Let’s Go, Let’s Show, Let’s Rodeo: African American Involvement in Rodeo


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We examine the complicated and multi-­‐dimensional roles that African American cowboys played in rodeo from its conception in the late nineteenth century. From rodeo’s beginnings, the visual representation of what rodeo was and is portrays a white sport; however, upon further inspection there are many unsung rodeo stars and heroes that have been left out of the narrative, specifically African American cowboys. (Paper presentation)

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  • Princess Wenona (Lillian Smith) was actually listed on an 1880 census (when she was still a child) as "I", indicating Indian. The area she grew up in had been settled primarily by the Paiutes, but her tribal affiliation is unknown. When performing, she billed herself as a Sioux princess, and she was in fact married to a Sioux for a short time. I have also seen her mentioned as being African American. My personal suspicion is that her family was of mixed ancestry and were able to pass themselves off as Indian as opposed to Black, since the social stigma might not have been quite as bad at the time.
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Let’s Go, Let’s Show, Let’s Rodeo: African American Involvement in Rodeo

  1. 1. This Ain’t My First Rodeo: Ethnic Minority Involvement in Rodeo<br />By <br />Dr . Tracey Owens Patton<br />Research co-author: Sally Schedlock, MA<br />Presented at ShephardSymposium for<br />Social Justice<br />April 7, 2011<br />
  2. 2. Goal<br />Our book-in-progress examines over one hundred years of rodeo and its tumultuous relationship with cowgirls and ethnic minorities. <br />
  3. 3. Summary verview<br />Rodeo’s history is viewed as traditionally White: however, rodeo has many Ethnic Minority influences that have been overlooked<br />Rodeo has a history of covert and overt racism that is rarely acknowledged<br />
  4. 4. In this presentation, we will discuss Chapter 7: the involvement of ethnic minority participants in rodeo from the inception of rodeo to present day. <br />Thus, the research question is:<br />RQ: What are the roles Ethnic Minority Cowboy/Cowgirls participate in rodeo past to present?<br />
  5. 5. African American Rodeo History<br />٭§ Been involved in Agriculture since slavery<br />٭§ Active rodeo participants since 1800’s<br />
  6. 6. Bill Pickett<br />Bill Pickett, founder of modern steer wrestling in a signature move. (photo courtesy of BillPickett.com)<br />
  7. 7. Jackson Sundown, George Fletcher, John Spain<br />Jackson Sundown at the Pendleton Roundup, n.d. (angelaswedberg.blogspot.com).<br />George Fletcher at the Pendleton Roundup, n.d.) ((www.historycooperative.org)<br />John Spain at the Pendleton Rodeo, n.d. (historycooperative.org). <br />
  8. 8. Fred Whitfield<br />“Like a lion poised to pounce, Whitfield sets up for a winning run at La Fiesta de los Vaqueros Rodeo in Tucson” (Ehringer, 1999, p. 205).<br />
  9. 9. Jessie Stahl <br />Photo courtesy of American Heritage Center, Laramie, Wyoming<br />
  10. 10. American Indians Cowgirls and Cowboys<br /><ul><li>Research indicates with cattle herding, parades, sports gatherings, finery, and presence of clowns, there has been substantial cultural borrowing for modern rodeo (Kirsch, Harris, Nolte (2000) p. 389).
  11. 11. American Indian involvement rodeo is still limited to “exotic” other i.e. rodeo Indian races, teepee shows, and Indian dances.
  12. 12. Perspective of rodeo is different: be one with animal vx. Domination of animals</li></li></ul><li>Latino/a Cowgirls and Cowboys<br /><ul><li>Historically, Spanish settlers are noted for bringing charreadas to the New World (America) with performances of steer wrestling, riding horses, bulls, and roping (Kirsch, Harris, Nolte, 2000, p. 389).
  13. 13. After the Mexican War 1846-48: Vaqueros taught Anglos how to ride, rope, and work cattle—which then also helped build the foundation for modern rodeo
  14. 14. As with American Indians and African American cowboys—Latino/a competitors were used to promote rodeo with “exotic” other perspectives to draw a paying crowd</li></li></ul><li>Minority Women<br /><ul><li>Research for this chapter has shown the ethnic minority cowboys are more prevalent and easier to find.
  15. 15. Ethnic minority women contestants are fewer and farther between.
  16. 16. Due to cultural constraints (collectivistic vs. individualistic) impacted the role of EM cowgirl involvement.
  17. 17. Majority of women’s roles were as the rodeo sponsor girl or rodeo queen (although these roles were held majority by American Indian women). </li></li></ul><li>Cowgirl Images<br />Princess Winona, a White woman masquerading as an Indian Princess. (Flood, 2000). <br />Indian Princess Leah presenting President Truman at the Calgary Stampede (Burbick, 2002).<br />Latina cowgirl, unnamed and undated. (Flood, 2000). <br />
  18. 18. Reasons Ethnic Cowgirls and Cowboys are marginalized in rodeo roles<br />٭ § Racist standards marginalized rodeo contestants achievements and cast them in roles of “exotic other”<br />٭§ Covert and overt racism<br />٭§ Jim Crow and Segregation Laws influenced rodeo’s history<br />٭§ 1950’s Southwestern Colored Cowboy’s Association created own circuit<br />
  19. 19. Modern Day Rodeo<br />Ethnic Minority Cowgirls like Kaila Mussell, and Cowboys like Fred Whitfield and Abe Morris create a new emerging roles where both genders are able to compete in an equal arena.<br />The changes are small but significant as the their competition in the larger circuits such as the PRCA does allow more Ethnic Minority cowboys and cowgirls to compete as equals<br />
  20. 20. Stagecoach Mary <br />