Determining which rodeo is actually the oldest in the world can be a little difficult as a handful of them have laid claim to the title. The fight over which rodeo can call itself the first has been going on for several decades. There was even a New York Times article written about the subject in 1989.
Although the first official rodeos were held in the American West, these early rodeos were inspired by the practices of Spanish ranchers and their Mexican ranch hands (vaqueros). As the Spanish settled in the what is now the Southwestern United States, they exhibited their techniques at festivals and fairgrounds in the early 19th century, inspiring American cowboys.
Eventually, these cowboys started holding their own exhibitions and events, which attracted large crowds and laid the foundations for modern rodeos.
10. Cowtown Rodeo
Year Established: 1929
Location: Pilesgrove/Woodstown, New Jersey, USA
Current Age (as of 2017): 88 years old
photo source: cowtownrodeo.com
The Cowtown Rodeo was first held in 1929 by Howard Harris Sr. and his son, Howard “Stoney” Harris Jr. in Woodstown, New Jersey as part of the Salem County Fair. After that, the rodeo was held annually until 1937 and was put on hold while World War II went on. The rodeo was re-established in 1955 when Stoney’s son returned from college after winning the National Intercollegiate All Around Rodeo Championship.
The two of them began holding a weekly rodeo on every Saturday night and today Cowtown Rodeo is known as the “Oldest Weekly Rodeo in the USA.” As the rodeo grew in popularity, the crowd got too big for the Harris’ original arena and the present 4,000 seat arena was built in 1967.
9. Greeley Stampede
Year Established: roots dating back to the late 1800s; officially in 1922
Location: Greeley, Colorado, USA
Current Age (as of 2017): 95 years old
photo source: colorado.com
Although the Greeley Stampede says that the origins of the rodeo go as far back as the late 1800s, it became an official event in 1922. At the time, it was called the Greeley Spud Rodeo as a tribute to local potato farmers.
Some of the events featured at the first rodeo included bucking bronc riding, a pie eating contest, a horse race, fancy roping, motorcycle and bicycle races, and a two-mile Model-T Ford race.
The two-week event is held annually on and before July 4th and has been dubbed the “World’s Largest 4th of July Celebration.”
Today, the Greeley Stampede attracts more than 450,000 visitors from the United States and other countries.
8. Calgary Stampede
Year Established: September 1912
Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Current Age (as of 2017): 105 years old
photo source: Wikimedia Commons
The first official Calgary Stampede took place in September of 1912, but has its roots in the first exhibition that occurred in 1886. This exhibition was held two years after the town of Calgary was formed by the Calgary District and Agricultural Society in order to share agricultural practices of Western Canada.
The event was held annually and continued to grow and in 1908, the Government of Canada chose Calgary to host the federally funded Dominion Exhibition, which included The Miller Brothers 101 Wild West Show.
In 1912, Guy Weadick, an American trick roper who participated in the show, organized the town’s first stampede/rodeo. Due to an economic downturn as well as World War I, the stampede was not held again until 1923 when it merged with the Calgary Industrial Exhibition — it has been an annual event since then.
7. Pendleton Round-Up
Year Established: July 29, 1910
Location: Pendleton, Oregon, USA
Current Age (as of 2017): 107 years old
photo source: Wikimedia Commons
The idea for the Pendleton Round-Up was first conceived in 1909 after a 4th of July celebration featuring rodeo events, food, fireworks, and other festivities took place. Local community leaders were inspired to start an official annual event and on July 29, 1910, the Round-Up was incorporated as a non-profit organization.
The group held the first official rodeo on September 29, 1910, which attracted over 7,000 visitors. Within a few years, permanent seating for over 20,000 spectators was completed and rodeo continued to grow.
One of the unique features of the Pendleton Round-Up is its inclusion of Indigenous Americans in the events and shows — their presence at the rodeo continues to be a strong attraction.
6. Raymond Stampede
Year Established: July 1, 1902
Location: Raymond, Alberta, Canada
Current Age (as of 2017): 115 years old
photo source: canadianbadlands.com
The Raymond Stampede is the first and oldest rodeo in Canada. It was founded by Raymond Knight, who was born in Utah and was the son of mining magnate Jesse Knight. Jesse founded the town of Raymond in 1901 and named it after his oldest son. The following year, Raymond held Canada’s first rodeo as part of the town’s first Canada Day celebration event. Knight invited cowboys from other ranches to participate in events such as saddle bronc riding and steer roping.
