History of Steer Roping

Written by Dick Perue

The history of steer roping, according to a program distributed at the “First Annual Platte Valley Steer Roping” held July 18, 1948, in Encampment, is reported 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 times, 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, branded and then turned back into 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 were invited to attend. In 1888 on the Fourth of July at Prescott, Ariz., a cowboy tournament was held. Cheyenne Frontier Days was born in 1897.

For many years, the only roping event was steer roping . . . but then that’s another tale to be told in our next “Postcard from the Past.”

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