by Tricia Lewis, Communications Professional

In May of 1888, the town of Prescott began planning a 4th of July celebration it had held for the past four years. Festivities included a parade, band concerts and horse races. Even though organizers were successful, the town decided it wanted something else that would draw miners and cowboys to town (mining and ranching were the two-dominant industries at the time). So, they brought hard-rock drilling contests, fire hose contests and precision marching drills by soldiers and cavalry horse units from nearby Fort Whipple as well as parades with cowboys and soldiers.

Even after bringing all the events together, they still needed more action, and had observed – at different times on the outlying ranches – cowboys competing against each other in bronco riding and cattle roping contests – something they enjoyed tremendously. They decided this type of action is just what was missing from their 4th of July activities. So, they decided the affair would be a well-organized event, and they invited cowboys ahead of time to compete and planned to charge admission.

Without realizing it, and with no intent on its part to do so, this committee was creating rodeo sports history on July 4, 1888. As part of its planning efforts, the committee established the criteria for an organized, modern-day (at that time) rodeo.

The rodeo rules were the following:

  • A committee would organize and put the rodeo on (something that still happens today).
  • Cowboys had to be invited to compete.
  • Admission would be charged to put the rodeo on.
  • Prizes would be awarded.
  • Documentation of events and results would be completed.

Hence, professional rodeo was born in Prescott, Arizona!

The events that occurred back then were bronco riding (bronc riding), steer roping and tying (tie-down roping), and cow pony races. Cash and merchandise were offered as prizes. The “Best Cowboy” received a sterling silver trophy. A favorable climate for betting was provided.

The Prescott Rodeo grounds didn’t exist yet, so it was held in an open area later known as Forbing Park. A few makeshift seats were thrown up, but most watched as they stood on the ground, sat in wagons and buggies, or gained their views from horseback.

Juan Leivas, a cowboy on the James O’Neal Ranch on Date Creek won the steer roping competition and tied for first in bronco riding in the 1888 Cowboy Tournament (later known as the World’s Oldest Rodeo®).

This inaugural 4th of July 1888 cowboy tournament (rodeo) at Forbing Park was documented in the July 11, 1888 issue of the Arizona Journal-Miner newspaper. A copy is still on file at the Sharlot Hall Museum.

By 1894, attendance grew to 8,000, and there were 48 rodeo contestants in three events –bronco riding, steer roping and tying and cow pony races.

The Santa Fe-Pacific, a Phoenix railroad company, ran hourly trains from the Prescott depot to the race track where the races and cowboy contests were being held. Round-trip was 25 cents while admission was 75 cents.

From 1888 to 1950, cowboy contestants were required to ride in the parade every day of the show (known today as the grand entry). Any cowboy failing to do so would be disqualified for the remainder of the rodeo. Cowboys considered riding in the parade a great honor, and still do today.

Moving ahead to 1913, for the first time, this 4th of July celebration was called “Frontier Day.” Outside of the State Fair in Phoenix, nothing in the line of entertainment had ever been attempted in the state on such a large scale.

A total of $3,500 was placed up as cash prizes and $500 alone was allocated for the cowboy bucking tournament. By offering large cash prizes, the committee expected to attract expert riders from every section of the Southwest.

By the end of 1913, Prescott was known for big-time rodeo. In 1914, the official name was changed from “Frontier Day” to “Prescott Frontier Days®,” and has remained so ever since.

The term “Stay Cowboy” was used in 1914 when the Santa Fe Railroad advertised the Prescott cowboy sports freely in California, Arizona and New Mexico.

To fast-forward to 2017, Prescott Frontier Days®, Inc. proudly presents the 130th World’s Oldest Rodeo® in Prescott, Arizona. It is still held at the Prescott Rodeo Grounds, the home of this historic rodeo for the past 130 years. This nostalgic and Western tradition takes place from June 28 through July 4.

The theme for the rodeo, parade and all the festivities during Prescott Frontier Days® is “Legends Live Among Us.” It’s a time of year where we reflect on our rodeo legends who either live in Prescott, were from here or became a rodeo legend at the World’s Oldest Rodeo®. There are many of them, and we will honor them throughout the year in our advertising and coverage. So, when you see images of past legends, remember, this town has deep Western roots, stemming from July 4, 1888 – a tradition that is still honored today, and that began with the cattle-raising industry, which still exists today.

Prescott Frontier Days® is a seven-day Western tradition that includes eight heart-pounding performances of world-class rodeo, Arizona’s second largest parade, a rodeo dance, cowboy church, a kiddie parade and much more!

Typically, the World’s Oldest Rodeo® draws nearly 35,000 fans from around the world, and over 45,000 attend the rodeo parade. This is nothing short of history, right here in Prescott, Arizona. Each year, this event sees record attendance and sponsors at an all-time high.

Tickets and information are available at or by calling 928-445-4320, and on iTunes and Google Play with our new mobile app. 

Stay Cowboy, See you at the R-O-D-E-O!


  • Wednesday, June 28, 7:30 p.m. – Daily Courier
  • Thursday, June 29, 7:30 p.m. – Wrangler – Tough Enough to Wear Pink
  • Friday, June 30, 7:30 p.m. – Jack Daniels
  • *Saturday, July 1, 1:30 p.m. – Murphy’s Restaurant
  • Saturday, July 1, 7:30 p.m. – Coors/Canyon Distributing
  • Sunday, July 2, 7:30 p.m. – Country Bank
  • Monday, July 3, 7:30 p.m. – Ram/York
  • *Tuesday, July 4 – 1:30 p.m. – Pepsi

Trophy Buckle Sponsor: Lone Spur Cafe


Happy Hearts Rodeo for Exceptional Children
June 28 – Prescott Rodeo Grounds

Rodeo Dance
June 29 through July 1, 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
BMO Harris bank parking lot
(Downtown Prescott)
303 N. Montezuma, Prescott

Kiwanis Kiddie Parade
June 30, 8:30 a.m. – Cortez & Goodwin

Prescott Frontier Days®, Inc. Parade Sponsored by Barrett Propane
July 1, 9:00 a.m. – Courthouse Plaza

Rodeo Days Fine Arts & Crafts Show
July 1, 2 & 3 – Courthouse Plaza

Cowboy Church
July 2, 10 a.m. – Prescott Rodeo Grounds

For more information, for a list of the specialty acts, details about any of the listed events, or sponsorship opportunities please visit Tickets are now available by phone (928-445-4320) and on the website, or at the gate. 

Purchasing tickets in advance is encouraged as sell outs are possible.