The 68th San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo is currently ongoing (February 9-26, 2017.) Nationally, rodeos have been held since the mid-1880’s. Multiple locations lay claim to staging the first rodeo; Santa Fe, New Mexico – 1847, Deer Tree, Colorado – 1869, Pecos, Texas – 1883, and Prescott, Arizona – 1888, to name just a few.
The sport grew out of the cattle industry and showcases riding and roping skills, the working practices of herding cattle. And, just as today’s exhibitions and shows stir the public’s imagination, the adventure of moving large herds across the Southwest led countless cowboys to sign on with the large ranches and cattle barons to take their livestock to market.
It took tremendous courage and fortitude to brave hostile terrain, uncertain weather, attacks by Indians and rustlers, as well as the recalcitrance and unpredictability of thousands of cattle easily spooked by lightning strikes, random noise or other predators. It required specialized skills that included knowing how to brand the animals without burning their flesh, sawing off horns that grew too long, and administering medicine when disease threatened the herd.
The cowboys worked 24/7. Anyone shirking his duties or causing problems along the trail faced swift justice. The trail boss exercised absolute authority.
Feeding the cowhands required innovation. The distances traveled didn’t allow each rider to fend for himself; he couldn’t carry the quantity of provisions needed for the duration of the trail drive, nor did he have the time to cook his own meals. Texas cattleman and entrepreneur Charles Goodnight is credited with solving the problem with the invention of the chuck wagon. The wagon carried necessary supplies and utensils and elevated the importance of the person selected as cook.
The selection of such a person took into consideration not only his acumen with horse flesh, but his ability to forego sleep while brewing and doling out coffee all hours of the day and night; cooking up biscuits, flapjacks and bacon for breakfast, and beans, cornbread and stews for lunch and dinner – all without affecting the rotation of the riders or their duties on the trail drive. – excerpt from Palo Duro.
Read about Charles Goodnight and his epic cattle drives along the Goodnight-Loving Trail in my novel, and visit your local rodeo to witness living history.