World’s oldest rodeo celebrates 120 years

Independence Day always has an extra-special meaning in Prescott, Ariz., because that’s when the World’s Oldest Rodeo® is held and attracts some of the top rodeo contestants from around the world.

This year’s rodeo is a far cry from the first one held in 1888 when professional businessmen and merchants organized the “cowboy tournament” and offered cash prizes.

The World’s Oldest Rodeo, now organized by Prescott Frontier Days Inc., has grown into a week-long event that features bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, team roping and women’s barrel racing.

“Those are the standard events that you’ll see at every performance,” said J. C. Trujillo, general manager of Prescott Frontier Days. “The rodeo runs for six days and goes through eight performances.”

But rodeo isn’t the only draw during the week that encompasses the July 4 holiday. Prescott Frontier Days also hosts a parade that Trujillo said is the second largest in Arizona, next to the one run at the Fiesta Bowl. The parade, which runs through downtown Prescott, had a theme of “Unsung Heroes” this year and drew nearly 50,000 people.

Other events include a rough stock exposition, a golf tournament, the Happy Hearts Rodeo for exceptional children, a rodeo dance, a kiddie parade sponsored by the Kiwanis Club, a Fine Arts and Crafts show, the Rodeo Queen coronation, a trail ride, a 10k race and a 2-mile fun run.

The art of rodeo is as old as raising cattle, stemming from the Spanish traditions of the “vaquero.” And while rodeo has reached its highest popularity in America, it also is enjoyed throughout the world, reflecting the skills used in real life.

Trujillo, who was born and raised in Prescott, is in his fourth year as manager of the rodeo, but isn’t any stranger to rodeo arenas. Trujillo won the world championship in bareback riding in 1981, has been in the national rodeo finals a dozen years, and was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1994.

“Prescott Frontier Days runs a very traditional rodeo, so we don’t do a lot of changing as far as our events go,” Trujillo said. “But we do try to add more prize money each year, and also want to improve on the satellite events like the parade, the 10k run and the golf tournament.”

During the rest of the year the organization also hosts a high school rodeo, a rodeo for kids, a memorial calf roping and a 4-H exposition, among others.

Trujillo noted that his group is focusing on improving the rodeo facility, which is one of the oldest in the world. The rodeo grounds are still in the place where the first rodeo was held in 1888 – on 30-plus acres located between Miller Valley Road and Gail Gardner Road.

The site is the former Yavapai County fairgrounds and includes a large grandstand and arena, two big barns, several meeting hall facilities and office space. RV hookups are available for contestants and rodeo personnel.

“We want to add more seating, because that way we can add more prize money,” he said. “And the prize money is what attracts more top cowboys.”

Prescott Frontier Days only has three full time employees – Trujillo, an office manager and an accountant. During the rodeo, the group relies on more than 300 volunteers to work in security, ticketing, parking, concessions and animal handling.

“This rodeo is not possible without the help of all those volunteers,” Trujillo said. “They’re what makes this thing work.”

Prescott Frontier Days Inc.
PO Box 2037
Prescott, AZ 86302