The American frontier closed a century ago but don’t go telling that to the Wilson boys of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Because ever since their great-great grandfather, Sylvester Wilson, led the first group of white settlers into the valley, the family’s been doing their part to keep it open and the cowboy spirit alive and well.
In the past, that meant bucking and braving their way to rodeo fame in countless contests of courage. More recently, it’s meant putting down the belt and taking up the reins of the century-old Jackson Hole Rodeo — an annual roundup of daredevils and broncos that is a favorite tradition of locals and visitors alike.
By Ashley Sanders
Over 100 Years Old
Brandon Wilson, co-partner in the family business, helps pull off the yearly feat but maintains a humble, aw-shucks attitude about running the whole operation. “I’m not trying to say we were the first ever,” says Wilson, “but we’re not the newest kids on the block.” That’s cowboy talk for managing a rodeo that has lasted, rain or shine, for more than 100 years, and in the process defining both the sport and the region.
And all that practice makes perfect. Brandon promises that when you visit the Jackson Rodeo, you’ll do more than have a good time; you’ll be “watching the future of our sport and possibly a future champion.”
That’s because the rodeo acts as a training ground where up-and-coming riders can shine their spurs and practice their proverbial giddy up. The result? A rodeo that’s both fun to be in and fun to watch, plus a lot of excitement that comes with a maverick good time. In fact, Wilson has done such a good job of inspiring the uninitiated that on any given night, three-quarters of the crowd are usually first-time rodeo-goers, with a chorus of delighted oohs and aahs to match.
Sharing the Cowboy Way of Life
For Wilson, the rodeo is about more than competition; it’s about heritage and character. Wilson grew up on a ranch along with his brothers, who are also partners in the rodeo, and he claims there’s nothing like it for “getting in your system and really running in your blood.”
He knows that his upbringing is rare these days and wants to share the lessons of the sport with others. He calls this lesson “the cowboy way of life,” one that’s focused on “helping one another and winning because you made the best ride.” He’s proud that rodeo is one of the few sports left in America where “you’ll see participants lending a hand both helping and being helped by the very competitors they are trying to beat.”
Hijinks and Camaraderie
So come for the grand hijinks, old-time camaraderie and a trip down memory lane, and then stay for the Jackson Valley — a mighty testament to the untamable West and its equally untamable spirit.
Because even if the buffalo don’t roam like they used to, from May to September a riot of cowboys still make Jackson their home on the range, riding, roping, and wrangling their way to glory. You can join in the fun Wednesdays, Saturdays and occasionally Fridays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Photos courtesy of Jackson Hole Rodeo