Rodeo is one of the indelible images of culture in the American West. The John Wayne-like cowboy tenaciously hanging on to the bucking bronc is a classic vision of what it means to be in the West. In Outriders: Rodeo at the Fringes of the American West
(University of Washington, 2019), author and University of Idaho historian Rebecca Scofield
argues that rodeo performance has also long-been a means of asserting “Western-ness” for people excluded from narratives about the region. From women rodeo riders to African American and gay performers, Scofield writes about the ways professional rodeo has been a means of inclusion into Western stories, and how professionalization of the sport has also excluded riders from its ranks. Among the stories Scofield tells are the incarcerated Texas rodeo performers who put their bodies on the line both for the coerced spectacle, as a means of entertaining visitors, and as a method of asserting their rights and humanity within a dehumanizing system. The meaning of rodeo has been contested and contingent throughout the twentieth century, and is about much more than clowns, cowboys, and angry steer. Outriders may exist on the fringes of traditional Western stories, but they are central to the constantly changing image of the American West.
Stephen Hausmann is an Assistant Professor of US History at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. He teaches courses on modern US history, environmental history, and Indigenous history and is currently working on his book manuscript, an environmental history of the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming.