by Lenore Macdonald
A rodeo is one of the West’s most iconic and enduring traditions. It is a sport involving a series of riding and roping contests derived from the working skills of the American cowboy as developed during the second half of the 19th century to support the open-range cattle industry in North America. In our high-tech world, demand remains for skilled, talented cowboys and cowgirls—there are still many working ranches out West. Rodeos celebrate their skills and talents.
Rodeos large and small still abound in the West. Most offer prize money to the contestants, but bragging rights are just as important to the winners and participants. Although some of the larger rodeos are featured on national television and the Cowboy Channel, there is nothing like a “small town rodeo”.
Many New Mexico towns and cities host an annual rodeo. Santa Fe hosts its Rodeo de Santa Fe during the summer. Taos’ Rodeo de Taos is held every June at the Taos County Sheriff’s Posse Arena. Events include Break-Away Roping, Bull Riding, Cowgirl’s Barrel Racing, Junior Bull Riding, Ranch Bronc Riding, Ribbon Roping, Saddle Bronc Riding, Steer Wrestling, Team Roping and Tie Down Roping.
Cimarron, the Maverick Club, and My Favorite Rodeo
A quintessential small-town Fourth of July rodeo is also my favorite: the “Longest Running Open Rodeo in the West”, Cimarron, New Mexico’s Maverick Club Fourth of July Rodeo. This year was no exception.
In 1922, the Maverick Club was organized by 50 prominent Cimarron citizens. The purpose of the club was and remains social, civic, and educational. They chose “Maverick” as its name “to denote the group of “strays” who felt they did not fit the mold of the typical service groups in the area. Besides, they were not sure if they could be branded by others’ rules. There were no membership dues, and once a man joined, he was a Maverick for life.” Its membership roll reads like a veritable who’s who in that corner of New Mexico. The club participates in community and charitable activities and hosts social events.
On July 4, 1923, the newly formed club sponsored its first rodeo for the community–the rest is history.
A word about Cimarron, a small town in remote Northeastern New Mexico, “where the West begins”. You must personally experience it to fully appreciate its place in history and its natural beauty. Look to the east and you will see the beginning of the vast North American Great Plains. To the North, you will clearly see the Rockies rise from the plains. South is the gateway to the spectacular Cimarron Palisades, a mountain outcropping that epitomizes the West. Turn west and before you is the mighty Rocky Mountains’ Sangre de Christo Range.
Once the home of Anasazi, Jicarilla Apache, and Ute Indians, Cimarron, located on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail, became the hub of a vast mining and ranching empire in the mid to late 19th century. This pioneering spirit brought to Cimarron the famous–and infamous. Western legends such as Kit Carson, Black Jack Ketchum, Charles Kennedy, Clay Allison, and Will James are part of the area’s rich history and the stuff of legends.
Just west of Cimarron is the world’s largest youth camp, Philmont Scout Ranch, the Boy Scouts of America’s largest National High Adventure Base. Formerly Waite Phillips’ private ranch, in 1938 he donated it to the Boy Scouts of America and established Philturn Rocky Mountain Scout Camp. Philmont is a bustling center for high adventure and training. It covers 140,171 acres, or about 220 square miles, of rugged mountain wilderness. About 22,000 Scouts and Leaders partook in its famous and popular 12-day treks last summer.
It employs approximately 80 full-time employees to ensure that operations run smoothly year-round and supervise the more than 1,100 seasonal staff members.
Philmont is also a working cattle ranch with 250 horses, 85 burros, 320 cattle, 140 buffalo, and 7 ponies. 300 tons of hay is produced each year. Also roaming its grounds are over 1,500 deer, 300 elk, 40-60 antelope, and 100-150 bears. It is among the Maverick Rodeo’s many loyal sponsors and participants. For me, it is always great fun spotting Scouts and Philmont Staff at the Maverick Rodeo. For some, it is their first rodeo, but it may not be their last.
Not surprisingly, Waite Phillips was a Maverick Club member. Philmont Director of Ranching and Conservation Dave Kenneke has been active with the Maverick Club for about 25 years. He calls the Maverick Rodeo “as much a reunion as a rodeo. If you want to catch up with old friends, the Maverick Fourth of July Rodeo is the place to do it.” He has “not missed a Maverick rodeo in 30-some years.”
