Travel the back roads of Utah on a Fourth of July holiday, and chances are you’ll come across an authentic, small-town rodeo. Star-spangled rodeos link us to the roots of American patriotism, bursting with real cowboys, sturdy stock, and explosive action.
Rodeo is derived from the Spanish word rodear, meaning “to surround” or “to gather.” In the early 1800s, the Spanish still held much of the American West. Skilled horsemen, or vaqueros, managed privately owned ranchos, which were converted missions. The padres who ran the missions were often sons of Spanish nobility, trained in the traditional roping and horsemanship practiced in Spain for centuries. They passed along their knowledge of horses to the vaqueros.
After chores, cowboys exhibited their riding and roping skills at informal competitions around stockyards. Their sport expanded into standardized rodeo events, and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) was formed to regulate professional rodeo events for the protection and safety of competitors and livestock. Today’s standard rodeo events, much like their informal predecessors, include bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, calf roping, bull riding, and barrel racing, a sport dominated by female equestrians.In 1848, when the United States government acquired vast western lands from Mexico, the vaqueros shared their equestrian skills with incoming cattle drivers and herders. Later, freed slaves and former soldiers of the Civil War trailed herds northward into Utah, and soon cattle spread throughout the region. The term “cowboy” became popularized, and a fascination with America’s Wild West was born.
Because cattle ranches are spread across Utah, so are rodeos. Characterized by their unique blend of geography, culture, and the skill set of local competitors, every small-town rodeo has a distinct personality with favorite contestants. Local foods such as Navajo fry bread and events such as chili cook-offs add a special culinary twist to the athletic exhibitions, and cowboy anecdotes are shared by witty emcees. Rodeo events are often paired with demolition derbies, fireworks, and parades in a celebration of community and western spirit. An unforgettable night full of thrilling rides by amateur and professional cowboys awaits spectators interested in grabbing a rare glimpse of the real West.
The Art of the Cowboy
The desert’s raw beauty, the vibrant characters, and the wild horses of the American West have long inspired artists, poets, and novelists.
Painter Don Weller represents our own local, contemporary version of the great western artists. After a childhood in Washington state spent riding and roping, he worked and taught in the graphic design business in California for decades, his illustrations gracing the covers of Time magazine, the pages of Sports Illustrated, and US postage stamps. Yet he dreamed of returning to his roots and love of horses. After discovering rural Oakley, Utah, in the 1980s, he knew he had come home again.
Now, Weller paints brilliant watercolors capturing both the exhilarating and the lonesome slivers of the horseman’s life. Informed by his up-close experiences riding roundups, cutting calves, and roping, Weller’s is a contemporary brand of art steeped in the traditions of western men, landscapes, and horses.