By CHUCK KING, originally published in the October 1969 issue of Western Horseman

This year marked Cheyenne’s 73rd annual western celebration—Frontier Days; and “Old Cheyenne,” as the Wyoming town is known to many cowboys, really drew contestants and spectators alike. Weeks ahead of the July 22-27 dates, all hotel and motel rooms were sold out for Frontier Days.

The official program lists some 580 rodeo contestants. With many of these cowboys competing in more than one event, plus other competitors competing in extra events not included in the total figure above, Cheyenne may have set a record as the world’s largest cowboy celebration—contestant-wise, that is. Extra events included such contests as chuck wagon racing, a goat tying for girls, shetland pony bucking contest (for boys and girls 14 years and under), and horse racing.

Larry Mahan riding a saddle bronc horse at Frontier Days
Larry Mahan, all-around champion cowboy of the Rodeo Cowboys Assocation, hooking High Hopes in this classic photo by Ferrell Butler.

Give or take a few, maybe because of last-minute draw outs, the breakdown of contestants by event went this way: 226 calf ropers, 154 steer ropers, 94 bulldoggers, 72 bull riders, 44 professional saddle bronc riders, 42 amateur saddle bronc riders, 42 bareback bronc riders, and 16 entries in the wild horse race.

Money-wise, there was a lot at stake at the “Daddy Of ‘Em All.” The richest of the arena events was the calf roping where first in a go-round paid $2,191, while first in the average was worth $3,287. Next high-paying event was the single steer roping where first in a go-round earned $1,606. First in the average brought the lucky rope-trip-tie cowboy $2,410. The bulldogging was next in the pay-off line, with first in a go-round bringing $1,119. And winning the average was worth $1,679.

calf roping back in the 1960s
Mother cows accompanied the fresh Hereford calves to Frontier Park. This is rare, because most rodeos haul the calves alone to the arena. These fresh calves, right off the cows, turned the Cheyenne roping into a real drawing contest. Many a top roper made a fast catch only to find that it took a long time to tie a kicking, bawling, hunk of veal Photo by Ferrell Butler

The winning rider pocketed $796 for a go-round in the Brahma bull riding, while first in the average paid $1,195. To win a go-round in the saddle bronc riding meant a check for $620, and first in the average meant another check for $930. The bareback bronc riding paid $602 for winning a go-round, while first and second in the average was split between two contestants. Each earned $825 for the split.

The big money-winner at Frontier Days was Idaho cowboy Dean Oliver, who used his catch rope and piggin’ string to win a total of $4,445 in the calf roping event. Through the years, Dean has about broken every calf roping record that was ever made, but this is his first calf roping championship at “Old Cheyenne.”

John Mariani & Jim Finnerty talking
John Mariani, well-known cowboy artist, visits with old-timer Jim Finnerty. With one excep­t\?n, Jim has been to every Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo since 1908. The year he missed was 1918 while serving in the army during World War I. Jack Finnerty, Jim’s son, was competing in the bulldogging at Cheyenne this year. Photo by Ferrell Butler

All-around honors at Wyoming’s greatest rodeo go to the cowboy who wins the most money in two or more events. This year’s winner was Paul Mayo, Grinnell, Iowa, who won $1,025 in bareback bronc riding and $514 in saddle bronc riding.

The total payoff in rodeo’s five main events—calf roping, bulldogging, saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, and bull riding—plus single steer roping, was $88,063. And for some cowboys the grazing was real good at Cheyenne, as 26 contestants won more than $1,000 each at Frontier Park, while a total of 86 cowboys placed in the six rodeo events. For the majority though, the grass was short and the pickin’s were slim as this leaves somewhere around 450 or more contestants who in cowboy lingo, just “came to Cheyenne to hear their names announced” or “came to hear the band play.” The number of also-rans is not accurate because winners in such events as the wild horse race, amateur saddle bronc riding, and chuck wagon race were not figured into the tally of total winners.

steer getting a 30 foot head start at Cheyenne Frontier Days
Line flagger Billy Weeks, waits for a big ox that is moseying out to the 30-foot score line in the steer roping event. Fresh cattle were used at Cheyenne, and ropers and ‘doggers had a long wait in the box before the flag dropped. Photo by Ferrell Butler

At any rate, though, the majority of contestants came to Cheyenne “just to hear the band play.” And the band listening at Frontier Days comes high, because entry fees in the professional saddle bronc, bareback, and bull riding are $75 each, while steer roping, calf roping, and bulldogging are $100 each.

High entrance fees, however, as proven each year by the large entry list, can’t keep the cowboys away from Frontier Days. One reason might be that Cheyenne is a fickle old gal. Each year she has her new favorites. Newcomers often best the old pros when it comes to roping fresh calves and steers over the long score line. And the luck of the draw seems to be more important than ever when you’re competing at Frontier Park. Champions got wiped out like most anybody else as big steers are bulldogged after being given a 30-foot start. Wrecks are real easy to come by in this event, and many a champion doesn’t score at old Cheyenne. Be it champion or just average cowboy through, Cheyenne to many contestants is the champion.

wild saddle bronc ride by Kent Bigsby
Kent Bisby making a wild ride on a wild-colored paint at old Cheyenne. Riding judge George Williams (in striped vest) casts an eagle-eye on the action. Photo by Ferrell Butler

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