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History

The Early Days 1908 – 1940
Most of what is known about rodeo in Estes Park comes from articles in the first newspaper, The Mountaineer and later, the Estes Park Trail. The term "rodeo" was not used in the United States until 1912 (Busch, 1984). Before that "rodeo-type" events were associated with community celebrations. The earliest reference to a rodeo-type celebration in Estes Park was recorded in The Mountaineer (June 25, 1908):

"Estes Park is now assured of a lively time on the fourth of July. Arrangements have been completed for the 'Frontier Day' celebration, to be held at 2 0'clock in the afternoon of that day, at the Base Ball Park, beside the 'lane,' one quarter of a mile east of town. The affair will be a genuine old fashioned "Wild West" exhibition, featuring some noted riders and horses in a Bronco Busting contest. The very best local riders have registered for the contest, and some bad 'outlaw' horses are being rounded up. A few of the most famous riders from the near parts of Colorado and Wyoming have also agreed to ride and are bringing good bucking horses. Besides the Bronco Busting contest, there will be a great many thrilling and amusing western ranch features such as roping and branding and steer riding."

The following paragraphs taken from the July 9, 1908 edition of The Mountaineer document the fact that the history of rodeo in Estes Park did begin at least as early as 1908. As you will read it was a glorious beginning indeed.
 

THE MOUNTAINEER

Volume I, Number 6, Estes Park, Colorado, July 9, 1908

THE GLORIOUS FOURTH WAS DULY CELEBRATED

Genuine Wild West Show Provides Plenty of Thrills For Large Crowd, Including Many Eastern Tourists

"The Broncho Busting Contest on the Fourth of July was a howling success-with the emphasis on the "howling". One of the largest crowds that the Park ever turned out for such an event thronged the show grounds and cheered lustily for its favorite riders as they "cut the capers" on the pitching horses. And there were some "buckers", too, horses that went straight into the air, "sunfished" and fell with their riders beneath them. But the more the bronchos twisted, the more the crowd howled and danced and enjoyed itself; and the result of the afternoon's performance was declared to be one of the most enjoyable entertainments ever given in the Park.

Long before the hour scheduled for the performance-2 o'clock-the show grounds were lined with people. They came on horse, on foot, in rigs and in autos; and the display of the latter vehicles would have made a New Yorker fancy himself back on the Sea Beach drive to Coney Island on a Sunday afternoon in August. The number of people present when the grand promenade and introduction of the riders began was an astonishing tribute to the popularity of Estes Park as a summer resort...."
 
This early rodeo-type event had many of the same features as modern rodeo but with less sophistication. Take, for instance, the following description of the official judging of the bucking horse event.

The feature of the afternoon, of course, was the bucking horses. The horsemanship displayed in these contests, could scarcely have been better, and in the face of the riding done by all contestants, the judges threw up their hands and refused to go on record as declaring any one man the winner."

Of course, today, the rodeo clown is an absolutely essential part of the rodeo. As the following exert from the 1908 Mountaineer article demonstrates, the clown was also quite important. "...The real feature of the show, as far as fun was concerned, was A.G. Birch, dressed as a clown. Scarcely a one on the grounds knew Mr. Birch in his strange rig, and his funny stunts filled every gap between the exciting events. The clown divided his time between a burro, wearing trousers of the national colors and a wooden horse, which he endeavored to enter in the bucking contest. When it became whispered around who the clown really was, there were repeated calls for his appearance, and he graciously responded."

As best as can be determined there was no formal committee that put on the early rodeos but we do know that in 1908 Johnny Malmberg "...to whose untiring efforts the performance was chiefly due" was credited with playing a primary role. Charles Thomas, who was living in Lyons at the time, also participated in the Broncho Busting contest by bringing up a horse that was hard to beat. As reported in the July 9 1908 Mountaineer article "the animal made Charley "go some" but he held his seat without a suggestion of "pulling leather."

Johnny Malmberg and Charles Thomas were stalwarts in early Estes rodeo as evidenced by an Estes Park Trail (July 19) article in 1913 that described a bucking contest "...in which John Malmberg, on 'Billy B.D' and Charles Thomas on 'Jerry' were forced to split the purse of $10.00 on account of the failure of the judges to reach a decision. The broncho riders gave a fine demonstration of the thrilling sport, both horses giving the spectators a run for their money." 

