In the ring

A look at America's sport in the saddle

May 11, 2005 at 12:00 am

Sports culture is as diverse as it is divergent. NHL hopefuls, competitive cheerleaders and freestyle BMX-icans can prosper and fail in states of mutual obliviousness. Still, it’s odd that a sport like rodeo should be considered marginal. W.K. Stratton’s Chasing the Rodeo is a memoir wrapped as a string of profiles and a travel narrative with lengthy digressions into rodeo culture and folklore. It’s also full of fascinating historical nuggets. Take African-American cowboy Bill Pickett, who invented bulldogging and steer wrestling, and went on to become one of the sport’s first superstars.

Stratton seems to be chasing an authentic American ritual, attempting to settle the thorny debate on rodeo’s origins. While often described as “the only spectator sport originating entirely in the United States,” Stratton contends that rodeo is a Mexican creation and, as such, predates the cowboy era by several centuries.

For all his reporting, it’s actually Stratton’s personal reflections that make the book exceptionally readable. We learn that “Cowboy Don” is the author’s biological father. His legacy is part of the rodeo’s appeal for Stratton, as it’s one of the few clues he has to who his dad was. While there’s an undue amount of banal narrative involving Stratton’s rental cars and motel experiences, there’s enough in this book to make his journey worth the trouble of saddling up and following along.

John Dicker reviews books for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].