Bull Riding, Tribal Dancing, Roping, and Gunslinging
Reliving the glory and romance of the Wild West, Wyoming-style.
In this dusty high Plains city, where snakeskin boots and Stetsons are everyday wear, the romance of the Old West lives on. And that's never more apparent than during the last week of July, in the midst of the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days celebration.
The event - a tribute to the Wild West - has been staged here for 102 years, and has become synonymous with Cheyenne. Billed as "The Daddy of 'Em All," Frontier Days also reigns as the largest outdoor rodeo in the world, drawing spectators from every US state and 20 countries.
"We're proud of our little spot on earth, and we want to show it off," says Frontier Days chairman Jim Johnson. "Ranching, cowboys and agriculture are a big part of our history."
The sound of a cowboy's spurs clanking against his boots is as typical in downtown Cheyenne this week as the blare of a cabbie's horn in Manhattan: The centerpiece of Frontier Days is a 10-day Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association competition - featuring events like bull riding, bronc riding, and roping.
The sport of rodeo was born of the daily ranch chores of a working cowboy, and today offers an exciting (albeit risky) way for a cowboy to make a living: A successful pro rodeo competitor might earn $200,000 a year in prize money, plus endorsements. Here at Frontier Days, a winning cowboy could take home $25,000 in a single event.
Bull riding - which requires a cowboy to remain on a bucking, twisting, and plain-mean Brahma bull for 8 seconds-- is the most dangerous event. But it is clearly a spectator favorite, eliciting abundant gasps and cheers.
Professional cowgirls vie for glory in the sport of barrel racing, where they complete a cloverleaf pattern around barrels in a race against the clock.
Frontier Days pays homage not just to cowboys and cowgirls. Native American culture carries equal stature in the event, with an Indian Village at Frontier Park hosting pow-wows around a campfire, storytelling, and performances by the Wind River Dancers. The dance troupe, from the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming, performs traditional dances several times daily.
"We showcase the Indians and their culture," says Mr. Johnson. "It's an important part of US history." In fact, native Americans were first invited to participate in Frontier Days in 1898.
Over the years, Frontier Days has attracted its share of historic personalities: President Theodore Roosevelt and Kodak founder George Eastman were among those drawn to Cheyenne to revel in Western spirit. And in 1898, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show performed here.
Cheyenne, named for the tribe of Indians that once roamed the plains of southern Wyoming, is rich in history. In 1867, the Union Pacific railroad built a depot here, and the US Cavalry established an outpost which is now an Air Force Base. During Frontier Days, the base hosts air shows by the USAF Thunderbird Team.
The streets of Cheyenne also come alive with history during the event: Parades featuring horse-drawn carriages, covered wagons, cavalry troops, gunslingers, and authentic period costumes are staged throughout the week.
Motels book up as far as a year in advance for Frontier Days, and an estimated 400,000 attendees flock to this city of 50,000. The annual event, which continues through Sunday, is credited with pumping $25 million into Cheyenne's annual economy.
Unusually high temperatures this week showed no signs of deterring fans or their enthusiasm. "We turned up the thermostat to make all the Texans feel at home here," joked rodeo announcer Hadley Barrett, as the mercury climbed to 100 degrees under a cloudless Wyoming sky.'