Use of the Term Rodeo

As indicated above, the term "rodeo" was not used in the early days of the sport in Estes Park. In 1908 advertising, it was the "Frontier Days". In actual reports of the day it was a "Wild West Show" and simply a "Broncho Busting Contest". This lack of formal show title can possibly be attributed to the fact that the major celebration was the Fourth of July-Independence Day. Broncho busting, horse racing and pie eating contests were all a part of the Independence Day celebration.

The use of the term Frontier Days is interesting and connects to a relationship between the 'Daddy of 'em All' rodeos, the famous Cheyenne Frontier Days. The first Cheyenne Frontier Days' rodeo was staged on September 23, 1897; thus to those planning the early Estes Park shows, the term 'Frontier Days' would have been well known to the new supporters. Actually, there still is a strong connection between Estes Park and Cheyenne that began in 1921 when over 100 members of the Cheyenne Boosters came to Estes (Flynn, 1996). There were 100 Cheyenne residents plus 15 Sioux. The Sioux put on a dancing demonstration that was the hit of the day. In 1931 the annual trip to Estes Park included Miss Frontier Days and her Lady-In-Waiting. Today, Estes Park and the Rooftop Rodeo Committee are pleased and privileged to have the senior members of the Cheyenne Frontier Days Committee continue the tradition started in 1921 and attend the opening day of the Rooftop Rodeo.

The first time the term "rodeo" can be documented as being used in relationship to Estes Park is in a 1923 (August 24, page 12) Estes Park Trail article titled, 'Wild West Show to be Staged at Stanley Field'. "Colorado Springs and other cities have been putting on rodeos for several years and Estes Park, not to be outdone, will break into the limelight this season with the most spectacular rodeo ever held in this part of the state." (P. 12) In this article, a comparison with Cheyenne was made by the statement "Practically all features of the Cheyenne show will be staged."

The 1924 rodeo had events that closely resemble today's rodeo events: Bull Dogging (Steer Wrestling), Bareback Riding, Bronco Riding (Saddle Bronc), Steer Riding (Bull Riding) and Goat Roping (Tie-Down Roping). Once again a comparison was made to Cheyenne: "This rodeo bids fair to rival the Cheyenne Round-Up both in point of attendance and interest. A significant aspect of this rodeo is that it was produced by Mr. J.C. Remington who had just previously produced this rodeo in Yankee Stadium in New York and in Detroit."

The Beginning of the "Rooftop Rodeo" name - 1941

Contrary to what the accompanying picture might indicate, the title "Rooftop Rodeo" was not adopted because of advertising signs attached to roofs by rodeo queens. The title was actually introduced in 1941 because of Estes Park's 7500-foot altitude. It was billed as the highest altitude for any rodeo competition in America.

The first queen of "America's Rooftop Roundup" was selected in 1941. She was supposed to be selected by applause of the spectators at the Riverside Ballroom the night before the parades and rodeos began. Candidates were entered by local business houses, hotels and lodges. They were scheduled to parade "in western raiment" while the audience "yoo-hooed" for their first choices.

The TRAIL reported that "...the yoo-hooing angle is currently being given national attention through wire services." There was actually an effort to make the queen the "Nations first official yoo-hooing queen". Men stationed at Lowry Field and Fort Logan were especially invited for their yoo-hooing ability. It was later reported that "the ballot method was used, rather than applause, to give the judges, Thomas Canfield of St. Paul, Minn., Moses Baum of Chicago and Harold Alps of Estes Park, more definite reactions of the large crowd. One ballot was provided each spectator, voting as he or she saw fit. Candidates were also given liberal volumes of applause and yoo-hoos. Applause was so spirited and close in some instances it would have been practically heart breaking for judges to make a decision, queen committee members reported."

Lana Turner, Hollywood movie star with MGM, was to be the honorary queen of that 1941 Rooftop Roundup. She was named by local cowboys in May when she visited the area for a LOOK magazine travel feature. Humphrey Bogart of Warner Brothers was named honorary parade marshal.

