Under the Spanish rule in the 1700′s and the 1800′s, their great cattle horsemanship in the American West was inherited, trained, and renowned. They were called padres, sons of noble Spanish blood, and they were in great demand in herding and roping cattle. The padres trained the men who worked under them, known as vaqueros, who ran the West’s range lands.
The word “rodeo” stems from the vaqueros word “rodear”, which means to go around or to surround, as in a cattle pen. The actual word “rodeo” was penned in 1834. In 1848, Americans retook these lands from Mexico and the vaqueros were sought in working the American-ruled cattle ranch farms. The vaqueros displayed their roping, branding, and herding skills, which were admired by American ranchers.
It wasn’t until the Civil War period when cattle herding ruled the West and American men, having learned from the vaqueros, took over herding, becoming known as the American cowboy. They established cattle-raised Western towns. Between 1850 and 1860, the railroad era began and barbed wires went up throughout the West, limiting the open ranges.
Rail cars were used to transport cattle and replaced the open cattle drives by American cowboys. Cowboys needed work and an outlet, thereby challenging each other in roping, cutting cows, and trick riding. People began gathering together to watch these contests, exchanging wagers and bets. Men who missed the days of the old west, who hunted bison and were former soldiers, like William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody, organized the contests into regular events.
Buffalo Bill made the contests a carny-like atmosphere by adding Indians, costumes, and expanded stunts. Today, national rodeos travel throughout the U.S. and foreign countries, while being televised on major sports channels. The events now include cowboys and cowgirls taking part in steer wrestling, bareback riding, roping, barrel racing, bronc riding, calf roping, bull riding, and experienced equestrian showmanship. The rewards include monetary prizes, endorsement deals and then on to the next rodeo.