Pecos is rodeo’s history

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PECOS, Texas – Rodeo’s history is much like those west Texas cattle drives: Both came right through Pecos.

Two well-known drovers working for outfits that were making their way through town on their respective journeys had earned reputations of being excellent ropers. The exchanges from their cohorts led to a competition to establish the bragging rights for the best cowboy in the Old West. That hot, summer day in 1883 became the launching pad for a sport that still thrives in 2024.

The proof of that comes with this year’s edition of the West of the Pecos Rodeo, set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 26-Saturday, June 29, at Buck Jackson Arena in Pecos. It is the home of “World’s First Rodeo,” which is not only a nod to the sport but also recognition for a community that truly cares about its place.

“The fact that Pecos and Reeves County can hang on to such a tradition where it all began in 1883 is something the community is most proud of,” said Brenda McKinney, a longtime member of the volunteer committee that organizes the annual event. “It’s a piece of history that we claim. It’s a proud moment for Pecos and Reeves County.”

Much has changed over the 141 years since that steer roping was held in Pecos, about where the Reeves County Courthouse and the Reeves County Law Enforcement center sit today. Tens of thousands of cowboys have tried their hands to see if they had what it takes to win this historic rodeo. Not many were up to the task, primarily because the greatest names in the sport were always part of the competition.

Pecos came to be about 10 years before that first competition. It was the crossroads for the Chisholm Trail, Goodnight-Loving Trail and the Butterfield Overland mail route. Pecos became a supply town, and the rodeo eventually followed. It is now home to one of the top events in the PRCA, the premier sanctioning body for the sport.

It has been nominated for Large Outdoor Rodeo of the Year on multiple occasions and was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2008. Its status is legendary. For the folks who were raised around the West of the Pecos Rodeo, it’s just home. It’s a chance to relive their childhoods and celebrate their heritage.

McKinney has her own legacy with the rodeo. She is the third generation of her family involved in the planning and production of the West of the Pecos Rodeo, and she has passed that along. Her son, Clay Ryon, is the committee’s chairman.

“It was a very big deal for my dad and my grandfather, so carrying on that tradition just meant a lot fur our family, which included my brothers and me,” she said. “The sport of rodeo is very near and dear to my grandfather’s and my dad’s hearts.”

Her grandfather, Marcos Martinez Sr., and her dad, Marcos Martinez Jr., established the foundation that continues into the fourth generation. Her brothers, Jimmy and Marcos Joe, were also heavily involved, as was her husband, Clay.

“My dad was involved with the rodeo committee for many years,” Brenda McKinney said. “He was a county commissioner, and the area where the arena is now was in his precinct. He was instrumental in getting a lot of things done when they were building those grounds.”

She speaks of the rodeo and her family’s legacy of being involved with it, but she’s not alone. There are hundreds of others throughout west Texas that share her sentiments and her passion for the West of the Pecos Rodeo. The week of the rodeo is not just a chance to reunite with old friends and classmates; it’s a time to celebrate the community’s history and the importance of rodeo in it.

“What brings me so much pride is the fact that we’ve grown the rodeo into the production that it is today,” McKinney said. “For a community of our size to put on a production as we do and have the top cowboys and cowgirls perform at our rodeo is very humbling and makes you very proud.”


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