The competition for queen was won by Patty Moomaw out of a field of sixteen candidates. She was awarded an engraved trophy, the honor of opening the Rooftop Roundup and leading the Rooftop Parade. She was also to have been greeted by Miss Turner, but Hollywood business kept Miss Turner from attending. Patty received wired greetings from Miss Turner and did go ahead and led the parade with parade marshal Judge Hackett. Mr. Bogart also was not able to attend.

In 1942, possibly because of the United States increased involvement in World War II, it appears that the scale of the rodeo was less than the previous year. The queen, for instance, was selected by a group of tourists during the first day's parade. Barbara Enright was selected as the "Roundup Queen." (1942, Vol XXII August 14 Trail) No evidence is available that suggests there was a rodeo in 1943.

In 1944, an effort was made to reinstate the rodeo and queen. The Trail reported that "At the Stanley Park the third annual rodeo was held Friday and Saturday of this week." (1944 Vol. XXII Friday August 18, 1944.) Based on gate receipts they lost $1,900.00. It is not clear why the reporter of the day referred to the 1944 rodeo as Estes Park's "third annual rodeo" when evidence exists of rodeo-type events being produced in Estes Park as early as 1908.

Rita Bachy, Miss Estes Park, presided over the shows at the Park. The S.P.O. and the Liverymen's Association and the Two Bars Seven Ranch put on the show.

The 1947 rodeo was billed as "...the rip roaringest, most exciting western ranch-type rodeo to be held in Colorado. Top hands from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Wyoming already have signified their intentions of being in Estes Park Aug. 9 and 10 to take part in the Rooftop Roundup." An interesting observation here is the use of the term "ranch-type" rodeo. Further research needs to be done to determine if this was just an interesting choice of words or if the rodeo was indeed a ranch rodeo. The difference being that most contestants would have been actual working cowboys and not professional rodeo cowboys.

In 1948 rodeo in Estes Park was going full swing. The Estes Park Trail (June 25, 1948) reported that Dale Stoner, Mrs. Ruth Herndon, Harold Alps, George Hix, Frank Hicks, Everett May, Art Card, and Jap Edmonds, along with the Estes Park Rodeo Association committee officers, discussed topics such as banners and flags for the Stanley Field Rodeo Grounds and whether or not to change the raffle prize from a horse and saddle to a new car. Considering a new car as the raffle prize is interesting because in the early 1900s, Estes Park had adopted the title of "The Horse Capital of the Nation." This title was appropriate because horses were the primary means of transportation and almost everyone owned at least one horse. Times were changing.

Rodeo Stories
Note: As the author of this little bit of history, I have endeavored to report the history of the rodeo in Estes Park as completely and accurately as possible. However, as any old cowboy will tell you, there is a big difference between ndeavoring and doing. So, I ask for the help of any reader who may have new information, documentation, or corrections that will make this piece better. Please call the rodeo office at 970-586-6104.
 
References:
Bush, M (summer, 1984). Rooftop Rodeo
Estes Park Museum

Recent Major Awards

1994 - PRCA Mountain States Cowboy's Choice Award
1995 - PRCA Mountain States Cowboy's Choice Award
1996 - PRCA Mountain States Cowboy's Choice Award
2000 - PRCA Best Small Rodeo of the Year nominee
2003 - PRCA Best Small Rodeo of the Year
2004 - PRCA Best Small Rodeo of the Year nominee
2005 - PRCA Best Small Rodeo of the Year nominee
2006 - PRCA Best Small Rodeo of the Year
2006 - PRCA Mountain States Circuit Best Small Rodeo
2007 - PRCA Best Small Rodeo of the Year nominee
2007 - PRCA Mountain States Circuit Most Improved Rodeo
2008 - PRCA Best Small Rodeo of the Year
2008 - PRCA Mountain States Circuit Best Small Rodeo
2009 - PRCA Mountain States Circuit Best Small Rodeo
2009 - PRCA Best Small Rodeo of the Year
2010 - PRCA Best Small Rodeo of the Year
2010 - PRCA Mountain States Circuit Medium Size Rodeo of the Year
2010 - WPRA Small Rodeo of the Year
2011 - PRCA Mountain States Circuit Medium Size Rodeo of the Year