“In the early days, spectators would form a rodeo ring by positioning their horses in a circle, heads turned inward. Later, cars were used to form the circle.”
When you watch the action-packed Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series, you’re taking part in a time-honored tradition in town that has seen cowboys riding bulls and broncs for more than a century. “Ranching and rodeo have been important here forever,” says longtime rodeo announcer John Shipley. “They’re part of our town’s whole tradition.” Ever since the first white settlers arrived in Steamboat Springs in the late 19th century, roping and riding have been a part of daily life with the sport blossoming by necessity. These early settlers established homesteads and raised horses and livestock as a way of life. Every year, cattle would have to be rounded up, ornery bulls corralled and calves roped for branding. It’s those same skills, long used on area ranches, that you see displayed today in Romick Arena.
These cowboys’ rodeo skills migrated from ranches to competitions, quickly becoming a vital part of town gatherings. In the early days, spectators would form a rodeo ring by positioning their horses in a circle, heads turned inward. Later, cars were used to form the circle.
The makeshift arenas didn’t dampen competitiveness. In the early 1900s, Steamboat reared some of the toughest buckers in the business, including such famous horses as Pin Ears, Carrie Nation and General Pershing. Weekly festivities called the “Friday Night Jackpot” arose in the mid-1970s where riders competed for their combined entry fees.
“Those original Friday night rodeos were pretty wild and loosely regulated,” says rodeo board member Brent Romick.
In 1982, local Steve Dawes helped the Jackpot Rodeo grow to include Saturday night, and the Steamboat Springs Rodeo Series was born. In 1989, the 10-week series became sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and saw its name changed to the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series.
Throughout this 112-year history — from the first Cowboys’ Roundup Days, now celebrated every July Fourth, to today’s weekly pro series, a winner of the PRCA’s Small Outdoor Rodeo of the Year — the town’s ranching roots have continued to shine through. In fact, many of town’s original homesteads still provide stock for the events, which attract some of the nation’s top competitors trying to earn their way to the National Finals.
So tip your hat to the cowboys keeping one of town’s most lost-lasting traditions alive (and don’t be surprised if some of the cowboys ask you to form a circle with your cars after the show is over).