The World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo in Payson is more than entertainment and competition between the professional athletes that today's rodeo cowboys have become. The Payson Rodeo is a celebration of the ranching heritage of the Mogollon Rim Country.
The history and heritage of the rodeo is traced by Jinx Pyle and Jayne Peace Pyle in their book, "Rodeo 101 -- History of the Payson, Arizona Rodeo, 1884-1984," which was published in 2004.
The Payson Rodeo evolved from friendly competitions among the cowboys and ranchers who gathered in what was then called Green Valley for the general roundup.
The Rim Country and the entire Tonto Basin were open range in the 1880s. That is, the cattle roamed free, so they were gathered together -- rounded up -- and all brought to a central camp where the calves could be branded by their owners.
It was tough work involving long hours, so to blow off steam there were contests to decide who was the best roper, the best bronc rider and who had the fastest horse.
"In this manner, contests were born as an extension of the Green Valley cowboy lifestyle," the Pyles wrote.
"Cowboys tested skills born of necessity against those of their neighbors. Soon bets were laid down as to who was the best at a particular skill and the sport of rodeo was born, although it would not be known by that name of many years."
When the contests were held at roundup time, the event was called "The August Doin's" and the first "official" rodeo was organized for the third weekend of August 1884. The organizers were Abraham Henson, "Arizona Charlie" Meadows and John Collins Chilson.
The event was held where the Sawmill Crossing shopping center is now located at the southwest corner of Highway 87 and West Main Street, according to the "Rodeo 101" book.
"Anything that could buck was fair game -- wild steers, cows, bulls, bareback horses. Some enterprising cowboys even tried pulling their saddles off horses and putting them on bulls. Screwing the saddle onto the back of the bull sometimes furnished considerably more entertainment than the ensuing ride afterwards. This practice did not last because the saddles would turn on the loose-skinned bulls."
This year, the 122nd World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo is Aug. 18, 19 and 20. Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The parade is at 9 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 19.
In the old days of the rodeo, residents from throughout the area came to participate, enjoy the fun and visit with friends and relatives.
Now, the cowboys are professional athletes. They come from all over and travel around the country to put their skills -- and their bodies -- on the line for cash prizes.
The Payson Rodeo has called many spots around town home, but now it takes place at the Payson Event Center on the southwest side of town.
There is no official rodeo dance this year, however, special rodeo events are planned by a number of Payson businesses.
For more information, including ticket prices, call the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce at (928) 474-4515.