Long time friends of US89 Christian Probasco and Beckie Gregg have launched a new publication about the southern Utah segment of the highway, the Heritage Highway Gazette.
Christian writes for the Sanpete Messenger in Manti and Beckie is the proprietor of the Thunder Horses Mercantile in Panguitch. Between them and with the help of the MNHPA, they are producing a monthly newsletter with stories about the past and present from Fairview to the Utah/Arizona border.
I wrote a column called “Further down the road” and somehow got titled a contributing editor. I’m taking on themes that span the entire highway, so I can show this picture from Montana that I haven’t blogged before; they used other pictures I shot along the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area. You can find the Gazette in retail locations along the route. Here’s my July column.
Further down the road: Time to Rodeo!
Signs of summer along Highway 89 are everywhere: creekside cottonwoods turn a deeper shade of green, hillsides fade to brown and calves grow out of frolicking and settle into their pastures. It’s time to polish up those cowboy boots and tie on a neckerchief–it’s time to rodeo!
From Arizona to Montana, most of the country along Highway 89 is cattle and sheep-raising country. Too far from markets, or too dry without irrigation, or too short of a growing season for row crops, the region’s first settlers adopted a ranching lifestyle. Modernization has not pushed aside western heritage, however, and hometown rodeos are a highlight of the summer season along U.S. 89.
Cowboying hones a unique set of skills: riding, roping and otherwise persuading half-ton bulls to go where the cowboy wants rather than the animal’s instincts or inclinations.
Intense pride in these skills naturally led to bravado, boasting and betting on who was the better cowboy. After one too many drunken contests in streets, city leaders in Prescott, Arizona organized what is believed to be the world’s first professional rodeo in 1888, and other towns soon followed.
By the 1920s, rodeoing had become a spectator sport. Tucson advertised their February rodeo as a tourist attraction in a national campaign. Americans were buying cars and taking their first road trips, but once they got to the west, they wanted to see horses and cowboys.
Western frontier towns grew up and cattle drives were replaced by livestock trucks. The 1972 film Junior Bonner, starring Steve McQueen, used Highway 89 town Prescott Arizona and its rodeo as backdrop and metaphor for the growth and changes taking place in the sport and the west as a whole.
While the highest levels of rodeo sport play out on syndicated television and Las Vegas arenas, Highway 89 communities still stage smaller rodeos today. Local cowboys and cowgirls compete for prizes that might just cover the entry fees and gas money. Hometown sweethearts are crowned rodeo queen, galloping the American flag during the Grand Entry, then flushing calves from the arena between competitors before racng the barrels themselves.
Volunteer committees sell tickets, repair the arenas, and raise funds to hire stock contractors (who provide the bucking stock). Smaller budgets might mean fewer saddle bronc riders, but creative entertainment fills inthe gaps. The crowds cheer for their neighbors in ATV barrel racing, horseback musical tires and stick-horse races and mutton bustin’ for the kids.
Hometown rodeos are a tradition that visitors to Highway 89 communities are welcome to join. What better way to enjoy a summer evening than to grab a burger at the cook shack, enter the kids in the stick horse races and holler for the bullriders as they hang on for the longest eight seconds of their lives?