The story of Pecos dates back to around 1873; the famous Chisholm Trail, Goodnight-Loving Trail, and Butterfield Overland mail route all crossed right here. It wasn’t long before Pecos grew into a supply town for the many ranches within a 100-mile range. But when you get a bunch of cowboys together, some fights are bound to happen. Thanks to the “Law West of the Pecos,” things were kept in check, outside of a few gunfights. (You can still see the bullet holes in the West of the Pecos Museum.) Then a more friendly competition sprung up, and on July 4, 1883, Pecos was home to the world’s first rodeo. Excitement filled the dusty air and braggin’ rights were on the line to find out who was the best cowhand in the West. And since it was a holiday, folks came from all over the area to see how their favorite cowboys would fare. Today the annual West of the Pecos Rodeo is one of the PRCA’s top 40 prize-money rodeos and is known as the oldest event in the sport, showcasing the best cowboys and bringing together a tightly knit community for a fun-filled week of Wild West festivities.
In 2015 and 2016, West of the Pecos Rodeo was nominated by PRCA cardholders—the cowboys themselves—as one of the five best large outdoor rodeos across the country. It was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2008.
How the World’s First Rodeo Went Down
Back in 1883, Trav Windham had become well known for roping after driving cattle from Abilene to the Hashknife Ranch just north of Pecos. Around the same time, Morg Livingston of the NA ranch had also earned a reputation as a roper. Since bragging could not determine who was truly best, the two cowboys decided they would meet for a contest. Word spread quickly and other cowboys also wanted to compete to prove their abilities.
A competition spot was chosen on the flat land west of the river, roughly where the present courthouse and law enforcement buildings are located. The date chosen was July 4. When that day came, there were horses, wagons, people walking around—they had come from all directions to see what was going to happen.
Most stories about that day concerned the time it took Trav Windham to rope and tie his steer—22 seconds—to win the roping event. Later, Livingston beat Windham in a matched roping. Before the day was over, cowboys from the Hashknife, W, Lazy Y and NA spreads had taken part in the action.
Others named were Pate Beard and Jeff Chism, who also walked away with honors, and Jim Mannin, John Chalk, George Brookshire, Howard Collier, Jim Livingston, Brawley Oates, Jim and Henry Slack, E.P. Stuckler and Henry Miller.
Henry Slack, grandfather of R.C. Slack of Pecos, was probably the youngest rider there. While he didn't remain a cowboy, he never lost his love for the cowboy life and for many years had the honor of riding in or leading the rodeo parades when they began in the early 1930s.