Pow-Wows and Rodeos

Pow-wows and Rodeos

by Rebecca Turner

Rain or shine, my hometown of Strong City, Kansas is alive with a buzz of excitement each year when the annual Flint Hills Rodeo comes to town. Members of the rodeo committee will be cutting the pasture and making arrangements for the arrival of spectators and contestants. A few weeks earlier on Memorial Day weekend, the same activity is taking place in preparation for the Annual Delaware Pow-wow held on a rural Delaware allotment just outside of Copan, Oklahoma.

Community sponsored rodeos and Pow-wows are different cultural events which serve the same purpose – to create and reaffirm an important sense of identity among people of the Plains as they have since their formation. Participation in such local events signify membership in a distinct group and thus many elements are shared by both Pow-wows and rodeos. For example, camping areas on the Powwow grounds are permanently designated to specific families. This tradition and consistency creates an atmosphere similar to that of a family reunion. In much the same way, people return to the Strong City community year after year to celebrate the Flint Hills Rodeo. Additionally, those living in both the Delaware and Strong City communities are active volunteer organizers of their own respective events. Smaller community events like the Delaware Powwow and the Flint Hills Rodeo are often successful due to the coming together of and support from people attached to the respective communities. In such local Pow-wows and Rodeos throughout the Plains, the emphasis is on affirming social ties and the significance of the competitive events is secondary. In contrast, larger powwows like Red Earth and the sizable professional in-door rodeo events reveal a very different structure that removes the personal role of community members. Ultimately these larger events place more attention on contest and competition with the result being less emphasis on ideas of homecoming and social belonging.

Though seemingly very different in appearance, both the rodeo and the Pow-wow have a similar history and have been influenced by the old time exhibitions and wild west shows of the late 1800’s. The modern Pow-wow owes its’ original inspiration to the warrior society dances of the Plains that were later included in the wild west shows. Clyde Ellis’ book, A Dancing People: Powwow Culture on the Southern Plains, describes, among many other excellent contributions, how the popularity of American Indian exhibitions and Wild West shows played a significant part in allowing for the expression of Plains Indian song and dance despite the creation of strict laws that prohibited all Indian dance at the time. Plains Indians dealing with the harsh economic conditions of the early 20th century often found the performance of Powwow song and dance to be a personally fulfilling way to provide needed income in a way that publically displayed their sense of pride in their tribal identities. With the demise of the wild west shows, the Powwow became an event in it’s own right and was soon practiced by Indian communities throughout the Plains and beyond. The Pow-wow has now become an institution that represents a pride in an Indian identity marked by ideas of sharing, good feelings, communalism, and, perhaps most importantly, a space to honor and memorialize veterans. The rodeo on the Plains began at a similar time in the late 1800’s when small groups of cowboys would enjoy the challenge of skill competitions while working the range in the late 19th century. Anthropologist Beverly J. Stoeltje’s work,Rodeo: From Custom to Ritual, found in Western Folklore, Vol. 48, No. 3. (1989), on the ritual of rodeo, reveals how the event developed over decades of social and economic change. The same wild west shows featuring Native American Indian exhibition also made contributions to the transformation of cowboy culture and ultimately rodeo practices. Like the Plains Indian performers, these wild west shows provided income for cowboys struggling to find work during a time when the open-range was being fenced. Because of their popularity, these events eventually gained sponsorship by communities, became focal points at 4th of July celebrations, and ultimately were picked up by famous wild west shows. Rodeo participation continues to signify important meanings associated with the cowboy imagery such as a sense of rugged individualism and the idea that man can control nature, no matter how wild.

Community sponsored Pow-wow and rodeo demonstrate one of the many qualities of Plains life and culture. Not only are the events appealing and entertaining, they serve to bring the communities together with a common bond. For both the cowboy and Indian, these events solidify relationships and facilitate culture by preserving and maintaining the Plains peoples’ sense of identity.

Rebecca Turner is a senior majoring in Sociology with a minor in Anthropology at Emporia State University. She is a student of Dr. Brice Obermeyer.