Rodeos are more than a sport. They are more than social gatherings. Dave explains that “our rodeo has given opportunities to young cowboys and cowgirls. It is often their first exposure to rodeos, organized events, and competitions. We have quite a few novice events in the rodeo like cow milking, the cow pony race and the wild horse race where young people can learn how to participate, gain confidence and pick up life skills.”
“The Maverick Fourth of July Rodeo is not just a crowd pleaser for the locals, but for the multitude of Philmont Staff who return for it because they see people that have been attending, too, over 5 to 50 years. That makes it really special, too. It’s a place where you can feel back at home.”
I will never forget my first Maverick Club Fourth of July Rodeo. Former Philmont Scout Ranch Staffer, Maverick Club member, and blacksmith Steve Rick encouraged us to go for years, but we were not sure we would be welcome. We should have heeded his advice and gone the first year. It’s always worth the drive from Taos. But be forewarned: check to see when the Eagles Nest, Angel Fire, and Red River Fourth of July Parades and festivities are scheduled and time your drive accordingly—traffic can be a bear.
The Rodeo Hall of Fame
It follows, then, that there would be a Rodeo Hall of Fame to honor and celebrate rodeos’ best of the best in the West and beyond. This year, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and Rodeo Historical Society will honor its Rodeo Hall of Fame Inductees. If you happen to be in Oklahoma City on November 12 – 13, 2021, you can catch the ceremony in person and join the festivities. The Rodeo Hall of Fame Weekend includes an Induction Ceremony and Champions’ Dinner as well as an Inductee Panel Discussion, the Rope ‘N’ Ride Cocktail Reception, live and silent auctions to benefit RHS and other festivities. All events are at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. The Museum itself is worth a visit. It also sponsors the famed Prix de West art exhibition and auction. See, Dispatches from Taos, Painting Silence.
Since 1955, the Rodeo Hall of Fame has been dedicated to honoring and memorializing the legacy of great performers in rodeo and its related professions. Induction into this prestigious hall of fame is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on an honoree.
Covid delayed last year’s induction ceremony, so “after a year of waiting, we’re so glad to welcome everyone back in person for Rodeo Weekend,” said Natalie Shirley, Museum President, and CEO. “These deserving honorees are finally getting the moment they deserve for their formal induction into the storied Rodeo Hall of Fame.”
If you ever fantasized about meeting authentic cowboys and cowgirls, this is your opportunity. Or head to Cimarron on the Fourth of July.
Helpful Links and Suggestions:
Learn more about historic Cimarron at https://www.cimarronnm.com/uploads/2/3/9/7/23975243/history2008.pdf
Thank you to the Cimarron Visitors Center for its assistance with this article.
Thank you to the Dollie O’Neill, Steve Rick, Jack Rodgers, Melissa Stewart, the Maverick Club and Philmont Scout Ranch for their generous assistance. Thank you to Steve Rick, Jack Rodgers, Philmont Scout Ranch, the Rodeo Historical Society, and the Rodeo Hall of Fame for generously sharing photographs. Thank you to the Maverick Club for hosting the annual Fourth of July Rodeo and for all that it does in the community.
If you decide to overnight in Cimarron, the 140 years young historic St. James Hotel is close to the rodeo grounds. Even if you decide not to overnight there, follow in the footsteps of Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Black Jack Ketchum, and the Earp brothers with a visit to its historic bar. We still hear stories about the legendary gunfights and more that are part of the hotel’s legend and lore. It has a good restaurant serving American and New Mexican cuisine. A visit will take you back in time but thankfully the rooms have been modernized.
To tour the beautiful Villa Philmonte, Waite Phillip’s home on the Philmont grounds, visit https://www.philmontscoutranch.org/ or call (575) 376-2281 for reservations and information. You will not be disappointed.
For more information about Philmont Scout Ranch, visit https://www.philmontscoutranch.org/
Visit www.nationalcowboymuseum.org/rhs for schedules and information regarding the Rodeo Hall of Fame Weekend. National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, 1700 NE 63 Rd St, Oklahoma City, OK 73111. The Museum has an outstanding art collection worthy of a visit.
©2021 Lenore Macdonald. All rights reserved.