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Steer Roping at Rodeos

Written by Dick Perue

As rodeo season gets underway, let’s pause and recall the history of one of the sport’s first events.

The history of steer roping, according to a program distributed at the “First Annual Platte Valley Steer Roping” held Sunday, July 18, 1948, in Encampment was summarized as follows:

Steer roping began in the early days with the round-up wagon.

In those days, it was necessary to rope and throw steers for branding, as they had reached an age and size that proved them hard to handle otherwise.

Cattle from several outfits would mix and graze on the same range, and to ready the cattle for market, the ranchers would throw in together with their round-up wagons and cowboys. For many days, from dawn to dark, the cowboys would ride the ridges and draws, searching for steers and throwing them in with the big bunch.

These steers, all wild, nervous and restless, were difficult to control, and should one break away from the bunch, there was a cowboy hot on his trail to put him back. Many time, it became necessary to rope and bust these steers to encourage him to stay with the herd. Should an unbranded steer be seen, he was roped, thrown and branded and then returned to the wild bunch.

After years of such round-ups, these cowboys became proficient in their work of roping and tying, and some were naturally more skillful at the work. Thus, it came about that each outfit had its top-hands, and when outfits gathered for the round-up, these cowboys, stirred on by the spirit of competition, would challenge each other in a match roping.

These matches became so popular that in 1883 at Pecos, Texas, the first cowboy contest was held, and the public was invited to attend. In 1888 on the Fourth of July at Prescott, Ariz., a cowboy tournament was held.

The official program further states:

Cheyenne Frontier Days was born in 1897. For many years, the only roping event was steer roping, and it was always a most popular contest among cowboys, as well as spectators.

As these cowboy gatherings became popular and a few of the top hands picked up some extra cash, they began to practice and develop new techniques to enable them to out-rope their competitors. Many a boss has ridden upon a steer with either a broken leg or a broken horn resulting from the practice of a would-be champion.

Steer roping is a popular sport today (1948) in most western states, including Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nevada and Oregon. Today, the contest is carried out in such a way that very seldom is a steer injured. Good ground, picked steers and good rope horses are the most important factors in a clean steer roping contest.