Books for Young Readers

Powwow’s Coming

By Linda Boyden. Published by University of New Mexico Press: November 2007 ISBN-13: 9780826342652 Age Range: 4 to 8

The book describes the different aspects of a Native American Pow-wow. The gathering of the people, the celebration, the vendors, games, food, competition, community, and fun are all brought to life through the text and pictures. The pictures are great--all crafted from paper cutouts and put together in a collage style. They are colorful and demonstrative without being overcrowded. In each picture you can actually sense the movement of the dancers, the joy of the grandmother reading to her children, and the fun of the games. The rhyming verse makes the book an excellent read aloud and is as rhythmic as a soft drum beat.

Celebrate a Powwow with Sandy Starbright

By Alma Flor Ada, F. Isabel Campoy, Maria Jesus Alvarez (Illustrator) Published by Santillana USA Publishing Company: March 2007 ISBN-13: 9781598201277 Age Range: 5 to 8

It’s Sandy’s birthday and she and her family are getting ready to travel for a Pow-wow. Before leaving the house and along the way, Sandy receives several birthday presents from her relatives. To her surprise, all the presents together make up a beautiful costume for a traditional dance she will perform at the powwow the next day. Includes an informative section about Pow-wows.

A Dancing People: Powwow Culture on the Southern Plains

By Clyde Ellis Published by University Press of Kansas: September 2006 ISBN-13: 9780700614943 Age Range: all

Clyde Ellis has written the first comprehensive history of Southern Plains Pow-wow culture-an interdisciplinary, highly collaborative ethnography based on more than two decades of participation in Pow-wows. In seeking to determine what “powwow people” mean by so designating themselves, he addresses how the Pow-wow and its role in contemporary Indian identity have changed over time-along with its songs and dances-and how Indians for nearly a century have used dance to define themselves within their communities.

Celebrating the Pow Wow

By Bobbie Kalman Published by Crabtree Publishing Company: June 2003 ISBN-13: 9780865057401 Age Range: 7 to 8

Celebrating the Pow-wow introduces children to the people and traditions of the Pow-wow. Native American symbols and dances, such as the jingle-dress dance and hoop dance, are shown in action-filled color photographs.


By George Ancona Published by Harcourt Children’s Books: April 1993 ISBN-13: 9780152632694 Age Range: 6 to 12

A photo essay on the pan-Indian celebration called a Pow-wow, this particular one being held on the Crow Reservation in Montana.


By Roxie Munro Published by Bright Sky Press: November 2007 ISBN-13: 9781933979038 Age Range: 4 to 8

This lift-the-flap, fold-out book contains nearly 50 flaps to lift, plus a unique rodeo event on every brilliantly colored spread: Grand Entry Parade, Saddle Bronc Riding, Steer Wrestling, Cutting Competition, Mutton Busting, Calf Scramble, Barrel Racing, Calf Roping, Bull Riding, and a Square Dance with a cowboy band to round out the fun. Munro’s attention to detail leaves nothing out. There are explanations of the rodeo events on every page plus the interactive flaps to highlight the action of each event. Wild broncs and bucking bulls will leap across the pages of this colorful, engaging book, and young readers will be enticed to lift the flaps on each page over and over.


By David W. Canterbury Published by Tate Publishing & Enterprises, L.L.C.: April 2007 ISBN-13: 9781598869125 Series: Adventures of Cowboy Bob Ser. Age Range: all

The Adventures of Cowboy Bob, The Rodeo is the first

in a series of books that will let every child live his adventures. This time, go along with David Canterbury’s character, Cowboy Bob, as he comes face to face with the champion bull, Hurricane Eye and the notorious outlaw, Blackjack Jim.

Rodeo Time

By Stuart J. Murphy, David Wenzel (Illustrator), David T. Wenzel (Illustrator) Publisherd by HarperCollins Publishers: February 2006 ISBN-13: 9780060557782 Age Range: 9 to 12 Series: MathStart

Bareback bronc riding, barrel racing, calf roping, the livestock show, the fiddling contest, and don’t forget lunch –– how are Katie and Cameron going to fit it all in and still have time to help their uncle, Cactus Joe, with chores? By making a schedule, of course. But making a schedule and sticking to it turn out to be two very different things!

