Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Mark Dykes
Reporter Photographer 

Rodeo plans taking shape


It’s still a few weeks before the Thermopolis Cowboy Rendezvous Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Rodeo, scheduled for June 23-24 this year, though the days of bucking and roping will be here before we know it.

Gayla Mead-Ellis said this year’s rodeo theme is “Live the Legacy,” and speaks to the rich history the rodeo has here. The first known rodeo took place in 1895. Four men from Big Horn country decided to take a trip to the hot springs, horses packed with fiddles and a telescope organ. At a stop along the way, at a road ranch, they played for a roundup dance and talked the punchers into putting on a riding contest for a few days at the spring. The men showed up driving several wild bucking horses, and in the end it was two riders from Texas who split the purse.

Fast forward 13 years to 1908, when a grandstand, track and baseball field were built near that same spot in time for a July 4 celebration; purses of $50, $35 and $15 were offered in a bucking contest. On June 6, 1910 a rodeo was held in celebration of the first train’s arrival in Thermopolis.

In 1913, the same year Hot Springs became an official county, Thermopolis Park Association Chair L.J. Duhig and Secretary H.M. Hantz decided to have horse racing in the county along with a bucking contest. In 1916, land was given to the town for a new grandstand, racetrack and ballpark. Movie and television star-to-be Tim McCoy, along with Robert Price, the son of a pioneer ranch family, joined up to produce a wild west/stampede/roundup event on July 4 the same year.

The 1919 Treat ‘Em Rough stampede had a bow-and-arrow buffalo hunt with 100 Arapahoe Native Americans invited to take part; the state humane officer intervened, and it was changed to a one-shot rifle hunt. Chief Lone Bear declined the honor of shooter because of his failing eyesight.

The first annual “Night Herd,” with 38 events, was held August 7, 1928. Despite the county evaluation being down by $400,000, the Night Herd was a success. A few days later, snow in the mountains and 34-degree weather brought summer to a quick close.

A total 56 businessmen and individuals contributed and formed the Thermopolis Rodeo Association in 1935, under the American Legion with support from city and county officials as well as the fire department. Finding it difficult to get stock for a July 4 rodeo, the date was switched to Labor Day. There were many events held including saddle and bareback bronc riding, steer riding, bulldogging, calf roping. The first rodeo queen selection was held in 1936, with Mary Jane Carter winning the crown.

Another successful rodeo was held September 10, 1937, and by 1938 there was $1,800 in cash prizes and $500 in merchandise. There was a night show/rodeo, pioneer pageant and daily parades, open air dancing and swimming every night.

Mead-Ellis said in the 1940s and 50s, Thermopolis had one of the largest rodeos in the state. It was considered one of the premiere rodeos, with people arriving via train to see the action. It even came to the point when National Guardsmen were posted on the wall around the fairground to prevent people from sneaking in.

Pat (McKone) Spratt, daughter of Bob and Pauline McKone, was rodeo queen in 1959, Mead-Ellis noted, and still competes in the Cowboy Rendezvous Rodeo.

The rodeo continued through the 1970s, but in the 80s the focus changed from PRCA to high school and youth rodeos. In 2004, PRCA rodeo fans, businesspeople and community members came together to restore PRCA rodeo to Hot Springs County, and it continues to grow.

Mead-Ellis said last year the rodeo was nominated by the Mountain State Circuit — part of the PRCA — for the most improved. This year, the Thermopolis Cowboy Rendezvous Rodeo Committee has teamed up with Powder River Rodeo and D & H Cattle Company. Both are nationally famous stock contractors, and Mead-Ellis said they have some of the top bucking horses, several of which have been qualified for National Finals Rodeo. Last year, they also provided a bull named “Bruiser,” who was nominated for the 2016 Professional Bull Riders (PBR) World Champion Bull.

Mead-Ellis won’t know until June how many contestants will be in this year’s event, but is expecting around 250. She noted this is one of the few PRCA rodeos not funded by government agencies, and relies on donations and sponsor dollars.

Tickets for the rodeo should be available June 1, with prices of: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $6 for kids.

For more information on the rodeo and a schedule of events, visit


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