Ever wondered what life was like for pioneers in the Wild West?
Make plans to be in Cheyenne the last week in July for Cheyenne Frontier Days, the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and Western celebration. A Cheyenne tradition since 1897, Frontier Days brings together more than 500,000 rodeo fans, country music lovers, western enthusiasts and fun-seekers from around the world. “People love to experience how the West was, and we portray it through exhibits, rodeo, parades, concerts and pancake breakfasts,” says Dave Johansen, executive director of Cheyenne Frontier Days.
The 10-day celebration began 112 years ago as a single-day wild bronco-riding event designed to make Cheyenne a destination for an excursion train. The success of that first event and the positive economic impact it had on local businesses prompted the formation of a volunteer committee to help Frontier Days grow. When Frontier Days began struggling to survive nearly a decade later, the modern-day Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1907 to help it flourish again.
From the Beginning
Originally called the Industrial Club, the chamber remained active in producing the celebration until 1991, when Cheyenne Frontier Days became an independent organization.
“It’s one of the last events on the planet that still perpetuates Western heritage and culture in a major way,” says Dale Steenbergen, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce.
“It does an excellent job of that – people all over the world know about Frontier Days.”
Just like the first Frontier Day in 1897, rodeo competition remains the backbone of the celebration. Every afternoon features bull riding, saddle bronc, bareback, steer wrestling, steer roping, barrel racing and more.
The celebration also includes nightly concerts by top-name country artists, a carnival midway, the Frontier Park Indian Village, a Western art show at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, aerial displays by the USAF Thunderbirds, four Grand Parades, a Chuck Wagon Cookoff and three free pancake breakfasts. The pancake breakfasts are prepared by the Kiwanis Club with the help of the Cheyenne Boy and Girl Scouts. Each year they serve up more than 100,000 flapjacks made from 5,000 pounds of pancake mix and accompanied by 630 pounds of butter and 475 gallons of syrup. They also cook 3,000 pounds of ham and serve 9,200 cartons of milk and 520 gallons of coffee.
Daddy of 'em All
Affectionately known as the “Daddy of ’em All,” Cheyenne Frontier Days is put on by 15 year-round staff members, a board of directors and more than 2,500 volunteers. Many of the volunteers are Cheyenne residents, but some come from as far as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri to pitch in.
“The dedication of the volunteers is insurmountable. It’s a large commitment,” says Charlie West, general chairman of Cheyenne Frontier Days.
“The volunteers are the ones who get the grounds ready and put the whole show on. A lot of them come to work Frontier Days on their vacations.” Some volunteers have been working at Frontier Days for 50 years. “They do it because of their love of rodeo and for the camaraderie,” West says.
“I enjoy working with them. We’re like a big happy family.” Because of the huge number of visitors Frontier Days brings, the celebration always has a great economic impact on Cheyenne.
“Local merchants call it Christmas in July, because if they have a good Frontier Days, they know they’ve made a good profit for the year,” West says.
But the most appreciated aspect of the event is the way it brings Western culture to life again.
“I grew up on a ranch, and I can see every generation knows less about ranching,” Steenbergen says.
“Frontier Days is important because it helps us remember where we came from and how we got here.”
Find more on Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, WY.