The History of the Texas Rodeo

By chet | February 29, 2020

Ask a Texan this question – “What is the Official Sport of the State of Texas?” And you’ll inevitably get one answer – FOOTBALL!

Sadly – that is 100% wrong. Our official sport is RODEO, proclaimed so by the Texas Legislature in 1997 under Governor Bush. But the history of Rodeo in Texas goes back much further.

To understand how our official sport got its start, you have to start with the animals. Horses were first brought to Mexico (aka Texas) by the Spanish in 1519, with cattle following closely behind in 1521. With growing numbers of cattle, came growing ranches. And soon the vaqueros (Spanish for “cowboys”) who tended these massive plots of land, started developing the skills need to ride, rope, and brand on the open range. The very word “RODEO” means “ROUNDUP” which was a vital skill to the early cowboys. Well, it didn’t take long before us competitive Texans started challenging each other to some friendly competition. Cattle drives brought more cowboys, and with more cowboys came more competitions.

As small communities popped up across the range, these cowboy competitions got pretty serious and became a part of many town celebrations such as the Fourth of July. Soon, the rodeos themselves became the special occasion. In 1883, the first official “rodeo” was held in Pecos, Texas and even awarded prizes to its winners.

Rodeo competition became a national phenomenon and were even held in New York City. Unfortunately, the Wild-West-Anything-Goes mentality started to sweep through rodeo as well. Competitions were happening all over the county and almost everyone got a “World Champion” belt buckle. It was confusing for everyone and began to hurt the sport. So in 1929, serious cowboys organized the Rodeo Association of America to establish rules, point systems, and determine just who could call themself a “world champion.”

Given the history of Cowtown (aka Fort Worth), ranching and rodeo have always been popular in North Texas. Perhaps nowhere more than Mesquite, Texas, which is the official “Rodeo Capital of Texas.” The Mesquite Championship Rodeo was established in 1958 as one of the first permanent rodeos – very different from the traveling and seasonal rodeos of the day.

CREDIT: University of Texas at Arlington Library

Every June, tens of thousands of fans gather at the Mesquite Rodeo Arena to watch some of the biggest names in rodeo compete at the highest level. Other times of year, the arena may be hosting the Winter Classic Rodeo, or even the Hip-Hop Rodeo which almost always sells out.

If you’ve never seen a rodeo, or even if you’re a die-hard fan, join me on June 6, 2020 for the Mesquite Championship Rodeo. I’ll be doing a meet-and-greet and would love to tell you “howdy.” More details to come.

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