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Reviewed by:
  • Arena Legacy: The Heritage of American Rodeo
  • Richard W. Slatta
Arena Legacy: The Heritage of American Rodeo. By Richard C. Rattenbury, foreword by Larry Mahan. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010. Pp. 432. Color and black-and-white illustrations, notes, sources, index. ISBN 9780806140841, $65 cloth.)

Arena Legacy is really three books in one. Part 1 provides a brief but well-done and superbly illustrated history of rodeo, deftly combining historical developments in the sport, mini-biographies of notable people and animals, and descriptions of events. Author Rattenbury acknowledges important Hispanic roots to rodeo, recognizing the sport as an evolutionary blend of working cowboy and vaquero skills and theatrical spectacles. He includes nuances in rodeo development, such as the limits on the purse and performance opportunities open to female contestants. He does not sugarcoat examples of racism but appropriately points out opportunities open to black and Hispanic contestants (7, 10, 76).

Part 2 describes and illustrates rodeo material culture, a section of equal interest to fans and collectors. Trophies, buckles, costuming, equipment, artwork, and artists all receive attention. As in Part 1, Part 2 discusses important gender issues, as evidenced in examples of male and female clothing. Rattenbury includes many primary source quotations that bring the voices of contestants and observers to the reader. While engagingly and clearly presented for a general audience, the book also delivers enough accurate and authoritative details to satisfy specialists. Part 3 adds a useful reference section by listing rodeo honorees from 1955 to 2009.

Rattenbury has strong Texas roots, with a B.A. in history from Texas Christian University and an M.A in museum studies from Texas Tech University. This background in academic and public history, especially his experience as curator of history with the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum since 1987, contributes to the broad vision and integrated approach that he brings to his subject. We have prior studies of rodeo as business, cultural artifact, and a good deal of information on leading performers (human and animal). This book, bolstered by the strong collection of illustrations, brings together the entire cast of rodeo performers, elements of the sport’s material culture, as well as its development over time.

Rattenbury undergirds his analysis with sound scholarship, based on classic and more recent studies as well as a good sampling of rodeo primary and printed sources. Notable is the inclusion of biographical information from Rodeo Historical Society Files and the Contemporary Western Artist Files at the Dickinson Research Center of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. The extensive [End Page 208] notes mark a clear scholarly trail for anyone desiring to delve deeper into specific people, artifacts, topics, or events.

The lively, clear writing paints vivid pictures of rodeo and its participants. Rodeo fans and visitors to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum constitute primary audiences for this beautifully produced book. The rich selection of illustrations adds interest for any reader but should particularly attract collectors of western gear and scholars of western material culture.

The book serves as a visually rich documentation of the world of rodeo and as an excellent showcase for the collections of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Texas, home to legendary ranches and rodeo stars, gets ample attention, including places (Stamford, Fort Worth) and people (Tex Austin, Don Gay, Toots Mansfield, Bill Pickett). This volume nicely complements the author’s earlier A Western Legacy (University of Oklahoma Press, 2005). The brief but enthusiastic foreword by rodeo great Larry Mahan says it all: “I thought I knew all there was to know about rodeo until I read An Arena Legacy” (ix).

Richard W. Slatta
North Carolina State University


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 208-209
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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