AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – From hosting the United States’ favorite team to its high schools supplying some of the most impressive stadiums and the most NFL players out of any state, Texas reigns supreme in the realm of football. However, the heart of the Lone Star State is officially with an entirely different stadium sport.
Here’s a look at the history of rodeo in Texas, and how it became the official state sport.
The birth of the rodeo
As is the case with many aspects of culture and daily life in the southwest United States, it all comes back around to cattle.
Horses and cattle arrived in Mexico from 1519 to 1521 with Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes and, later, Gregorio de Villalobos.
As noted by the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) archives, as horses and cattle were spread around the Southwest in the following years, the horseback-riding “vaqueros” (later mispronounced as “buckaroos” in colloquial terms) working the cattle, became the basis for many of the skills, equipment, and terminology that would be adopted by American cowboys.
Riding, roping, branding, rope, saddle, spurs, chaps, and the word “rodeo” (meaning “roundup”) were among the terms that originated with these conquistador-era vaqueros. Detailed in S. Kay Gandy’s, “Legacy of the American West: Indian Cowboys, Black Cowboys, and Vaqueros,” early Spanish missionaries trained Native Americans as cattle herders, and horseback skills became an iconic aspect of certain Native American groups, such as Comanche warriors being noted for their ability to shoot arrows from under a horse’s neck while galloping onwards.
Although some areas of South Texas were especially suited for stray cattle and horses, and ranches were established near the Rio Grande by the 1600s and 1700s, historians localize the start of the era of the American cowboy to the 1800s. After the first Anglo-American settlers moved to Texas in the 1820s, Anglo, Native American, African American, and Spanish-Mexican cultures blended and combined with the availability of wild livestock to create the Southwest cattle industry. Riding, roping, herding, and branding skills made it possible for wild cattle and horses to be collected and driven to railheads and sold to meet a demand for beef in the East.
In the wake of the Civil War, the cattle industry of the Southwest saw the rise of the range cowboy, capturing unbranded cattle on the open range and otherwise driving cattle between grazing lands on the open range and off to processing centers. The TSHA noted that the industry was especially successful in West Texas and the Texas Panhandle, with the establishment of large ranches such as the XIT, Waggoner, and Four Sixes ranches. When the open range was fenced in the late 1880s, the cattle industry became more confined for its workers and contributed to the establishment of more stable communities around ranches, railheads, and other market centers.
Again noted by TSHA and historical precedent: Communities and social occasions present ripe opportunities to create new competitions. During local events like festivals or Fourth of July celebrations, cowboys took the chance to challenge one another in contests focused on their professional skills like bronc riding and roping. Local contests became annual events, and cowboys also began participating in wild-west shows such as the one started by William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. By the 1890s, the rodeo was established as a spectator event in the West, and in the late 1920s, the sport gained national publicity with annual events in New York City and Boston.
Texas, the rodeo, and officiality
The first recorded rodeo was held in Pecos in 1883, and the first indoor rodeo was staged in Fort Worth in 1917 as the sport started to grow in notoriety. The larger that rodeo events became, the more there was a need for standardization for rules, championships, judging, and pricing for advertising and award money.
While the Rodeo Association of America was established in the 1920s by event organizers, the participating cowboys themselves organized the Cowboys Turtle Association in 1939. The CTA was later reorganized into the Rodeo Cowboys Association in Houston in 1945, and its national PRCA office was established in Fort Worth.
Other rodeo organizations included the International Professional Rodeo Association, which was the result of a merger between the RAA and the National Rodeo Association, and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, which was started in San Angelo in 1948 after first being discussed at the TriState All Girl Rodeo in Amarillo in 1947. As noted by the TSHA, Texas was also the birthplace of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association in 1949, the National High School Rodeo Association, and the American Junior Rodeo Association.
A number of individual Texans were also responsible for significant steps in the evolution of rodeo. Bill Pickett of Rockdale is credited with inventing “bulldogging” and opening doors for other African American cowboys in the sport. Barbara Inez “Tad” Lucas of Fort Worth also made waves as a woman competitor in the rodeo circuit, and Jo Gregory Knox of Midland won the first women’s NIRA all-around championship in 1951.
In 1997, Texas state representatives adopted House Concurrent Resolution No. 21, adopting rodeo as the official sport of the Lone Star State.
As noted both in historical archives and by the resolution itself, the history of cattle in the United States as well as rodeo as a sport is inextricably tied to Texas. From the beginning of the American cowboy to the first recorded rodeo, the Southwest’s cattle industry, governing organizations, champions, and notable figures, Texas has played a key role in the existence of the rodeo and as a home to the cultures that created it.
“Today, internationally known rodeos in Houston, Fort Worth, and San Antonio, as well as countless others across the state, continue the Lone Star rodeo legacy and preserve this invaluable link to our past,” said the resolution, “no other sport so embodies the independence, fortitude, and courage exhibited by our state’s forebears, and thus the rodeo holds a special place in the hearts of all Texans; now, therefore, be it resolved, that the 75th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby declare rodeo to be the official sport of Texas.”