by Tricia Lewis
Rodeo is an all-American sport. It is also Prescott’s most anticipated event of the year. With a history as rich as the World’s Oldest Rodeo®, it is truly the Prescott way of life. Hundreds of families and generations have competed, supported, attended and watched this all-American sport for the past 132 years. This year is no different — thankfully.
We are thankful for our rich history and try to preserve, celebrate and share those experiences with you, our rodeo family. Each year, Prescott Frontier Days®, Inc. takes a piece of that history and builds the rodeo theme around that concept. This year, our theme for the 133rd World’s Oldest Rodeo® and the Parade is “History Lives Here.” It is our goal and intention to share some stories and traditions and reflect on events that took place over the past 132 years that perhaps we still perform in today’s rodeo. Due to restrictions and/or new ways of doing things, some may not occur in our current rodeo performances but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy looking back on them and sharing with you.
It can be a bit confusing to learn and understand what events took place and when, so here are the dates of events that we like to reflect on for making the World’s Oldest Rodeo® what it is today (special thanks for Danny Freeman on the dates provided in his book, “World’s Oldest Rodeo®”).
In 1888 when this “cowboy tournament” first began, it consisted of saddle bronc riding, steer roping and cow horse racing events. Cow horse racing ended in 1940 but the other two events continued. In 1889, bull riding was introduced as an exhibition with riding steers, then in 1913 as a contest, and with bulls in 1925.
In 1913, rangeland relay races began and were run until 1940. Wild horse racing and steer wrestling, called bulldogging at first, debuted. Bareback riding began in 1914, calf roping was added in 1917, and both events still exist today.
In 1919 team roping was introduced with bulls at first, then steers began to be roped in 1922 and sometimes range cows were used. In 1920, the all-around cowboy award was first presented. It is the prestigious title many want to clinch by winning the most money in all categories, which can include bucking and timed events. Additionally, the grand entry was first documented that same year and is a tradition that starts each rodeo performance. In 1936, wild-cow milking was a crowd favorite and ran until 1981.
In 1937 the Golden Jubilee celebration was held, which highlighted the 50th year of rodeo in Prescott. That year also had the first outdoor rodeo held at night under lights. Rodeo royalty was introduced in 1939 and exists at most rodeos around the country to this day. Girls’ barrel racing began in 1959 and is a fan favorite for women. In 1979, Prescott Frontier Days® was incorporated and is proudly the host organization that puts on the World’s Oldest Rodeo®. In 1983, Prescott Frontier Days® was honored with rodeo committee of the year by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), which included over 700 rodeos.
Many of these events occurred over several years between 1913 and 1937 and started to put Prescott on the map for hosting the greatest celebration ever held in Arizona on the Fourth of July. In 1948 this rodeo became part of the Rodeo Cowboy Association (RFA), which later became the PRCA and still sanctions this rodeo today.
Outside of the State Fair in Phoenix, nothing was as entertaining as “Prescott Frontier Day,” according to the Prescott Journal-Miner in 1913. That year, the prizes offered drew a large number of contestants, because $3,500 was a lot of money back then. The goal was to attract the expert riders from every section of the Southwest.
Photo: Prescott Frontier Days® Archives – 1960 Steer Wrestling