David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Daily Star

The rodeo is almost over, but there’s still time to add a little context to this popular sport.

Most people know that rodeo is a formalized series of contests involving skills that old-time cowboys had to have — riding bucking horses, roping, and the like. But rodeo isn’t the only occupational sport that harks back to the glory days of the profession.

For instance firefighters have something called “muster.” This is a series of competitions involving skills, many of which were once vital to fire fighting, but have since been left behind by modernization. A muster might include a bucket brigade race, a hand hose cart race, and a wonderfully wet competition in which a beer keg is suspended on a wire between two pylons. There’s a team in wet gear with a fire hose by each pylon and the object is to use the water stream to push the keg over to the opposing team’s pylon. Great fun, requiring a lot of skill.

There used to be a fairly active muster scene in Tucson, but it seems to have tapered off, at least temporarily. But it is an exact parallel to rodeo in many ways, except for its lack of popularity as a spectacle outside the profession.

Other competitions related to occupations that one sometimes finds include hand-drilling contests for miners and truckers’ “roadeos,” in which competing drivers put their huge rigs through a series of difficult courses. It’s interesting that each of these occupations is associated with a certain degree of romance and danger.

It’s still Black History Month and I’ll just mention that a Black cowboy named Bill Pickett (1870-1932) introduced steer wrestling or “bulldogging” into rodeo. Actually, Picket watched cow dogs bringing down cattle, and taught himself to twist the horns and bite the lip of the critter. (Contemporary bulldogging leaves out the biting part.) Picket became a popular rodeo performer, and is recognized as the originator of that particular contest.

I’ll have more to say on Black history in the next blog. Stay tuned.