Not Your First Rodeo | God's World News
Not Your First Rodeo
Time Machine
Posted: March 01, 2024
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    Native Americans play ahoohai. (Navajo Chicken Fight: Awa TsireH/Smithsonian American Art Museum, Corbin-Henderson Collection; gift of Alice H. Rossin)
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    A rider drops a baton into a barrel at a rodeo in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. (AP/Sue Ogrocki)
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    Cowboy Nat Love in 1907 (Library of Congress)
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    George McJunkin was born enslaved in Texas in 1851. He learned cowboy skills from a Mexican vaquero. (Public domain)
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Mount your horse.

No saddles allowed.

Kick up some dust.

Lean down. Grab the chicken buried up to its neck in the ground. If you get it first, you win!

This competition started long ago among the Navajo Native Americans. People still practice it sometimes today. (They don’t use a live chicken anymore though.) The old tradition and other horse-based contests turned into a modern-day sport. We call it rodeo.

The word rodeo comes from the Spanish verb rodear (roh-DAY-are). That means “to encircle.” A rodeo is a series of roping and riding contests. It includes barrel racing, bull riding, bareback bronco riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, and more.

Today’s rodeos are big, organized competitions. But they began with cowboys back in the 1800s. Ranch hands called vaqueros (vah-CARE-ose) worked with horses and cattle. They roped. They rode. These hardworking risk-takers also gave us rodeo fashion. (Think leather boots and big hats.)

Many vaqueros were black people, Mexican people, or people with Spanish heritage. Many were Native Americans—and that’s still true of modern rodeo fans today. In arenas today, Native families watch as cowboys and cowgirls show off skills. They rope, ride, and wrestle livestock.

Najiah Knight is one such cowgirl. She comes from the Klamath Tribes. Many other Native kids are raised in the rodeo like she was.

Some Native Americans live on pieces of land called reservations. In some of these communities, tribal members still hold big contests: Run. Canoe. Race bareback on a horse. The winner is recognized as the ultimate warrior.

Remember the chicken at the beginning of this story? In the Navajo Nation, rodeo is still called “ahoohai.” That comes from the Navajo word for “chicken.”

For more about cowboys and cowgirls, see Cowboys and Cowgirls: Yippee-Yay! by Gail Gibbons in our Recommended Reading. For more about cattle, see 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy.