A History of Rodeo in Steamboat
Since the first white settlers arrived in Steamboat Springs in the late 19th century, roping and riding has been a way of life in the Yampa Valley. More than a 100 years of history hasn’t changed a thing.
“It’s been important here forever,” says longtime rodeo announcer John Shipley. “It’s part of our whole tradition.”
The sport first came to the area by necessity. Early settlers established homesteads, and raising horses and livestock was a way of life. Eventually, the town grew and rodeo skills migrated from ranches to competitions, becoming a part of any town gathering.
The first get-togethers weren’t held in a world-class facility like Romick Arena. Spectators formed a rodeo ring by positioning their horses in a circle, heads turned inward. In later days, cars were used to form the circle.
The makeshift arenas didn’t dampen competitiveness. In the early 1900s, Steamboat developed a reputation for rearing some of the toughest buckers in rodeo, making some of the animals as famous as their riders. Famous horses from the era include Pin Ears, Carrie Nation and General Pershing, ridden by such rodeo heroes as Tuffy Wren, Bill Corbett and Kid Vaughn.
The beginnings of the weekly festivities arose in the mid-1970’s as the “Friday Night Jackpot,” where contestants gathered once a week to compete for their accumulated entry fees. “Those Friday night rodeos were pretty wild and a lot of fun,” says rodeo board member Brent Romick. “They were pretty loosely regulated.”
By 1982, the Jackpot was in danger of disappearing so local Steve Dawes stepped forward with his checkbook and business expertise to revitalize the operation. Within a couple of years, the Jackpot Rodeo grew to include Saturday night and the Steamboat Springs Rodeo Series name was coined.
In 1988, the first and last weekends of the 10-week series were sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and were known as Ski Town Stampede I & II. With the success of these events, the rodeo committee decided it was time to go “all pro.” In 1989, the name was changed to Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series and it’s been fully sanctioned by the PRCA ever since.
Rodeo here now dates back a whopping 114 years, from the first Cowboy Roundup Days, now celebrated annually on the July 4 weekend, to today’s weekly pro series, a three-time nominee for the PRCA’s Small Outdoor Rodeo of the Year award, winning the honor in 2002. Drawing cowboys far and near, it’s held twice a week all summer long and, thanks to its PRCA certification, attracts some of the nation’s top competitors, all trying to earn their way to the National Finals.
Throughout this history, the town still hangs it hat on its ranching roots, with many of our original homesteads still owned by the same families. The cowboy hats you see downtown aren’t just worn for fashion. The area’s ranching community is as alive and kicking as the the animals we use in competition.
Find out more about Steamboat’s history at the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
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It was a love story that brought Jason Erwin to Steamboat Springs from Nashville, Tennessee.