In 1931, the small town of Sheridan, Wyoming, was so quiet you could “shoot a shotgun down Main Street and have no fear of injuring anyone.” A group of local citizens wanted to do something about the situation and decided to put on a rodeo. They set their sights high and organized a first class professional rodeo on a par with other professional rodeos like the Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The committee started out from ground zero and had a huge challenge. Not only did the rodeo committee have to organize the rodeo from scratch, they had also to prepare the county fairgrounds facility that lacked the necessary amenities for a large professional rodeo. They sold capital stock to finance construction of additional seating, corrals, pens and bucking chutes among other things. To publicize the event, E. W. Bill Gollings was commissioned to paint a picture for the first Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo poster. The entire community and downtown merchants helped support the efforts of the rodeo committee to ensure the success of the first Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo.
The first rodeo was a great success. The $15,000 purse brought professional rodeo contestants from all over the United States. A rodeo parade on Main Street drew thousands of spectators, and a carnival at the fairgrounds and participation of hundreds of Indians in night shows provided even more entertainment. The Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo was well established.
From 1932 to 1941 the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo committee managed to stage a first class professional rodeo. It was not always easy. Frequent financial problems and public apathy often put the show in jeopardy.
One year, 1933, the night show had to be cancelled for financial reasons. In the latter part of the decade, the committee was forced to find individuals in the community who were willing to underwrite the rodeo. But during this period, the rodeo committee still managed to make many facility improvements including a new grandstand in 1936. Other significant events occurred during this period; for instance, the Crow and Cheyenne Indian tribes smoked a pipe of peace in 1932 as part of the night show and the first Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo Queen was selected in 1936.
Because of wartime conditions, the rodeo board found it impossible to conduct the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo in 1942 and 1943. But in 1944 the rodeo was reactivated with a number of changes. It was renamed the Bots Sots Stampede to invoke the memory of a series of rodeos in 1914-1916 called the Sheridan Stampede. Bots Sots is the Crow Indian term for “very good” and the term was used to advertise the Sheridan Stampedes of old. While there was still an Indian presence at the rodeo, large Indian pageants were replaced by vaudevillian night shows. The rodeo queen program was also reactivated and the rodeo parade and carnivals remained part of the program. The rodeo changed from professional status and was intended to be a “working cowboy” local rodeo, but contestant’s still entered from outside the local area.
From 1944 to 1951 the rodeo gained momentum in terms of numbers of contestants and events and some of the largest attendance figures for the rodeo occurred during these years. But, the rodeo board still struggled to maintain merchant and community support and the financial condition of the rodeo was usually stretched thin.
1951 was a watershed year for a number of reasons. One was that the public support seemed apathetic and as a result the rodeo was almost cancelled. A public poll was conducted to find if the community wanted the rodeo to continue. The public voted for continuation and also voted to restore the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo name. However, the rodeo remained a non-professional working cowboy rodeo. Merchants stepped up to the plate to support the effort and the rodeo continued.
Another significant event in 1951 was that a Crow Indian, Lucy Yellow Mule, was elected rodeo queen by popular applause. This milestone event led to two national human relations award for Sheridan and the establishment of an annual All-American Indian Days, a nationally known Indian Pageant. The queen program was terminated when the last queen reigned in 1980.
During the period from 1951 to 1967 the rodeo board continued to invest in the upgrade of the county fairgrounds that resulted in running water, proper toilet facilities, arena lighting, additional barns and other upgrades. In the mid 1960’s special entertainment at night became a thing of the past but the rodeo parade and carnival continued to be popular. Organized horse racing, a historic popular feature of the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo also ended in the mid 1960’s because it became unsupportable.
The Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo turned professional again in 1967 after the rodeo board determined the rodeo had become too large, too expensive and too long. In their words, they had “five days worth of rodeo and two days worth of audience”. The return to professional rodeo limited the contestants and streamlined the performance. The rodeo remains professional to this day. As in previous periods, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo found itself in precarious financial condition and often a perceived lack of public support was cause for concern. In 1988, the rodeo was effectively cancelled because of reported grandstand safety issues, but was reinstated after temporary last minute repairs were performed on the structure. A new grandstand was constructed and has been in use since 1992.
In 1975 “surrounding events” begin to appear. Events such as the Kiwanis Duck Race, the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast, the Bed Race Along the Bighorns, the Boot Kick Off festivities, concerts at the historic Wyo Theater and downtown street dances have become an ingrained part of the now traditional “rodeo week”.
In later years, much of the success of the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo can be attributed to Sankey Pro Rodeo, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo stock contractor since 1994. Ike and Roberta Sankey the owners, insure that the rodeo has the best livestock available and provide professional performance management that guarantees each Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo performance is top of the line rodeo action.
After eighty years of evolution, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo is today one of the premier Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and Woman’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) rodeos in America. I The Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo prize money to contestants consistently ranks the rodeo in the top tier of over 600 PRCA rodeos that pay out over thirty million dollars each year.
The future looks bright for the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo. The rodeo continues to draw capacity crowds. In fact, to cope with “ sell out” crowds, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo Board of Directors decided to add a fourth night performance beginning in 2010. In addition, in 2010, the Board of Directors elected to join the PRCA Million Dollar Tour which will increase contestant prize money and ensure that the top rodeo contestants continue to perform at the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo.
The key to the success of the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo is financial support from sponsors. Major sponsors, M&M’s, Coca-Cola, Dasani, Pedigree and the Gold Buckle Club have joined with many local sponsors (The Posse) to help insure the continued success of the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo.
The Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo Gold Buckle Club was formed in 2005. It is a group of 250 private citizens who have a mutual desire to provide additional financial support. This dedicated group of supporters was responsible for an increase in contestant prize money in 2005 and the installation of air conditioning equipment and additional seating capacity for the Sheridan County Fairgrounds. In 2006, the Gold Buckle Club became an official major sponsor of the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo.
There is no doubt that with the unprecedented support of the community, the sponsors and Gold Buckle Club members and the dedicated work of the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo Board of Directors and the many volunteers, that the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo will remain one of the best rodeos in America and one of the most enduring traditions of the Sheridan, Wyoming community.
The Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo tradition was a major factor in the decision taken by True West magazine to select Sheridan, Wyoming as the “# 1 Western town in America” in 2006.