Cowboy Games

A cowboy’s life was not all hard work and long hours. Quiet times on the ranch offered a much-needed opportunity to let off steam and to engage in the competitions and discussions typical of young men everywhere.

A photograph of polo players at the Bayliffe ranch.Click to enlarge,
image opens in a new window

Polo players at the Bayliffe ranch. Courtesy of the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin.

Inevitably the activities centred around horses and livestock and, not surprisingly, the competitions usually involved activities on horseback.

As long as there have been two men with fast horses, there have been arguments about whose horse is faster. Since the first horses arrived in the British Columbia Interior, there have been horse races. Most communities had their own race areas. In Keremeos in the Similkameen, the big race meetings took place on a long bench above the river on Manuel Barcelo’s ranch. In the North Okanagan, races were held on Cornelius O’Keefe’s land near Okanagan Landing.

A photograph of a race meet at Bechers Prairie in the Chilcotin. Click to enlarge,
image opens in a new window

Race meet at Bechers Prairie. Courtesy of the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin.

Up in the Cariboo, Benjamin Franklin “Doc” English, an avid horseracing enthusiast, set up a race course on his 320 acres of benchland on the west side of the Fraser River that had been known as Deer Park. In the Chilcotin, all the residents, white and Native alike, gathered once a year for a race meet at Becher’s Prairie near Riske Creek. At these meets, large amounts of money and personal property changed hands as people betted on their personal favourite.

Another cowboy event that began in the earliest days of ranching was to see whether a noted buckaroo could stay on a notorious bucking horse. The horse would be snubbed to a post, blindfolded, and then saddled.

A photograph of a tent city at the Williams Lake Stampede inthe 1920s.Click to enlarge,
image opens in a new window

Tent city, Williams Lake Stampede, 1920s. Courtesy of the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin.

The rider would mount, the blindfold would be removed, and the horse untied. Then the fun would begin. Other competitions such as calf roping or steer riding were added to this event, and the sport of rodeo was born. There were few rodeo grounds, so people would park their wagons or vehicles in a circle to form a makeshift arena.

Some of the games that the cowboys played, however, were a little less predictable. For those of British extraction who spent most of their working days in the saddle, it seemed logical to organize games of polo. The first recorded game in Kamloops was played in 1890 and was an informal fun match between eight local cowboys. As the sport caught on, William Roper of Cherry Creek donated the Roper Cup, and teams from all over the Interior of British Columbia competed for it.

Media Files

August 1st, 2008 – Cowboy skills competition at O'Keefe ranch
Cowboys working as a team against the clock to sort out select cattle from a herd.

A flash player with a video showing Cowboys working as a team against the clock to sort out select cattle from a herd.

Click here to read transcript(Opens in a new window)


You need the Adobe Flash Player to view the above video. You can get it by clicking here.

V1999:10/001.04 – A trip through the range lands of British Columbia – 1930? “A scrimmage at the Guichon Ranch”
Old black and white silent movie of a staged gun fight at the Guichon Ranch in the Nicola Valley.

A flash player with a video showing a silent movie of a staged gun fight at the Guichon Ranch in the Nicola Valley.

You need the Adobe Flash Player to view the above video. You can get it by clicking here.

V1989:85/001.03 – Legend of the West – 1956 “Williams Lake Stampede”
1950s travelogue about the Williams Lake Stampede and its various activities.

A flash player with a video showing a 1950s travelogue about the Williams Lake Stampede and its various activities.

Click here to read transcript(Opens in a new window)


You need the Adobe Flash Player to view the above video. You can get it by clicking here.

“Gal Leg” Spur

The brass overlaid “gal leg” and playing card symbols were always popular among the cowboys. There are two leather straps, one to go over the boot instep and the other to go under the boot.

Click here to view a zoomable image of this object

The zoomable image will open in a new window.
You will need the Adobe Flash Player to view the zoomable image.
You can get it by clicking here.