Former journalist and current history buff Guy Clifton covered the Reno Rodeo for two decades and wrote a book on the event’s first 80 years. He’s teamed up with the Nevada Historical Society to showcase parts of the event’s history in a new exhibit. He spoke with KUNR’s Holly Hutchings about some of the unknown nuggets he’s discovered from years of research and reporting on this cultural staple.
Since writing the book on Reno Rodeo 20 years ago, history and rodeo aficionado Guy Clifton says there is much more content that could be added to his first book, Reno Rodeo: A History - The First 80 Years. He even flirts with the idea of writing that new history himself. But then-
“Doing books is really, really hard and especially when you have a job because it's a full time job on top of your regular job,” he said. “I wouldn't look forward to all the work that would go into it, but I would look forward to having it done cause I'd love to see some of the new stuff in there.”
With an event like Reno Rodeo, which has been charging on now for 100 years, that could mean a lot of content.
Clifton was a journalist in Nevada for 30 years, covering Reno Rodeo for 12 of it. Since a book about the week-long celebration had never been done, Clifton was asked to look into the idea.
“I spent about a year doing the research, the old microfilm from the old newspapers, and then just interviewing some of the old timers that had been around.”
In all that digging for the book, Clifton discovered many interesting and often unknown anecdotes about the cultural keystone. He says the most obvious challenges that the rodeo has faced over the years are always financial, primarily in the early years, right after World War I.
“It went really strong for about five years and then kind of fell on hard times and had to suspend it for about 10 years. Then, it came back right at the end of the Great Depression and came on pretty strong. It has been going pretty well since then.”
For most of its first 50 years, it was held over the 4th of July, as many rodeos across the country are. Eventually, city leaders and rodeo bosses thought the event was strong enough to stand as its own long weekend in June, so they moved it.
“That caused some financial troubles in the early sixties where they weren't getting the crowds that they expected. That was a hard time for them to bounce back, but eventually, it got its footing. And now it's a 10 day really juggernaut. It does stand alone. I think a lot of people in our community know that June is Reno Rodeo.”
Clifton says as a reporter, no day at the rodeo was the same as the day before or the next. Dealing with an outdoor event where the weather is unpredictable, animals are heavily involved and the stress of a writing deadline looms, Clifton would be spurred by excitement.
He says that reporting on rodeo afforded him the ability to get an intimate take on the athletes.
“You can’t go up on a basketball court and approach Michael Jordan one-on-one and say, ‘Hey, can I talk to you?’ You couldn’t get within a mile of them,” Clifton said. “But at rodeo you can walk up to the world all-around champion and say, ‘Hey, do you have a minute for an interview?’ and most of the time they’ll say yes. The access you have covering that sport is unlike any other professional sport.”
Though Clifton's reporting days are behind him, he's gone on to still participate in rodeo as a fan and, this year, as a member of the Hall of Fame Committee.
Clifton is the author of eight books about Nevada history. You can learn more rodeo history in Clifton’s book, Reno Rodeo: A History - The First 80 Years, or by visiting the exhibit he helped curate currently at the Nevada Historical Society, on display through July.