For over a century, the Turnbull family has been ranching in the Roaring Fork Valley. They’ve also been competing in Carbondale’s Wild West Rodeo, since its start in the mid-1950’s, passing down their love of competition and Western tradition from generation to generation.
Matt and Bruce Turnbull waited for their signal to start. They were both on horseback - and carrying stiff ropes to wrangle the calf waiting between them. The chute opened, and the calf burst out with Matt in pursuit. He twirled his rope overhead and sent it flying in the cow’s direction - catching it by the horn. Bruce was just behind, trying to snare the calf’s hoof in his own spinning rope. He cast his lasso and barely missed.
The calf dashed across the dirt, rope trailing from one horn. The father and son exited the arena at a trot, lassos in hand.
Contestants must pay to enter and get a chance to win back cash in competition. Bruce said that’s just part of Rodeo.
“You drive 12 hours to rodeo, and you miss. You don’t make any money, and you drive home,” he said.
That’s the heartbreak of rodeo.
The Turnbulls were competing in calf-roping, a sport that pits two cowpokes and lassos against a loose calf and the clock to see who can get a rope around the calf’s horn and hooves the fastest.
Rodeo is a uniquely practical sport. It’s competition based on the daily chores required for ranch work. Calf-roping, for example, allows cowboys to catch and care for their cattle. Matt said it is all part of the job.
“You can take $30 and turn it into $500, doing what you do on a day-to-day basis. If you’re fast,” he said.
The Turnbull’s ranch is just off Prince Creek Road in Carbondale, where they’ve been ranching in the shadow of Mount Sopris for decades.
“Rodeo, for us, is a reflection of what we do on a daily basis. Horsemanship is key, so it is fun to go out in the evening and do that in a competition,” said Matt.
Bruce is 18, a fifth-generation rodeo cowboy. He learned to rope from his father, who learned it from his father, who learned it from his father. In rodeo, different generations compete with and against one another - young guns pitted against old hands.
“For me, being younger, it’s a lot of fun 'cuz I have a lot of friends who are younger, and we can compete against older people, you know our dads, and we can compete with them and against them,” said Bruce.
The Carbondale Wild West Rodeo began as the Carbondale Roping Club in 1954, founded, in part, by Bob and Ditty Perry, Matt’s grandparents. A poster bearing the family name hangs on the rodeo grounds and a gazebo memorializes their love for the sport.
More than a competition, it’s about the relationship between ranchers and their livestock.
That’s just another part of what makes rodeo so special, according to Roz Turnbull, daughter of founders Bob and Ditty.
“There’s such a bond between animals and people and they spend a lot of time taking care of them,” said Roz.
Her son, Matt said the rodeo also acts as a sort hub for the agricultural community. Ranchers can live hours away from the nearest town.
“It brings together a group of people you wouldn’t see on a day-to-day basis,” said Matt.
And this is important for a community steeped in tradition. Rodeo is as old as ranching. It is evolving. It gets more competitive every year. According to Roz, this tradition is here to stay.
“The last cowboy certainly hasn’t passed on,” she said.
Standing outside the Carbondale Rodeo, that much is clear. A large crowd is gathered to watch generations of cowpokes - from toddling mutton busters to mature bronc riders compete in one of the last vestiges of the Wild West.