The sport of rodeo traces its roots to the post-Civil War era of American History. During this time, the Wild West was a beacon of hope and adventure for many who had served during the Civil War. The skills required to work cattle and operate a ranch were tailor made for stirring the competitive spirit among the early cowboys who wanted to claim that they were the best at a particular skill. The first rodeos were just exhibitions put on by the cowboys at the end of long trail drives when they were blowing off steam and relaxing after months of working a trail herd. It didn’t take long for these exhibitions to become competitions between local ranches and eventually including prize money for the winner of the various contests.
Since many of the cowboys working the ranches during this time were Civil War Veterans, we have a direct connection between the origins of rodeo and the military veterans who compete today. Throughout the history of rodeo, military members and veterans have found unique ways to carry on their western heritage while still serving their nation. Wherever our military has served, rodeo has eventually been introduced to the local population. Cowboys and cowgirls have created competitions in Europe, Japan, Korea and many other places. Many times, they have had to substitute different types of animals due to not having the standard livestock used in a rodeo. Yaks and water buffaloes have replaced bulls, mules and other exotic animals have replaced horses to allow the competitors to show off their skills.
Military rodeos in the United States have been held regularly since the 1940’s. One of the longest running military rodeos was held annually at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base in southern California. With the help of Col. “Ace” Bowen, this rodeo was held for over 50 years until the rodeo arena which was named after Col. Bowen was dismantled in 2002. Along with Camp Pendleton, the Marine Base at 29 Palms in the California desert also produced rodeos for many years. The number of military rodeos was limited and many of the service members also competed in rodeos produced by other associations like the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), International Professional Rodeo Association (IPRA) and other local and regional groups. Military cowboys like Lynn Mattocks and Clayton Powell were able to find considerable success in the sport they loved while still serving during the 60’s and 70’s.
During these early years of military rodeo, very few records were kept to document the achievements of many of the cowboys and cowgirls who were competing during this time. In the 1980’s the Yuma, AZ Jaycee’s began holding an annual Military World Championship rodeo that was open to all military members. Without a formal organization to oversee military rodeos, the events sometimes had problems paying off prize money and ensuring fair competitions. Similar to the events that created the Cowboys Turtle Association (CTA) which went on to become the PRCA, military members began to organize and eventually established the Military Rodeo Association (MRA) in 1983.
Tribute to all of those who served and started military rodeo.
If you have documents, pictures or other military rodeo memorabilia, we would love to include it in our Hall of Fame. Please email quality scans, pictures or other information to: firstname.lastname@example.org