First Cowboy Contest

First cowboy contest of record in the world was held in Prescott July 4, 1888

by Tricia Lewis, Lewis Marketing & Public Relations

One-hundred thirty-two years ago, the first cowboy contest (rodeo) ever held in America was staged in the pines of Prescott, and the tradition continues at the World’s Oldest Rodeo®.

Now it’s Prescott’s most anticipated event of the year, with the World’s Oldest Rodeo robustly respected among professional rodeos throughout the United States and throughout the world.
Each year, Prescott celebrates the traditions stemming from generations of rodeo families who have competed in this rodeo since the beginning. Even today, families of past generations are living among us in this great community. Tradition is a huge part of what makes the World’s Oldest Rodeo® special and unique.

Some argue that this is not the world’s oldest rodeo. Other communities have stated they have the world’s oldest; however, there is documented proof that Prescott was the birthplace of the first professional rodeo starting July 4, 1888, and held continuously since.

The other factors that apply to giving it the title is that the Prescott Rodeo (a.k.a. Frontier Days Celebration) was the first place to hold a “cowboy contest” where people paid admission, and prize money was given to contestants who paid to participate in the contest. Also the rules for professional rodeo were created in the arena at the Prescott Frontier Days … rules that are used today across the U.S. in professional rodeo.

By 1928, the Prescott rodeo rules had quickly become “Rodeo’s rules of wide fame” and were worked to a fine point by committee member, Lester Ruffner; former arena director, Doc Pardee (1926, 1927 and 1928); and Grace Sparkes, secretary of Prescott Frontier Days. These rules have been found to be almost foolproof and have been copied and used at many of the big rodeos held throughout the country.

As early as 1915, Prescott was the shining example to be copied in other places where cowboy sports were featured.

The award-winner at the first commercialized rodeo was a cowboy named Juan Leivas who received a mounted silver medal known as the “Citizens Prize.” He won in steer roping and tied for first place in bronco riding in 1888 and was hailed as the “Best Cowboy” known today as the All-Around.

Newspapers archived in the local Sharlot Hall Museum go as far back as 1864. According to the July 11, 1888 Arizona Journal-Miner, the first cowboy tournament was held at Driving Park, later known as Forbing Park.

In The Saturday Evening Post, Wanden M. La Farge in 1938 identifies the first rodeo: “By 1870, contests were going strong and rival ranches began pitting their top hands against one another. In 1888 someone decided there was a lot of money going to waste on the top rail of the corral fence and the first rodeo with paid admission was held at Prescott, Arizona. After that, organized rodeo just grew.”

Beginning in 1929, the Daily Rodeo Program stated in the foreword: “The First Cowboy Contest of Record in the World was held in Prescott, July 4, 1888. It was also titled World’s First Active Rodeo, Original Cowboy Rodeo of America and Oldest Rodeo in Existence on official souvenir programs.”

Arizona is synonymous with the West. Its romance and beauty are found at the World’s Oldest Rodeo, which has many traditional activities that were part of the first “Cowboy Contest.” For instance:

  • the grand entry formation (serpentine style)
  • wild horse race
  • cowpunchers bronc riding

Team ropers have used the same box, and the same stock contractor (Harry Vold Rodeo Company) has supported the rodeo for 47 years. Keeping up with tradition, Randy Corley has been the rodeo announcer for 38 years.

This year, we will highlight and honor those traditions that make up what this rodeo is all about. Watch for stories and traditions to be celebrated on our social media channels, website and local media outlets.

Please join us on our social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), share your rodeo photos and engage with Prescott Frontier Days!
Use these hashtags: #WOR132 #WesternHeritage #WeAreProrodeo

Tag us on your posts during rodeo week. We love hearing the stories from our rodeo fans and encourage activity and participation especially as rodeo week arrives.

Tickets and information are available at or by calling the ticket line at 928-445-4320.

Matinee performances begin at 1:30 p.m. Evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Gates open two hours prior at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and people are invited to come early, visit the vendors and shop among some very unique collections.

Rodeo tickets are now available and early ticket purchases are strongly encouraged as performance sell-outs are expected. Be sure to remember the new clear-bag policy. No refunds or exchanges.
See you at the R-O-D-E-O!