Ranchers and cowboys were working in Arizona before it became a state in 1912. They held little local rodeos or calf roping events to earn bragging rights. The Tucson rodeo, Fiesta de los Vaqueros, was first performed in 1925, and now, during Arizona’s centennial, the rodeo has come and gone again. The 1925 rodeo had four events: steer wrestling – also known as bull dogging, steer tying, calf roping and saddle bronc riding.
The last article compared steer wrestling to real cowboy work. This article compares steer roping, or steer tying, then and now in rodeos, and as cowboy work.
Steer roping or steer tying is definitely a tool used by cowboys on a ranch for the last hundred years. In the old days, it was used during round up to bring in the rangiest and wildest steers, that couldn’t be driven, nor led once roped. Now steer tying is sometimes used in order to doctor sick cattle when a cowboy is alone on the range.
When I was a youngster, at the local rodeos, two cowboys roped a steer. The “header “ lassoed the steer horns, while the “heeler” roped a foot. They stretched the steer out, then manually tossed him down and tied three feet together with a short rope.
Now, on you tube, it shows 5 cowboys doing it. However, one description of PRCA rodeo rules: one cowboy ropes the steers head, then flips the rope over the right hip and rides to the left. This turns the head back and trips the steer. The rodeo cowboy then ties 3 legs together. The steer must remained tied for 6 seconds.
An excellent find for historical steer tying, a story by Heather Voight, concerns a young woman, Lucille Mullhall, who became famous in the early 1900s for steer roping in her father’s wild west show. Finally, in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show’s final tour, she agreed to work for him. She steer tied alone, and according to the PRCA rules.
Cowboy talk is often filled with stories of the meanest rangiest, most twisted cows that a cowboy had to chase. The Sonoita grasslands southeast of Tucson look like nice rolling hills of grass; however, there are draws and canyons filled with mesquite brush and sudden drops. If a steer runs in there, the mesquite claws a cowboy’s face and arms, and a sudden drop could cripple his horse.
Shorty Burch of Sonoita, and George Proctor from Madera Canyon south of Tucson, were telling tales of wild, rangy cows they were trying to round up. Shorty told of a Mamma cow that charged him when he separated her from the calf in order to drive him to the herd. He quickly loosened the lasso and jerked it off the calf. Then turned to catch the cow. She kept attacking while his pony dodged from side to side. No way could he get that cow thrown and tied. Shorty finally got her roped, and the rope twisted around a tree and tied off. Finally, he could herd the calf away and come back for Mamma cow later.
George tried to outdo him. His story was of a wild, wily steer that refused to be herded or lassoed. Finally, the steer just plunged off the cliff edge of an arroyo. George pulled wildly on the reins, trying to stop the pinto horse that he was riding. But the horse was so determined to catch that steer that he ran off the cliff also. According to George, the horse landed astraddle the steer – and it kept on running!
Notice the horse during rodeo events. If a rodeo horse doesn’t know how to hold the rope taut in steer tying and calf roping, the event is lost. All the cowboy tales speak of the importance of the cow pony that a cowboy rides. Good cow ponies are smart and quick, they move by instinct, and seem to know just what the cowboy needs. Except for certain pintos.
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