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"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.
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
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."