120th Daddy OF ‘EM ALL comes to an end.
Since 1897, Cheyenne has celebrated its Old West roots with this eye-popping festival. The centerpiece of this Western celebration is the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, which draws top professionals who compete for more than $1 million in cash and prizes. Complementing the daily rodeo action are behind-the-chutes tours, trick riding and a wild-horse race. A Native American Village, an old frontier town, a saloon, dancing, a chuck wagon cook-off, pancake breakfasts and an art show carry through the frontier theme. Rounding out the program are a carnival midway, an air show, top-name entertainment, professional bull riding shows and several parades that include antique carriages and automobiles. Cheyenne Frontier Days takes place each summer during the last full week in July.
That is the official statement: Here’s my story. My girlfriend and I climbed into my Ford Pick-up and started north to Wyoming, I had been to rodeos when I was a kid in Piedmont S.D. and she follows bull riding like some people follow the Broncos, right down to the yelling at the TV. We both had a very good Idea as to what to expect when we got there – cows, horses, cowboys and girls and a lot of hats. When we got there and found our way to the media trailer, we were a little tardy and being from a magazine out of Denver I wasn’t expecting much more then perfunctory behavior but I was wrong. We were immediately greeted like old friends that haven’t been around for a long while. Watching quietly I could not help but notice the best of the best riders were barely out of college or high school.
Then the MC announced and started to talk to “Tuff” Hedeman; Richard Neale “Tuff” Hedeman is an American retired three-time PRCA World Champion Bull Rider, as well as the 1995 Professional Bull Riders (PBR) World Champion. He is the ambassador of Championship Bull Riding and is considered as one of the greats in Bull Riding and to some, a living legend. Once the conference was over, the staff came over to me and asked if I would like to meet, interview and photograph Tuff and any of the other riders. With very little hesitation I said ‘sure’ and waited my turn to speak to Tuff and some of the others. It wasn’t but a moment and I was introduced to the current CBR world champion, 23 year old Cody Teel from Knoutze, TX. He was a polite and very friendly young man. He shook my hand and posed for a picture and humbly thanked me for wishing him good luck for the days’ event. I was barely done speaking with Teel when the press relations volunteer asked me if I was ready to speak to Tuff. I had no idea that this was going to happen to me and was nowhere near ready for an interview with him. I shared a quick story with him of how I was certain I had seen him ride in my home town in South Dakota. He was so patient and polite as I got my pictures of him. He gave me a firm hand shake and a quick tip of the hat to my girlfriend- we were off smiling ear to ear.
Not having a single clue as to where we were going, we were given a good set of directions and headed off to the stadium. We had no particular sense of urgency and took our time getting there. We stopped at the vendor booths, took pictures of the colorful people in the old town village. Once again we were treated with amazing kindness. When we finally got to the stadium , people greeted us, shook our hand and tipped hats. They gave us the run down about the booth and even gave me a couple pointers on where to get good shots. As the day went along, events came and went. It was Military Monday and the Blue Angels were doing flyby’s. So much was happening that I felt as if my head was going to twist off because I was trying to look at everything at once. Out of the seeming blue, I was offered a chute pass! I accepted it and was escorted down and given instructions on the do’s and don’ts of the area. I found myself a spot and photographed everything I could see.
Once the day rodeo was over, we went to the carnival midway, checked out more vendors, caught a band playing, watched a little boy with constant encouragement from his dad ride the mechanical bull and spoke to a few of the riders from the rodeo. As evening approached we made our way back to the stadium to wait to be escorted to the photo area for the CBR event. We grabbed seats on the patio and made more friends. Time came for us to make our way to the photography area and the wonderful staff lead us to a flatbed trailer in the arena. We all climbed on and found ourselves a good position and waited with anticipation. The Blue Angels pilots walked out to huge applause, waved to the crowd and took up a position on the nearby platform. When they began to announce the Riders and Bull Fighters there was fire, sparks, and rock music as each man was introduced. I could not help but to relate this to the many rock concerts I had seen.
There was a quick prayer and the national anthem. The first rider burst from the chute and then the next in a quick skilled pace. I found myself slightly out of breath as we watched these athletes take on the bulls. The half time event had the Seal Leap Frogs parachute out of the dark into the area near us. Round Two kicks off and Rider Vs. Bull go again as each rider in turn takes the 8 second challenge, some to barely make the clock and others riding out the time with skill. Danger is a major part of the Bull Riding and everyone knows it but that does not prepare you to see a rider bucked off and end up lying on the ground and stomped by 2500 pounds of angry steak. You could have heard a pin drop on the dirt as stadium grew so quiet. The Bull Fighters had the bull out and away in seconds and the EMS team was at the rider in less the a second.
It should be noted that the riders wear Kevlar body armor to protect them from being gored or to minimize impact. As the rider was taken out on a stretcher, he gave a thumbs up and the crowd roared with joy and relief. The rest of the night went as expected, riders and bulls one after the other. Finally, the highest scoring rider of the night- Juan Alonzo, a 24 year old US Army veteran made a single ride for $10,000. Unfortunately, the Bull known as Cowbanger with a career record of 12 Attempts and 1 ride won the day. When I look back, all I can think is I had one hell of a day!
Thanks to every one of the volunteers and staff who made me and my girlfriend feel so welcome!
See you next year!
Article by John Root & Keddie Klein
Photos by John Root & Teddy Gomez