- History Articles
“We were heading for the rodeo in the village of Augusta, among cottonwood along the Sun River. We drank in the darkness of taverns, walked three or four hundred yards through light and shadows under the trees to the rodeo, in the sunlight, while country music played on the public-address system. Men and women unloaded roping horses from aluminum trailers, and we ate hot dogs and bought beer to load our cooler and made our way to seats near the chutes, where the bellowing and stink and cursing and laughter and flying mud […] were thick around us. World-class riders landed airplanes out in the meadows, came out of the chutes on their bucking horses or bulls, then flew off to make some other show that night, maybe the one in Cody, Wyoming. We took to it like a day at the circus.”
~ William Kitteridge,
The Next Rodeo: New and Selected Essays
From the vicious bucking broncos and bulls to the kiddos in the mutton-bustin' competition, rodeo defines summer in Montana. Rodeo started out very practically. In the early years of the west, cattlemen let their stock roam unfenced for much of the year, very often, cows from various herds would mix and mingle on the same rangeland. Each summer, the ranchers would gather all the cows together to sort and brand them. The events would often last days, involving everyone from the local ranches. Soon, cowboys being what they are, cowboys from the various ranches began to keep a tally of who were the quickest, the best ropers, the best horsemen, and the like. As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth and increasing populations forced ranchers to fence their land to maximize efficiency, the need for such inter-ranch roundups faded. The competitions and exhibitions, however, continued. Many of the spectators and participants were experienced cowboys and ranch hands, pining for the old days. Others were new arrivals thirsting for the romance and adventure of a by-gone era.
Over the century, rodeo evolved from a memento of the past to a festival of the present. Although not necessarily a representation of what stockgrowing in Montana looks like today, rodeo remains a cultural event, unique to the American West, a staple activity in every Montanan's summer. Many of the competitors still hold to rodeo's ranching roots, working on ranches during the off-season. Others follow the rodeo circuit full time, as professional athletes. Nearly every town in Montana has a rodeo, and Southwest Montana boasts some of the best, each as unique and enjoyable as the town that hosts it.