When traveling through Cheyenne or any part of Wyoming for that matter, you can’t shake a stick without connecting with a cowboy – a real cowboy. That’s especially true for ten days in July when more than 200,000 people show up for the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo.
Since 1897, they’ve been roping calves, riding bulls and racing themselves around barrels to the delight of fans from around the world. But it’s also an event that highlights Native American culture, showcases exceptional western art and features today’s leading musicians in sold-out outdoor concerts. Throw in some carnival rides, pancake breakfasts, parades and numerous year-round attractions in Cheyenne and this event becomes a destination for the entire family.
Now the largest outdoor rodeo sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, this rodeo actually began as a military showcase. The Air Force Thunderbirds, unable to perform in recent years due to budget cuts, are once again gracing the skies in southeastern Wyoming for this event.
In 2014, the event in July 18 – 27.
It’s hard to say which of the 10 days is the best to attend, and that’s why many people come for the entire event. For a little international flavor, start out the night before opening ceremonies with a "walking of the steers." It’s supposed to be like Running of the Bulls in Pamplona Spain, but instead, about 500 cows walk quietly through the streets of Cheyenne out to Frontier Park where the remainder of the festivities will be held.
My favorite part of the rodeo is the Indian Village. This aspect of the rodeo dates to the early 1910s when members of the Arapahoe nation began to attend the festivities, camping in teepees nearby. Today, members of several Plains Indians tribes participate with music, storytelling and dancing that has been a part of their culture for centuries. For many, this is the best part of the rodeo. With any luck, you’ll be there for the hoop dancing demonstration, which will forever redefine your understanding of a cardio work-out.
The Museum of the Old West at Frontier Park is a year-round attraction, one that helps explain the cowboy lifestyle for people who do not have the pleasure of living in this part of the world. Little kids can crawl around in barrels and play dress-up. Heck, adults can do the same thing, but most find the exhibit about the life of a rodeo clown incredibly interesting. These guys are not clowns at all, but serious bullfighters who more often than not save the life of rodeo cowboys.
Take time to pay your respects to the bronze statue honoring Lane Frost, a professional bull rider who was gored by a bull and died of his injuries during the rodeo in 1989.
A lot of people enjoying taking the Behind the Chutes tour early in the day before rodeo events begin. Be sure to wear close-toed shoes and if you’re one bothered by dusty places, then don’t go. But this event helps you understand about the care of the animals and some of the history of the events that will be showcased later in the day.
While you’re in Cheyenne, take time to explore the Plains Hotel. It would be great if you could get a room there, but the hotel is booked years in advance during Frontier Days. This historic building was the first five story hotel in the United States. When it opened in 1911, it had three elevators and every room had a telephone - truly ahead of its time!
Today the hotel is restored in mint condition and serves as a mini-art gallery with features dedicated to Chief Little Shield, an Arapahoe Chief who stayed in the hotel during the rodeo and greatly impressed visitors from around the world. In fact, his descendants still stay in the hotel during the rodeo.
This is about as true of a western experience as anyone can have in the 21st century. These people are real cowboys and their fans are serious about the business.
And just a reminder before you head out to Wyoming and the Frontier Days Rodeo: it’s still legal to hang a horse thief in this state. You can’t say you haven’t been warned.
Have you been to the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo? Tell us about it in the comments below.