One year, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Yearbook said it best, "Rodeo's beginning is hidden in a haze from countless cattle drives and campfire smoke on the open ranges of the West for over 100 years."
Yet the discussion goes on in good fun, so why not explore it again?
Here are some facts, and thrown in are a few special events associated with Payson's August rodeo. You draw your own conclusions.
1869 Deer Trail, Colo., rodeo competition gave a prize to the "Champion Bronco Buster of the Plains" (a suit of clothes). The Hash Knife, Mill Iron and Campstool brand ranch hands competed. The winner was a woman, Emiline Gardenshire.
1872 At a 4th of July celebration in Cheyenne, Wyo., a prize was given for the winner of a wild steer ride.
1876 Some sources claim rodeos began on this year in Denver, Colo.
1883 The Encyclopedia Americana states, "Most authorities agree that the first public contest for prizes for bronco and steer roping was held in Pecos, Texas, on July 4, 1883."
1884 Charlie Meadows and John Chilson decided to break the summer doldrums by holding calf roping, bulldogging and bronco riding competition. The event was held in Pieper's meadow, near today's Sawmill Crossing location in Payson. It was such fun the event was repeated every summer from then until now.
1886 Charlie Meadows entered a publicly announced exhibition in Prescott on July 4th. He won the steer-roping contest on his favorite horse "Snowstorm" with a saddle blanket of bear fur.
1887 Encyclopedia Britannica lists Denver as birthplace of rodeo in October 1887.
1888 Prescott claims this is the year, on July 4, that in Prescott the first rodeo contest was held where admission was charged and prizes awarded. They did not call it a rodeo but a "Cowboy Tournament." Thus they trademark the title "World's Oldest Rodeo."
1890 Charlie Meadows promoted a mounted double wedding on Main Street for his sister Maggie and Thomas Beach, along with Julia Hall and Charles Cole. It was during the Rodeo week, and was the last one Charlie returned to participate in before leaving to travel the world in a Wild West show.
1915 All-night dances during rodeo week began.
1917 First indoor rodeo held in stockyards at Fort Worth, Texas.
1919-1920 Photos show the rodeo on Main Street, Payson.
1927 Rodeo site had moved to Wilbanks property west of town, where Rodeo Ranch Estates is today.
1928 First grandstand built for the rodeo. This year, the Payson Fair became part of the rodeo, held under the grandstand at the Wilbanks arena. Quilts, handwork, canned goods, jams and jellies, pies and cakes were judged and sold. After a few years, the event moved to Pine and became the Northern Gila County Fair.
1929 Constable Walter Lovelady began chaining drunks to trees during rodeo week. The Rodeo Association of America formed and adopted rules to govern rodeos, with a standard point system for scoring.
1930 Payson Womans Club staged an "Indian Raid" during the Rodeo. Those attending were gathered around a huge campfire at 7 p.m. for a steak fry when the "Indians" attacked. Anna Mae Deming reported, "My future husband, Jim Deming, was riding bareback on a paint pony. Avis Chilson fired her rifle at him, the bullets loaded with homemade laundry soap. One hit him in the side and knocked him off his horse. No one was hurt. The "Indians" lay dying or rode back to their ambush"
1931 Rodeo program, printed by the "Gila County Pioneer," (a private publication by Carl Paulsen) identified August Doin's as the 38th Annual Rodeo in Payson. That would make the starting date 1893. All other known Rodeo programs date it to 1884. Local editors Carroll Cox and Carolyn Dryer consistently identified Payson's rodeo beginning in 1884.
1936 Rodeo cowboys organized nationally, and went on strike for better prize money. Their organization was called the Cowboys Turtle Association, because cowboys were slow and they got ahead by sticking their necks out.
1944 World War II was under way, and it seemed the rodeo would falter for lack of livestock and cowboys. Howard Childers and Charlie Chilson personally located and bought stock and rodeo gear in Chandler, backing the event for $200 each. They kept the rodeo going through the war years. They believed the GIs overseas would want it that way. While the Payson rodeo continued, others, even Prescott, ceased during the war years. Thus Payson has the "Oldest Continuous Rodeo."
1945 The CTA became the Rodeo Cowboys Association. Payson rodeo was moved to Highway junction 260 and 87, and held there for 15 years. (Bashas' future center.)
1950 A bath house was established by Richard and Valda Taylor on Oak Street for the rodeo participants. Shower, towel and soap, $.25.
1953 Arizona Republic states "The Payson rodeo is known as the roughest meet in the country from a competitive standpoint. Men like Everett Bowman of Wickenburg, twice world champion cowboy, calls the Payson event 'a real old-timer.'"
1954 First Rodeo Queen was Dora Lee Anderson Connolly. Her father owned the property in Star Valley where Plant Fair Nursery is today. Her father-in-law, Harry Connolly, built several business stores on Main Street. She and her husband Dick built and operated the store and restaurant in Rye.
1963 Dale Rumsey sells land for Rumsey Park to the town, and plans made for new rodeo center.
1968 Grandstands built in Rumsey Park for 84th Annual Rodeo. With this move, the Rodeo Committee became affiliated with the Rodeo Cowboys Association.
1975 The Rodeo Cowboys Association became the Professional Rodeo Cowboys association (PRCA).
1985 Prescott registered the trademark "World's Oldest Rodeo." Trivial Pursuit game has answer "rodeo" to question "What rough-and-tumble Western sport was first formalized in Prescott, Arizona?"
The discussion about when it all began goes back a long way. An Aug. 27, 1977 article in the Payson Roundup by Ralph Fisher, begins, "`Oldest rodeo goin' huh?' The old-timer repeated my question almost to himself. 'Don't really know the answer to that, but I do remember my folks telling me that the first Payson rodeo celebration was held in 1884 two years before I was born.
"Can't recollect hearing of a cowboy celebration that began before that.
"I understand the town hasn't failed to have a rodeo any year since '84 either.'"
Wouldn't it be nice to just leave it at that?