Arizona is one of the youngest states in the country, but its history goes back decades before its statehood.
An important part of what makes the state so rich is the rodeo, and two of the world’s oldest are in Arizona.
Arizona officially became part of the U.S. on February 14, 1912, becoming the 48th state in the nation. But the rodeos in our state started decades before that.
Payson World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo and Prescott’s Fronteir Days, The World’s Oldest Rodeo are not only the nation’s oldest, but both claim to be the world’s oldest. The only difference that Payson’s includes “continuous.”
In an effort to find out which rodeo really was the oldest, we decided to verify. We first started with the dates, but that wasn't enough to determine which one was the oldest.
What seemed to be an easy way to verify, ended up being more than just years.
The Pro-Rodeo in Payson, Arizona has been happening the third week in August since 1884, according to its website. On the other hand, Prescott’s Frontier Day’s has been having its rodeo every Fourth of July since 1888-- but it gets more complicated than that.
Going back to the history of the events, the word “rodeo” is Spanish for “to round up.” The word started to be used in 1916 in Payson, and 1924 in Prescott.
At the beginning, both described how the "vaqueros" (Spanish for cowboys) showed off their ranch skills to the rest of the people in town. And the cowboy with the best skills took home the big prize.
“There was a time when they [cowboys] didn’t make money,” said Arizona’s historian Marshall Trimble.
It eventually turned into an international sport and the prices grew with it.
Trimble, who's been going to these kind of events for decades, said he likes the participants' “modesty, because they don’t go around bragging about how good they are. Instead they give credit to the horse.” He said he loves that from an athlete.
Going back to verifying which rodeo is the oldest, well, there is something else to consider: Which town registered its rodeo first?
According to a statement from Prescott Frontier Days, it comes down to the trademarked phrase:
Whereas everyone acknowledges that local contests took place before 1888, the US Patent Office granted Prescott Frontier Days®, Inc a registered trademark as the World’s Oldest Rodeo® based on five separate criteria to which all were met by Prescott.
1. The event had to be organized by a committee. In Prescott’s case, that was Bucky O’Neil, Morris Goldwater, and George Ruffner.
2. The event had to be contained and there had to be charged admission to the event. Prescott was already charging admission to the Horse races evolving out of the cavalry outpost at Fort Whipple and continued the process.
3. The cowboys had to be invited, not just show up. Today that is accomplished by the requirement that all participants hold a PRCA Card.
4. There has to be some sort of a prize.
5. There had to be a prize awarded. The original event’s plaque and record of prize money, awarded to Juan Levias, is in the Sharlot Hall Museum.
In conclusion, based solely on dates, Payson Pro-Rodeo is the oldest. But based on who is registered first, Prescott's rodeo is.
According to Trimble, there are other rodeos in Texas and California that also claim to be "the world's oldest."
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