How did Professional Rodeo go from Deer Trail, Pecos, or Prescott, to 600 events over the US and Canada? How did we get from a bronc ride for a new suit to over $40 million in prize money a year? Clifford P. Westermeier, in his book Man, Beast, Dust: The Story of Rodeo, traces those wobbly first steps of Rodeo, on its journey from cow town spectacle to an established, loosely defined, form of American Entertainment. Westermeier writes in 1947, just 11 years after the Cowboy Turtle Association was formed and 2 years after they changed the name to Rodeo Cowboys Association. He was a firsthand witness to the struggles of cowboys for decent purses, rodeo’s struggle for legitimacy and fairness, and the organization of the association.
The characters of early day rodeo, provided some of the most fascinating in the book. Westermeier chronicles the rise of the cowboy from ranch hand to rodeo superstar. He highlights men like Pete Knight, Everett Bowman, and Doff Abner. He looks at specialty acts, bullfighters, announcers, and stock contractors from the early days of rodeo. He spent pages articulating the specific performances and committees that put on rodeos from 1900-1940. My favorite chapter is found in this section. He writes about how the Cowboy Turtle Association arose to serve and protect the cowboys from fraudulent promoters and contractors. In response, the Rodeo Association of America arose to protect the associations and rodeos from the cowboys demands and the stock contractors. It is a wonder that we even have rodeo today after the tumultuous beginning that Westermeier seamlessly documents.
The second section of this book is about the stock that made up the early rodeos. Steamboat, Midnight, Five Minutes to Midnight and other great early broncs were documented as making the bronc riding the premier event at early rodeos. Westermeier relied heavily on newspaper and original sources during this section of the book which takes the reader back to a day when Rodeo held a more prominent place in the sporting scene of America. He also explained the history and rules of each event of rodeo, going into great detail about the stock used and the participant sterotypes.
The last section of the book is Westermeier’s take on rodeo from a fans perspective. Whether introducing someone to the show and spectacle of rodeo. He gives the background to a few shows that explains what is happening for the novice to rodeo. This is important because at the time of his writing, it sounds that it may have been dangerous to show up to a rodeo. He includes stories of runaway bulls and broncs that end up in the stands. Westermeier doesn’t focus on these stories, nor is the book driven by them, but his dry writing gives a sense of humor to the events.
This book was a well written history of rodeo. It gets a little bit wordy and awful detailed to be a cursory study. It is certainly well researched, but poorly documented. He gives excellent background to the tumultuous years of rodeo, the battles for organization, and the characters involved. It was a fascinating look back to when bronc riding was the king competition of rodeo, specialty acts was a main draw, and the cowboys themselves were straight off the ranch. This was a classic picture of early rodeo.