An American Rodeo: Riding and Roping

By Lisa Gabbert Published by Rosen Publishing Group, Incorporated: January 2003 ISBN-13: 9780823953394 Age Range: 5 to 9 Series: Festivals! U. S. A. Series

Describes the work that cowboys do and how events at a rodeo evolved as a test of cowboys’ skills.

Resource Websites


National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame This website honors and celebrates women, past and present, whose lives exemplify the courage, resilience, and independence that helped shape the American West, and fosters an appreciation of the ideals and spirit of self-reliance they inspire. In addition to the history and preservation of the working cowgirl, the website offers online teaching resources with fun topics such as How to Measure a Horse. The site also includes a list of books for young readers.


Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave This site gives wonderful information about the history of the Wild West Show including the use of cowboys and cowgirls in the performances. Additional information about Buffalo Bill’s relationship with the Native Americans can be found on the site. The pages also include trivia questions, word searches and educational games related to the life and times of Buffalo Bill.


Gathering of Nations Educational Pages On the Gathering of Nations website educators will find much information about the history of the powwow including dance, music and costuming. Each dance is detailed giving the name, history, folklore and dress for the dancer. Examples from the page include the women’s jingle dance, the fancy shawl dance and Northern and Southern traditional dances. In addition to this information, teachers will find a list of books for all ages, Native American writings, and folk tales.


Official Site of the Professional Cowboys Rodeo Association This website offers students a look into the professional world of rodeo. The site includes information about livestock and livestock welfare, cowboy bios and a list of upcoming rodeo (indoor and outdoor) events. Additionally, students can read the personal accounts of life on the rodeo circuit in the Cowboy Blog section.


Pow Wows. Com The PowWows.Com site is loaded with information about the history and tradition of Pow-wows. The site includes a national pow-wow calendar of events, downloadable music, drum soundtracks, and multiple photogalleries featuring costumes and dancers.

Did You Know…

Buffalo Bill Cody lived in Leavenworth, Kansas and used real cow-boys and cow-girls, recruited from ranches in the West for his “Wild West Shows.” At first, few people shared Cody’s admiration of the cow-boys. Most people regarded them as coarse cattle drivers and used the term “cow-boy” as an insult. By the end of the 19th century, the cow-boy became the much more popular “cowboy,” thanks in large part to the Buffalo Bill Wild West shows.


Bring It Home…

Bring It Home is designed to provide thought-provoking questions and ideas for your students in order to bring the Tales subject matter closer to home. Questions and ideas can be starting points for research activities, invitations for guest speakers, field trips or week-long themes in the classroom, just to name a few.

  1. Using the Teacherlink site have students identify celebrations in their own cultures such as birthday parties and holiday gatherings. Students will identify common elements among their identified celebrations and that of the Powwow. Additionally students will learn about custom, tradition and the importance of celebrations. Activities include listening to drumming and making bell strap costumes from inexpensive items. http://teacherlink.ed.usu. edu/TLRESOURCES/units/Byrnes-celebrations/powwow
  2. Have students identify types of games they play at school either in the classroom, gym, or on the playground. Compare these games to the sport of rodeo. After reviewing the history of rodeo have students research the history of games played at school. For example, did you know, hopscotch began in ancient Britain during the early Roman Empire? The original hopscotch courts were over 100 feet long and used for military training exercises. Roman foot-soldiers ran the course in full armor and field packs to improve their footwork, much the same way modern football players run through rows of truck tires today. Roman children drew their own smaller courts in imitation of the soldiers, added a scoring system and “Hopscotch” spread throughout Europe.

Tales Out of School, a newsletter for elementary and middle school teachers, is published twice a year and is available free of charge to interested persons. A variety of subjects related to teaching Kansas history and the Great Plains appear in Tales. Each issue emphasizes a single topic and includes a resource of websites, books, and teaching tools to assist in the classroom. Readers are encouraged to submit items to the newsletter that they believe will be useful to fellow teachers. Past issues of Tales are available on the Publications Archive website. If you would like to have your name added to the mailing list or would like to send suggestions please email us at cgps@emporia.edu.