The first official rodeo in Colorado Springs took place in the Garden of the Gods, as part of the 1913 Shan Kive celebration. Since then, the name and location have changed, but the spirit and goal of the rodeo remain the same: to preserve, celebrate, and share the western heritage of the Pikes Peak Region.
By 1922, with the help of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, the rodeo attracted cowboys and spectators from around the nation. Traditions surrounding the event began to take place; including that of the Rodeo Queen—now known as the Girl of the West. That year, Dawn Norris set out for Denver on horseback to invite the Governor to the Pikes Peak Rodeo.
As the rodeo’s ambassador, the main duty of the Girl of the West is to promote the rodeo and the Pikes Peak Region. She is one of the many characters of the annual event—which includes precision riders, cowboys, rodeo clowns and countless community volunteers. This is not a sport for the faint of heart, and those who participate are rewarded with cash prizes, or the coveted Spencer Penrose Buckle—named in honor the visionary behind local rodeo.
In 1928, the Colorado Springs Gazette prepared the crowds for a letdown: “Tread Softly, Shed a Tear, There Won’t be a Rodeo this Year.” After a pause during the Great Depression, rodeo returned to Colorado Springs in 1937, thanks to entrepreneur and philanthropist Spencer Penrose. The Will Rogers Rodeo, held on the Broadmoor Polo Grounds, was the beginning of the rodeo that we know today—so called the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo since 1949.
With deep ties to the identity of the region, all proceeds from the rodeo go to military personnel and their families. This tradition began in 1946, at the first rodeo held after World War II. Since then, the five military installations and numerous commands in the Pikes Peak Region are recognized and honored at each performance.
To ceremoniously begin five days of rodeo performances, the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Parade and the Colorado Springs Western Street Breakfast have brought the community together for over 75 years. Since 1949, these events are punctuated by the Pikes Peak Range Rider’s departure from the Street Breakfast in downtown Colorado Springs. From here, they begin a 5-day ride around Pikes Peak to promote the rodeo and western traditions.
Above all, the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo is a celebration — and an attempt to capture the energy and excitement—of those ranchers, cowboys and ambitious pioneer families, who first set out for the great wide open of the West, with visions of bright starry skies, and a rugged and wild fresh start.
Submitted by Hillary Mannion, CSPM Archivist