With such a successful turnout, Raymond planned an even bigger event for the following year and financed the construction of Canada’s first permanent rodeo grounds.
Today, Raymond Knight is known as the “Father of Canadian Stampedes.”
5. Cheyenne Frontier Days
Year Established: 1897
Location: Cheyenne, Wyoming, USA
Current Age (as of 2017): 120 years old
photo source: Wikimedia Commons
Cheyenne Frontier Days is one of the most famous and largest outdoor rodeos in the world. It has been held annually since 1897 and boasts that it draws the top rodeo professionals who compete for more than $1 million in cash and prizes. Every year, the rodeo draws in over 200,000 people from the U.S. and internationally.
In addition to traditional rodeo events, Cheyenne Frontier Days has nightly concerts over the nine days it’s held, a midway, food vendors, a fair with rides and games, and wild west shows.
While the rodeo doesn’t claim to be the oldest it does call itself “The Daddy of ’em All®” as a tribute to its long history and the fact that its the largest event of this type in the world.
4. Prescott Frontier Days
Year Established: July 4, 1888
Location: Prescott, Arizona, USA
Current Age (as of 2017): 129 years old
photo source: Flickr
Although a few of the rodeos on this list are decades older than the Prescott Frontier Days rodeo, it is often cited as the world’s first rodeo and even has a legal claim to the title. In 1985, the U.S. Patent Office approved Prescott’s request officially proclaim itself the “World’s Oldest Rodeo.”
The approval was based on the following five criteria that have existed since the city’s first rodeo: 1)Formed a committee to plan and stage the rodeo; 2) Invited cowboys to compete; 3) Charged admission; 4)Awarded prizes and trophies; and 5)Documented the contests.
People from Prescott admit that while there may be older rodeos, it was the first to charge admission and turn it into a spectator sport.
3. Payson Rodeo
Year Established: August 1884
Location: Payson, Arizona, USA
Current Age (as of 2017): 133 years old
photo source: AZCentral
The Payson Rodeo is another contender for the title of world’s oldest/first rodeo. To help distinguish itself from the other rodeos claiming the title, Payson calls its rodeo the “World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo.” Like other early rodeos, Payson’s was first held in the summer as a small competition between ranchers and cowboys.
Some of the rodeo’s first events included horse racing, bronc riding, different roping events, and silver dollar pitching.
Although some people say that the early competitions in Payson weren’t real rodeos and not officially organized, the town says that there is evidence disputing these claims from the descendants of some of the first rodeo’s contestants.
2. West of the Pecos Rodeo
Year Established: July 4, 1883
Location: Pecos, Texas, USA
Current Age (as of 2017): 134 years old
photo source: Pixabay
Like the first few rodeos on this list, the West of the Pecos Rodeo insists that it home to the world’s first rodeo. Pecos’ first rodeo took place on July 4, 1883 as a friendly competition between two ranch hands Trav Windham and Morg Livingston. Both men had built up a reputation as skilled cattle ropers and they decided to hold a contest to see which one of them was truly the best.
As that day went on, other cowboys joined the competition and the Pecos Rodeo was born. Today, the West of the Pecos Rodeo is one of the largest in the world and it was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2008.
1. Deer Trail Rodeo
Year Established: July 4, 1869
Location: Deer Trail, Colorado, USA
Current Age (as of 2017): 148 years old
photo source: Waymarking
The Deer Trail Rodeo is one of several on this list that claims it is the oldest rodeo in the world. It makes a strong case for the title of the world’s first rodeo with its founding date of July 4, 1869.
The rodeo says it has proof of when it was first held because the event was written about by a reporter from “Field and Farm” magazine.
According to the town of Deer Trail, it has been recognized as the Home of the World’s First Rodeo by the Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame, the Colorado State Legislature, the History Channel, as well as the Guinness Book of World Records. The rodeo is still held every year in late summer, to commemorate the town’s status as the birthplace of the rodeo.
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