By Kristine Fredriksson
Historian Kristine Fredriksson follows the evolution of rodeo from the variety to Buffalo Bill's Wild West to the extravaganzas nowa days. How a normal, low-paying activity turned an leisure that pulls millions of spectators is a lesson in American tradition and a narrative that might entice somebody who spells "western" with a capital W.
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Extra resources for American Rodeo: From Buffalo Bill to Big Business
Then, as now, the rodeo cowboy was responsible for all expenses relating to his travels from one rodeo to the next. In this aspect, rodeo is different from many other sports, and it is quite possibly this element that has made the rodeo cowboy's situation so difficult for the uninitiated to understand. The wild-west-show performer, on the other hand, received a salary set by the contract under which he was hired. As an outgrowth of this practice, there existed for several decades something called a contract rodeo, in which the cowboy was given a flat weekly or monthly salary for his performance.
Thus, the RAA stressed to its member rodeos the importance of the careful selection of all officials connected with the competition. 11 However, the problems of this aspect of rodeo were not solved merely by such an admonition. Once the cowboys, too, finally organized, they felt their strength was such that they could make heavy demands concerning judges and other arena personnel. A petition that the cowboys themselves be allowed to select officials was presented at the RAA convention in Ogden, Utah, in January, 1938.
27 Thus, even though cowboys in the earlier days of rodeo more often than not competed in several events, the championship scheme worked out by the organization appears to have been overambitious. The cowboy of the time was certainly more versatile than today's rodeo contestant, simply because competition was not as stiff, but it would have been very unusual for anyone to excel in more than two events. Furthermore, as a rule, each man concentrated on either the timed or the rough-stock events and did not mix the two areas necessary for winning the championship under this plan.