds claim to one of the earliest rodeos where prizes were given in 1883.

The West of the Pecos Rodeo is still held today and in 2015 and 2016 was nominated by PRCA cardholders – the cowboys themselves – as one of the five best large outdoor rodeos across the county. It was also inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2008.

The rodeo explains its history this way: “When you get a bunch of cowboys together, some fights are bound to happen. Thanks to the “Law West of the Pecos,” things were kept in check, outside of a few gunfights. (You can still see the bullet holes in the West of the Pecos Museum.) Then a more friendly competition sprung up, and on July 4, 1883, Pecos was home to the world’s first rodeo.”

Rodeo legend is that in 1883 two local cowboys, Trav Windham of the Hashknife Ranch and Morg Livingston of the NA ranch wanted to settle bragging rights for the best cattle roper.

“A competition spot was chosen on the flat land west of the river, roughly where the present courthouse and law enforcement buildings are located. The date chosen was July 4. When that day came, there were horses, wagons, people walking around—they had come from all directions to see what was going to happen,” says the Rodeo’s history.

Cowboys from the Hashknife, W, Lazy Y, and NA all took part in the rodeo.

Texas: Birthplace of Rodeo Firsts

Texas is the birthplace of many rodeo traditions, including the first indoor rodeo, which took place in 1918 in Fort Worth at the historic Cowtown Coliseum.

Built in 1908, the venue not only held the first indoor rodeo but was the first rodeo to be broadcast live on radio in 1932 and introduced the world to bull riding in 1934.

Today, the Cowtown Coliseum is home to the world’s only year-round rodeo with competitions every Friday and Saturday night.

In 1945, the modern Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association was formed in Houston with a national office in Fort Worth and Bandera calf roper Toots Mansfield as the group’s first president.

Houston puts Texas on the rodeo map with the largest livestock exhibition and rodeo in the world with star musical guests, starting with Gene Autry the singing cowboy in 1942.

Over the years, musical performers at the Houston rodeo have included: 50 Cent, Alan Jackson, Alicia Keys, Ariana Grande, Beyonce, Bob Dylan, Brad Paisley, Elvis Presley, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Gladys Knight, Hank Williams, Jr., Johnny Cash, Justin Bieber, Kacey Musgraves, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney, Kenny Rogers, Loretta Lynn, Neil Diamond, Ray Charles, Selena, Shania Twain, Tanya Tucker, Taylor Swift, The Jackson 5, Tim McGraw, Tony Bennett, Usher, Vince Gill, Waylon Jennings, Wayne Newton, and Willie Nelson.

Saddle Up: Catch These Top Rodeos in Texas

The Wet of the Pecos rodeo, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and year-round Cowtown Coliseum Stockyards Championship Rodeo are just several of the great rodeos held in Texas each year. Look for these great events:

  • Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo: The 23-day Southwestern Exposition Livestock Show and Rodeo in late January to mid-February features the world’s longest all-western parade with over 2,000 horses, 35 bands, and more than 100 horse-drawn carriages.

  • Mesquite Championship Rodeo: From June through August, Mesquite hosts an up-and-coming rodeo series that was named the 2020 PRCA Small Rodeo of the Year and 2020 Texas Small Rodeo of the Year.

  • San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo: Since 1949, this rodeo has grown to more than 1.5 million visitors annually.

  • Rodeo Austin: Austin is known for events such as the annual Grand Prix race, South by Southwest Festival, and ACL music festival, but the state capital also plays host to a rodeo that started in 1938.

  • San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo: Held since 1932, this event has grown into one of the largest livestock shows in the nation and has become a tradition for families across Texas to show their goats, lambs, steers, and other livestock.

  • World Championship Ranch Rodeo: A tip of the cowboy hat to those working cowboys on ranches, the annual world champion ranch rodeo is held annually in Amarillo.

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