Rodeo Cowboys in the North American Imagination

By Michael Allen

The eternal struggle between the frontier and civilization is at the core of our national heritage, and that’s what makes rodeo an important component in the creation of American popular culture. Allen, associate professor of history and American studies at the University of Washington, Tacoma, clearly explains our continuing interest in rodeo through his combined examination of its history and its cultural interpretation. Rodeos evolved from the curious townspeople who gathered to watch goings-on at the local ranches. As the plains cowboys began to disappear, the rodeo cowboy provided audiences with an image of the real thing. If the cowboys of old liked to drink, carouse and tear things up, today’s rodeo is serious business; its participants are organized, sometimes even well paid and refer to themselves as professional athletes.

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