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Rodeo Crown
Payson, Pecos and Cheyenne came close, but it was Prescott that wrangled the honor of being the world’s oldest rodeo.

By Sally Benford

Prescott QUESTION: What annual Arizona event showed up as a question in Trivial Pursuit?

a. Barrett-Jackson car auction
b. Cactus League baseball
c. Fiesta Bowl
d. None of the above

The correct answer is "d." None of the above. In the 1985 version of the popular board game, a question read: "What rough-and-tumble Western sport was first formalized in Prescott, Arizona?" The answer, of course, was "rodeo," and today, the Prescott Rodeo is billed as the "World's Oldest Rodeo."

It began in 1888, when the town fathers included a "cowboy contest" in Prescott's July Fourth Frontier Days celebration, hoping to entice people to come into town from nearby farms and ranches. It worked.

That year, cowboys and spectators were thrilled with contests that included bronco riding, cow-horse racing and steer roping. Juan Leivas, a cowboy from nearby Date Creek Ranch, took the honor as "Best Cowboy." Claiming the title of "World's Oldest Rodeo," however, wasn't that simple for Arizona's original Territorial capital.

For years, Prescott wrangled with a number of towns that claimed to have held the first rodeo, including Pecos, Texas; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and, closer to home, Payson. The town of Pecos held a cowboy contest on July 4, 1883, calling it the first, but according to Prescott officials, the contest wasn't formally documented. Cheyenne's rodeo began in 1897, nine years after Prescott's. And, like Pecos, Payson's first several cowboy tournaments weren't documented. However, the town has hosted events every year since 1884, making Payson's event the "World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo."

Drawing on its rich — and strictly American — tradition, Prescott took center stage in the 1972 movie Junior Bonner, starring Steve McQueen. Written by Prescott native Jeb Rosebrook and filmed on location, the story focused on McQueen's character as an aging rodeo rider who comes home to Prescott to compete in the town's annual Frontier Days Rodeo.

This month, images of cowboys astride bucking broncs will still ride high at Prescott's most-anticipated event, now in its 122nd year. Small-town Western ambience fills the streets, while top PRCA rodeo talent fills the bill at the arena.

This year's event takes place June 29-July 5. For information, call 866-407-6336 or visit www.worldsoldestrodeo.com.

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