Rodeo in Sheridan County has a rich and unique history. Rodeo-like events developed before the start of the 20th century with small informal competitions held by ranches or communities. The first major rodeo in Sheridan County was the PK Rodeo, which only occurred for the public in 1928 and 1929.
Mary Morgan, the owner of the PK Ranch, organized the first rodeo in just a few months, and almost completely by herself. The rodeo took place in a natural amphitheater on her property on July 28, 1928. Cars circled around the arena area, and many people camped out the night before in anticipation of the event. The prizes brought contestants from across the region. First place won a Hupmobile Roadster. Second place received a silver mounted saddle. The first three places also got cash prizes! One spectator, W.H. Wallace, counted cars from 28 states and estimated that 17,000 people attended the rodeo that year.
The second year of the PK Rodeo turned into as even bigger success than the first one with even more people attending. The estimate is that 20,000 people attended from 35 states. The organizers received so many contestant applications that they had to start turning them down!
In just two years the PK Rodeo ranked with rodeos like Cheyenne Frontier Days, the Pendleton Roundup, and the Calgary Stampede. Popular though it was, the PK Rodeo would not endure. In 1930 Mary Morgan’s doctor ordered her to not exhaust herself for the sake of her health, and the large scale public rodeo was no more. The event became a much smaller private rodeo from Mary’s friends and family.
In 1930 there was no major rodeo in Sheridan, leaving a void. The Sheridan WYO Rodeo began in 1931 and has run almost every year since. The only two breaks have been for World War II and COVID-19, which is pretty impressive! Some of the contestants from the PK Rodeo continued on to compete in the Sheridan WYO Rodeo, such as Curley Wetzel, seen in the photo below. He competed in both years of the PK Rodeo, and was a local favorite. Identifying Curley is easy because he wore his lucky shirt with striped sleeves in the group photos for both years. A descendant of his said that Curley got the shirt out of the trash, and, as it was his lucky shirt, wore it to compete for years.
Bill Eaton can also be seen in the group photos of the PK Rodeo. He went on to become a charter member in the creation of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo. From 1932 until his death in 1969 he held the position of arena master for the rodeo, and is remembered fondly by many people in Sheridan for his role. Bill’s support went beyond the rodeo board and serving as rode arena master. As owner of Eatons' Ranch, he was always willing to lend the use of wranglers and horses to make the rodeo a success.
To learn more about rodeo in Sheridan County come visit the Museum at the Bighorns. The exhibit “Let 'Er Buck: Rodeo In Sheridan County” is on display through the end of 2021.