CHEYENNE, Wyo. (CBS4) – A bison’s paradise. Nothing as far as the eye can see, not a single structure. There’s the occasional herd of cows that seems to belong to no one. Power lines are the only man made item amid the rolling green hills, fair blue sky, and hundreds of identical cloud tufts. This is the West, and it’s the life Lauren Heaton loves.
Maybe better known as Miss Rodeo America, Lauren is from Oklahoma, which she calls a cliché of the West with its vast prairie grasslands. She is a fifth generation rancher and cowgirl whose family can trace their property back to the original Land Rush – yeah, the wagon migration to the new frontier, the Wild West. Lauren’s great great grandfather was one of those pioneers in the late 1800s, and the deed to their land signed by the President of the United States of America hangs in a frame in her house.
She is the West in human form, and that’s precisely what she’s representing at the granddaddy of all rodeos.
Cheyenne Frontier Days is a celebration of the western way of life, arguably the largest of its kind in the world, and is appropriately set in the prairie town of Cheyenne, Wyoming. It lasts a full week and is centered on the sport of rodeo, with a large helping of other attractions.
Rodeo is in fact a professional sport. It started in the West out of necessity: chasing cattle, wrangling cattle, branding cattle, and has now grown to an international sport. However, unlike other professional sports, Lauren tells me you only get paid if you win.
It’s as common to her as track or dance. She grew up in the rodeo world, with a ranch as her backyard, and began competing at the age of nine. Horsemanship skills are a huge component in Rodeo Queen competitions, and individuals are expected to get on any unfamiliar horse. Then there’s the lasso part.
As Miss Rodeo America, Lauren is the face of this sport.
Over 40 states are represented by Rodeo Queens, an ever-growing number. They are ambassadors for the western industry, and as the reigning MRA, Lauren spends roughly 340 days of the year doing that job. She speaks at events, attends all major rodeo competitions, and even travels internationally – Australia and Canada love rodeo.
Part of her goal as this western industry ambassador is to instill the deeply rooted western values. Lauren explains, “It’s kind of like a code of ethics that the west lives on.”
She mentions the work ethic, the discipline, and respect for animals that are gained through this way of life. It’s something she and others in the West hope will persist through younger generations.
“I’ve lived in the big cities and I always come back to the rodeo way of life,” says Lauren.
And that’s why she’s at Cheyenne Frontier Days. It’s the ultimate celebration of that western culture, one that welcomes everyone, no matter who you are, to pretend for a day that you’re a cattle-taming pioneer.
The event hopes to rope in a larger audience with additional attractions: carnival rides, top-name concerts, fireworks, truck rides, and dozens of vendors.
Lauren says the idea is to engage people who otherwise wouldn’t normally come to a rodeo, then watch as they are pleasantly surprised.
What started as a group of cowboys in a field, has truly progressed to an international sport, Lauren says. And she is the modern woman who represents it all.
As I’m leaving, the exit takes me through a maze of western vendors, selling cowhide furniture, carved quotes nodding to the West’s code of ethics that dictates a handshake is more binding than any contract, an abundance of bedazzled boots and buckles, and posters hanging with the slogan “if you own it, brand it.”
I pass an endless line of cars parked along the road, each with a different license plate. People from New Mexico, Iowa, Nevada, and Ohio have come to Wyoming to celebrate the western lifestyle.
And that’s exactly what Cheyenne Frontier Days is all about. The people here simply love the western way of life, and want the rest of us to see why.