Once, when I was a little girl, growing up in North Carolina, my folks took me to a rodeo. It was an indoor one, and I could smell the animals, and it was wildly interesting to me to see the bull riding, the rodeo clowns, the barrel racing, etc. That was my idea of a rodeo, until I moved to Wyoming.
Cheyenne is home to Frontier Days, or the “Daddy of Them All”, which is billed as the largest outdoor rodeo in the world. The fact of the matter is, Frontier Days triples Cheyenne’s population of just under 60,000 for the 10 days that it runs. Apparently, city officials determined years ago that it was worth it to have a largely-unused outdoor stadium for the rest of the year, to accommodate the 10-day rodeo. I have to say, I have great pride when I drive by it on the interstate, thinking, “Oh, your time is coming in July!”
Frontier Days is where rodeo star in the 80’s Lane Frost was killed, after he was he hit in the side by a bull. His life story was told in the movie 8 Seconds, starring Luke Perry. There is a statue in his honor right outside the Frontier Days stadium.
But going back to what I thought was a rodeo; I had a learning experience when I moved to Wyoming, for sure.
We had heard of things we needed to watch, when we first moved here, and were successful in some, last year. But this year, we’ve reached the status of Frontier Days traditions, and couldn’t be happier.
The cattle drive, a week before the rodeo starts, is awfully fun. People line the streets for several miles, from outside of town, early on a Sunday morning, to watch several hundred cattle being herded to the rodeo. One makes friends, while sipping coffee, and people who live in houses along the route, congenially come out and say, “Hey, you can go over there in my yard, behind the fence, if you want to.” The herd is led by dignitaries and the Dandies, a group of highly-trained cowgirls in colorful uniforms, on their horses. The interstate, just on the other side of the fence, is restricted to one lane, in case a stray bull gets crazy, going the other direction. And then, the bulls come. Mostly, they just run with the herd, always watched closely by multiple cowboys on horseback. But some decide to graze, and others decide to get frisky. That’s when you’re glad you’re behind the fence or sitting on top of your car.
There’s a free pancake breakfast for anyone who wants to come, several times during the week. Local Boy Scouts and the Kiwanis chapters are the driving force behind it. Thousands of people are fed, with amazing precision that would put any IHOP or Waffle House to shame.
And then there's the Air Force's air show. I'm an Army wife, through and through, but this show is incredible, so I'll be proud, nonetheless. I can't even fathom what these men (or women) do to train for it, and it was sure entertaining;
At the Frontier Days stadium, there is an outdoor carnival, which runs every night, with rides, and each night an outdoor concert is offered. This year, Journey, Loverboy, Brad Paisley, Zac Brown, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Jr. Reba McEntire, Blake Shelton, Pat Benatar and Rodney Atkins played. No small talent here.
And then, the rodeo. Every day, for three or four hours, the outdoor rodeo runs in the afternoon. There is no end to the bull and bronco riding (how, in heaven’s name, those guys have the courage to get on those huge, wild animals is beyond me), the barrel racing, (I have utmost respect for the women who have enough confidence in their horses to be almost parallel to the ground as they round the barrels), cattle roping (seriously, you’re going to ride a horse out, then jump OFF and handle a cow by his horns with your bare hands and strength?).
In the meantime, there are side shows, such as the Dinner Bell Derby, where they put the baby horses at one end of the track, and the mamas at the other end, and then the race is on to see which is the fastest to get to their mama. One of our favorites is the race with unbroken mustangs. Teams of three men each get an unbroken horse, and have to get him saddled and ridden all the way around the track. We watched one guy get dragged halfway around, last year.
Rodeos are serious business, I’ve come to understand. But I’ve also come to understand that out here, a rodeo is far closer in portraying the way things really were in the Old West. I can’t imagine.