According to the marker, the July 4, 1883, rodeo began with a brag between two ranches about just which one of them had the fastest steer roper. Brag led to action, and with the town full of people looking to celebrate the fourth, there was no lack of spectators to witness the event.
Now…fast forward 106 years to 1989 when the New York Times did an article on this very subject, interviewing Pecos native, Barney Hubbs. Mr. Hubbs was 93 at the time.
”’We were first,” he said defiantly. ”The others can say what they like, but we’ve got the proof. We’ve got the eyeball witnesses.”’
“Mr. Hubbs’ proof comes in the form of interviews he conducted in 1928 with cowboys who participated in the July 4, 1883, event. They told him some boys were hanging out at Red Newell’s saloon when they decided to have a July 4 steer roping and broncobusting competition. Ranchers put up $40 in prize money, making it the first organized competition for prize money, Mr. Hubbs claims.”
Willard Porter, a former rodeo director with the National Cowboy Hall of Fame agreed with Hubbs, ”’I lived in Tucson for many years, so I should go with Prescott, but chronologically, Pecos was first.”’
Of course, there are many who disagree with Pecos’ claims of being numero uno! Out in Arizona both Prescott and Payson make claims of being first.
In her book, American Rodeo From Buffalo Bill to Big Business, Kristine Fredriksson claims that Prescott Arizona’s “1888 contest [was] the first to charge admission, was the first to turn rodeo into a spectator sport.”
But then there’s the town of Payson, Arizona.
”’Prescott can say they’re the oldest professional rodeo, but ours is the oldest one; it started with cowboys off the ranches and has been going ever since,” said Bob Moffett, manager of the Payson Chamber of Commerce [in 1989]…We’re the only one that’s gone on every year since. In the war years, a lot of towns quit giving rodeos, but we still had ours.”’
The town of Prescott responded…
”’Most of these others weren’t formalized rodeos,”’ said Mr. Freeman, who has been working with Prescott’s rodeo since 1941. ”’They were just a bunch of cowboys who got together to do roping. We’re the first organized rodeo, that had a rodeo committee, charged admission and gave out prizes.”’
Few people buy into Payson’s claim to the title, but Pecos and Prescott still stand head to head and toe to toe with historians although Prescott did win the 1985 battle with Trivial Pursuit, who lists the Arizona town as home of the first rodeo.
The bottom line is that we will never know the exact date of the first rodeo since cowboys have been trying to conquer wild “beasts” since the beginning of cowboys…whenever that was. However, here at United, we do our best to argue with Texas State Historical Markers as seldom as possible, and that makes Pecos, Texas the home of the country’s first rodeo!