Saturday, January 25, 2014

Full Swing

Spring semester, now in full swing, has brought with it beautiful buds of new ideas and blossoms on some perennial ideas. My dissertation has taken a definitive shape, I'm applying for grants to do some travel this summer, and new projects and connections have been springing up unexpectedly. More posts to come on all of that!

Looking through my boots to stock yards below
In addition to the new semester, the sun here has been shining daily, with a renewed vigor, and the mountains are transforming from their white, snowy winter selves into bright green beacons of the fresh season.

Yesterday, my husband and I decided to take advantage of the lovely weather and enjoy a centuries-old Denver tradition: the National Western Stock Show. In 1899, Denver was host to growing numbers of stock shows and by 1905, the Denver Stock Yards were constructed on the South Platte River. We roamed through these same stockyards just yesterday, stopping to see yaks, longhorns, cattle, mules, and bison, horses, and the fluffiest, most adorable sheep.

When the first official annual Stock Show was held in 1906, an estimated 15,000 people attending, coming from as far as Chicago and the east coast. In 2011, despite harshly cold weather, 644, 818 people traveled to the Denver Stock Yards--not just to buy cattle anymore, but now to see professional Rodeo shows, buy and sell farm goods, and watch animals get groomed, primped, judged and awarded.

The stock show remains a place for people to discuss all kinds of issues around farming, like how big herds should be, best-practices in animal welfare, techniques and tricks of the trade, and how best to educate the next generation of farmers. This takes place at the same time many people, like my husband and I, come to enjoy the "finished product" (burgers) and take in the courageous and skillful rodeo performers.

Bareback Broc riding-- captured mid-toughbreak
Trained in the tradition of the slavic Cossacks, these young men did incredible tricks jumping on and off horses
and even made a 19-man pyramid on 10 running horses (see here). 
"C'mere you" - In this event, the cowboy had to rope the steer and bind its legs in under 9 seconds to be competitive.

Many of the photos of I took at the rodeo didn't turn out -- the bucking bulls, the barrel racers, the mutton-busting little ones, and the cattle roping events were filled with such fast movement that my camera just couldn't capture the excitement without being hopelessly blurred. I must say, however, that if you ever have the opportunity to go to a professional rodeo, I highly recommend it. It is a fascinating conglomeration of events, some with evident practical application for working cowboys and others that border on performance art. The modern expression of the cowboy narrative is being constructed at pro-rodeo events all across the country -- and especially at a national rodeo like this one.

Longhorns in this historic stockyard

Getting a haircut 
They can only come in on stagecoaches.

Detail from an vintage stagecoach
I've written several posts on the cowboy narrative on this blog - check them out:

Let 'Er Buck - historiography of the cowboy narrative
Ranch Women - review of a documentary on three generations of working cowgirls
The Reason Behind the Risk - history of Bullriding and a review of the documentary "Rank"
Cowpuncher Poets - historiography of American cowboy poets, and clips of them reciting their work
Unbranded - review of a project and forthcoming documentary on 4 men who rode last year from Mexico to Canada through all uninhabited country
Anágua is Portuguese for Petticoat  - photographs from photographer Luis Fabini, whose work depicts cowboys and their animals from all over the American continents

Until next time - keep rustling!

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