The Flint Hills are cattle country.
Where there are cattle, there are cowboys on horseback to take care of them.
For 82 years, thousands of rodeo contestants and spectators from throughout the country have gathered at Strong City, Kansas.
That’s for the greatest Western tradition: the Flint Hills Rodeo. This year it’ll be Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 30 through June 1, at 8 o’clock each evening.
Cowboy is the profession of many in the Flint Hills, and they’re a competitive bunch.
Who can ride the rankest bucking horse, rope and tie the orneriest critter the fastest? That’s the premise for the sport of rodeo, so what more appropriate locale for rodeo than the Flint Hills.
E.C. Emmett Roberts was a cowboy, non-arguably “the best in the Flint Hills,” eight-decades-plus ago.
He certainly was never shy climbing aboard the toughest bronc in the pen, or challenging another to any-and-all cowboy abilities.
Roberts’ rodeo adrenalin carried intensely genetically to his children. The family started a rodeo at their Strong City ranch.
Cowboys local and from miles around came to try and beat the Roberts bunch. That didn’t happen, and soon the Roberts family went on to become world renowned rodeo champions.
But, the Sunday afternoon Roberts Ranch Western competitive gathering became an annual attraction; the Flint Hills Rodeo.
“Emmett Roberts and his family are an inspirational story of rodeo success,” said Buck Bailey, Flint Hills Rodeo Association president.
“It’s a tradition that’s been carried on through this year’s 82nd annual Flint Hills Rodeo at Strong City,” Bailey declared. “It’s the oldest consecutive rodeo in the state of Kansas.”
Billed as “Rodeo at its Best,” the Flint Hills Rodeo is now sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. “We’ll have the best cowboys and cowgirls here, including several present and former world champions,” Bailey said.
First and foremost is the competition of traditional rodeo events. That’s bareback and saddle bronc riding events, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, team roping, bull riding and girls’ barrel racing.
The evening performances begin at 8 o’clock, with a full slate of attractions for three days.
Opening at 5:30 Thursday and Friday, the Western Trade Show features a wide array of unique ranch-life specialties. That attraction will begin at 5 o’clock on Saturday.
A special project of the rodeo association has been development of a Flint Hills Rodeo Museum. “It features information about the Roberts family and the 82 year history of the rodeo,” Bailey said. “We encourage everybody to tour the museum which will be open throughout the rodeo.”
Rodeo is family entertainment and sport, thus most appropriate Thursday has been designated Family Night.
“Cowboys and cowgirls 12-years-and-under will get into Thursday’s performance free,” Bailey said. “The first 200 children through the east gate Thursday evening will receive a free hotdog and chocolate milk.”
There’ll be a Kids’ Buckaroo Buckarette Rodeo, 6 o’clock, each evening, with stick horse races and other highlights.
The calf scramble and mutton busting are youth attractions during each performance. Thursday’s calf scramble features six-to-eight-year-old participants, those nine-to-11 compete Friday, and Saturday, it’ll be the 12-to-14-year-olds.
Friday’s performance has been designated Military Appreciation Night, offering free admission for active and retired military persons with identification. Competition for rodeo contestants not riding in the public performance will ride in the “slack” following Friday’s show.
A cowboy-cowgirl dance right at the rodeo grounds will follow both the Friday and Saturday evening performances. Whiskey River Band will provide music Friday while the Dirty Bourbon Bank is slated for presenting the entertaining melodies Saturday. Rodeo ticket holders are admitted no charge to the dances.
Anticipated annual rodeo attraction is the Saturday afternoon parade. Beginning at 2 o’clock, in Swope Park, Cottonwood Falls, it’ll go through downtown, into Strong City right to the rodeo.
“Everybody’s welcome to come be in the parade, or bring your chair and watch along the route,” Bailey encouraged.
Livestock is the key to success of rodeo, and Cervi Championship Rodeo offers the best, according to Bailey.
“Binion Cervi and Chase Cervi carry on the more than a 60-year family tradition,” Bailey said. “The Cervi family controls every aspect of the rodeo performance, with the outstanding livestock and unique features.”
Roger Mooney, one of the top professional rodeo announcers in the world, will return to call the Flint Hills action.
The most diversified Western showman Rider Kiesner, Ripley, Oklahoma, will be at each performance. He’ll perform as a trick roper and rider, entertain as the rodeo clown-funnyman and work as the bullfighter protecting cowboys.
Kiesner grew up in a rodeo entertainment family, and as an adult the cowboy entertainer struck out on his own. Since then, Rider Kiesner has worked Cavalia, worldwide touring equestrian show; the National Finals Rodeo; Cheyenne Frontier Days and more.
An additional rodeo weekend feature is the Prairie Talk set for Pioneer Bluffs, historic Flint Hills ranch at Matfield Green. Shannan Hauser, rodeo champion Gerald Roberts’ granddaughter, will share Roberts family stories and photos Friday afternoon, May 31, at 2:30.
Details about the 82nd annual Flint Hills Rodeo are available at www.flinthillsrodeo.org.