The “Wild West,” as we know it from Hollywood westerns, did not last a long time. Its height was from about 1865 to 1885, or only twenty years. By 1885, there were railways across the plains, fences had been built around farms and ranches and lawmen were on the lookout for any troublemakers. Not only that, but by 1885 nearly all the buffalo had been killed, and most of the Indians were on reservations.
Still the “Wild West’ had captured the imagination of the reading public. A former buffalo hunter and Indian scout, Buffalo Bill Cody, decided to take advantage of his fame as a cowboy. In 1883, he organized “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show,” and toured North America and Europe.
Alberta, Canada had been the last part of the old west to be settled. But by 1912, ranching was being replaced by farming. The city of Calgary was itself becoming a commercial and industrial center. Old-timers looked back fondly to the old days of cowboys and Indians.
In 1908, the Miller Brothers’ Wild West Show visited Calgary. One of the cowboys, Guy Weadick, talked to local businessmen about putting on a rodeo and the Wild West Show. Eventually, four Calgary businessmen put up $25,000 each to finance the event.
Weadick was a good organizer. He advertised all over the U.S. and the Canadian west for cowboys and rodeo-riders to come. And with $25,000 in prize money, people came from as far away as Mexico. Weadick was able to persuade the Canadian government to let large numbers of Indians leave their reservations to attend. In fact, the Indians were a big part of the program.
The main rodeo events were bronco riding, bareback riding, women’s bronco riding, steer roping and bulldogging. These events were based on things that working cowboys actually did. But to make them harder, special bucking horses were brought in. One horse named Cyclone had never been ridden long by anyone. He had thrown 127 riders in a row.
Most of the rodeo cowboys came from the United States – from Wyoming, Oregon, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona. But there were also Canadian cowboys and some Canadian Indians competing.
Queen Victoria’s son, the Duke of Connaught, was the grand marshal. Many cowboys rode well, but no one could stay on Cyclone. On the sixth and final day, the grounds were muddy from rain, and the horses kept slipping. Cyclone escaped from his handlers and ran around the track. For this last bronco-riding contest, Cyclone’s rider would be Tom Three Persons. Three Persons was a Blood Indian from Southern Alberta. When Three Persons got on Cyclone, the horse would rear up, then plunge its head down to throw the rider. Cyclone acted as though it would topple over backwards, but Three Persons hung on. Then it hurled itself forward with its head almost touching the ground. After a wild ride of several minutes, Cyclone began to tire. The judges declared Tom Three Persons the winner of the bucking bronco event. Three Persons was the only Canadian to win a major event at that first Calgary Stampede in 1912.
Today, the Calgary Stampede continues to be the largest rodeo and Wild West show in North America. It has many new events and attractions and still attracts the best rodeo riders from all over North America.