Rodeo was a part of Steamboat Springs’ culture even before the town was incorporated over 100 years ago, and it’s a tradition that is alive and well today.
No one knows for sure when Steamboat Springs hosted its first organized rodeo competition, but mentions of competitive rodeo events in the local newspaper, the Steamboat Pilot, date back to at least 1898. Looking through historical files, it seems that no local event was complete without some type of rodeo competition.
A clipping from the July 6, 1898, Steamboat Pilot writes about The Hot Time celebration of 1898. This event included an orchestra, literary exercises, a dance, running races, and, of course, bronco riding. The article included descriptions of riders being thrown from the broncos and said, “This feature was far more interesting than had been anticipated.” In September 1899, the paper wrote about Game Day, reporting that the multi-day event drew about 3,000 people to Steamboat Springs to watch rough riding, steer roping, pony racing, shooting contests, running races and dances.
Rodeo is tied to ranching, and Steamboat Springs grew up as a ranching community, so the town was full of skilled cowboys and cowgirls, and horses that were bred for work, not temperament, and tended to be large and a bit ornery. The local cowboys thought nothing of riding these hard-to-handle animals, and casual bets often resulted in impromptu rodeo-type competitions in fields or on main street.
Back at the turn of the 20th century there was no rodeo arena in Steamboat, but the area where the current rodeo arena stands near the Yampa River was the location for many rodeo events. During the summer of 1907 for Game & Fish Day, spectators formed a rodeo ring by positioning their horses in a circle, heads turned inward. In later days, cars were used to form the circle.
In the early 1900s, Steamboat also developed a reputation for rearing some of the toughest bucking animals in the rodeo, making some of the animals as famous, if not more, than their riders. Some of Steamboat’s famous horses from that era include Pin Ears, Carrie Nation and General Pershing. Back then Tuffy Wren, Bill Corbett, Kid Vaughn, Walter Long, Emery Clark and Lawrence Marshall were popular rodeo heroes. Today Steamboat’s rodeo arena hosts rodeo legends, hall-of-famers, world champions, circuit champions and season champions, as well as raw rookies.
Steamboat Pro Rodeo Series Keeps the Past Alive
Steamboat’s rodeos have grown over the years and are now major events sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), and there is a modern rodeo arena in downtown Steamboat on the same land the cowboys chose for their competitions years ago. The arena underwent renovations in 1989, and in 1990 it was renamed the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena in honor of local rodeo rider Brent Romick.
The rodeo is still an important part of summer in Steamboat Springs. Every Friday and Saturday evening from mid-June to mid-August Steamboat holds PRCA-sanctioned competitions during the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series, with additional rodeo events, such as pro bull riding, team penning and team roping throughout the summer.
Steamboat’s rodeo is as popular today as ever. While the sport doesn’t utilize many modern inventions, its roots run back to the cowboy era, which is one of the most popular historically. Today, cowboys are still icons of the West for their independence and toughness, which spectators can watch first-hand during rodeo competitions.
Why is the rodeo so important to the town of Steamboat Springs in this modern day and age? “Steamboat was a ranching town before it was anything else,” said John Shipley of the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series. “I think the rodeo is important to our community because it reminds us of our heritage in Northwest Colorado. It helps us keep our noses on our faces and not up in the air and our boots planted firmly on the ground.”
Steamboat Springs’ rodeo was recently named the 2002 PRCA Small Outdoor Rodeo of the Year out of about 500 rodeos in its category. Shipley said Steamboat wasn’t being honored for a single stand-out rodeo or for one week or one season, but for a body of work over several years where the series has been striving to make the rodeo better, faster-paced and quicker running.