How much would you need to be paid to ride an “X-Treme” bull? Whatever it is would never be enough. I’ve no doubt the dudes riding these wild bulls are some of the toughest sportsmen in the world. I reckon eight seconds on the back of an X-Treme bull must be akin to a five-round session with Mike Tyson … after you’ve badly insulted his mother. The Cody Stampede is billed as the richest rodeo in America. During the first weekend in July over 800 of the top rodeo pros converge on Cody, competing for the big money. More than once the Cody Stampede has been listed “The Best Big Outdoor Rodeo” in America. Okay, let’s face it: America doesn’t do “Small” and the Cody Stampede certainly lives up to its billing. Everything about it is “BIG”. For the first-timer this is an extraordinary display of noise, aggression, courage. The crowd roars each time the gate is flung open, horse and rider cavorting into the arena. I wince as coccyx are crushed, goolies ground and the riders tossed twenty feet in the air. And if their physical injuries are not sufficient to cow them, the compère crows, ‘Did you see that folks? Did you see what he did wrong on that horse. He was absolutely useless. Here you go, watch it all again on the replay. Look at the screen, ladies and gentlemen.’ Whatever these guys get paid, they earn every penny.
5th July: ‘Are you guys Australian?’ the woman calls over the clattering wheels of her supermarket trolley. ‘Only, you look like ya oughta be … what with this rig ‘n’ all.’ For some reason we’re often mistaken for being Australians. We tell her we’re not. She stops her pushing and says, ‘God, I wanna move to Australia. They ain’t got no guns in Australia. I’m tired of all these white kids with issues who keep shootin’ people.’ She’s right: what the hell is the matter with these kids? According to the press the state is at a loss as to what do next. Apparently this lady’s husband and son are both “gun nuts”. Her son insists she carries a gun with her at all times for self-defence, except today she’s left it at home. ‘I don’t understand it,’ she continues, ‘why, only the other day some crazy guy was snipin’ folks out on the freeway.’ She asks where we’ve come from and we tell her. ‘Argentina … that’s pretty neat. I’m gonna move down to Colorado Springs pretty soon, coz Cody’s got the worst Walmart in the whole of the USA.’ We agree with her on that one. ‘And the health care sucks in this town. I gotta go up to Billings to get stuff done. Yeah, maybe one day I’ll go to Australia.’
The town of Cody was established in 1896. It was named after Colonel William F Cody, better known as “Buffalo Bill”. The “Colonel”, as he was also known, was a serial entrepreneur and when he heard a bunch of Sheridan businessmen were interested in establishing a town alongside the Shoshone River, he couldn’t resist pumping in a load of his own hard-earned cash. By then William Cody was a global name, making a lot of money from his Wild West shows. His business partners no doubt believed that naming the new town after the famous Buffalo Bill would bring the sought after rewards. During his lifetime Buffalo Bill was to witness the taming of the Wild West. When he was born in 1846 the United States was at war with Mexico. When he died in 1917 the US was again at war, this time with Germany. In between he witnessed, and was much involved, in the Indian wars. He worked as an army scout, pony express rider, buffalo hunter, fur trapper, bull-whacker, publisher and showman. During his life he witnessed the civil war, the end of slavery and the beginning of African-American citizenship. He saw the rise of industrialisation and big business, the US becoming a global power, immigrants arriving from every part of the world and women gaining rights throughout the nation. A great enthusiast in all things, many of the Colonel’s business ventures proved to be not so successful. Though he’d lived a successful life he died penniless. At the end of his life Cody’s wealth lay in what he’d done, not what he had left over. In the 19th century many of America’s greatest financial empires were built on trading profits from the fur trade, the North West Company and the Hudson Bay company, to name two of them. The young Buffalo Bill liked the sound of that and in the fall of 1859 he and his pal Dave Harrington trapped beavers up the Republican River, all the way to the Prairie Dog Creek. But the venture was beset with incident. One of the oxen fell on the ice, dislocated its hips and had to be shot. Whilst hunting elk the young Bill also slipped, breaking his leg. Harrington set the leg as best he could then set off for help, leaving Bill in a “dug-out” with enough wood and fresh meat for twenty days. On day twelve he was awakened by an Indian warrior daubed in paint. Cody, thinking his time had come, was relieved to see Rain-in-the-Face amongst the young warriors. The old chief recognised the youngster and persuaded his braves not to kill him, though they took all his meat and his weapons. For three days the snow fell hard, casting the forest in silence. By day twenty, when Harrington should have returned, the young Cody was starving and frozen, listening to the wolves, ‘ … gathered around the dug-out, running over the roof, and pawing and scratching, as if trying to get in.’ Unable to move about on his leg he ate raw, frozen meat and melt snow, writing in his autobiography, ‘ Many a time during that dreary period of uncertainty I made up my mind that if I should ever get out of that place alive I would abandon the plains and the life of a trapper forever.’ On the 29th day after his departure Harrington returned to save his friend.
IMAGES OF YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK AND THE GRAND TETON