True West: A Small-Town Wyoming “Ranch Rodeo”

No 35

Wyoming is not the only state in the West that bills itself as the home of the American cowboy. There are plenty of ranches here, run for livelihood and lifestyle reasons alike. And traveling rodeos—with professional riders gyrating atop furious bulls and broncos—are a popular, occasional form of entertainment.

Those spectacles are organized in familiar fashion, teeming as they are with corporate sponsors and overseen by a central administrative body. Small-scale “ranch rodeos," on the other hand, are more casual affairs, and as such they bear a much closer resemblance to the West's original cowboy gatherings.

The modern rodeo grew out of Western spring roundups, annual gatherings at which ranch-hands would socialize and compete, staking bets on who among them would prove the best roper or horse-breaker. There was some showmanship involved, but it was more about proving oneself a master of the skills required to do actual ranch work.

And so it is with small-time rodeos like the one in Kaycee, Wyoming. One of several Western towns to have revived the tradition recently, Kaycee launched its ranch rodeo in 2013. (The town's population is less than 300. Its slogan: “Where the pavement ends and the West begins.")

Professional riders do compete, but much of the day is given over to team events. As the clock ticks, groups of co-workers handle tasks like penning, roping, branding—in this case using powdery flour or chalk, rather than actual singeing the animal—and milking untamed cows.

The people involved tend to know each other. The prize money, like the crowd, is considerably smaller than at the larger arena rodeos. At Kaycee, the winning team takes home $2,000 and a Navajo wool saddle blanket.


  • Filmmakers - Abby Sun and Daniel Garber
  • Text - Darrell Hartman

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