The team roping gets off well enough. The header ropes the head of the steer and the heeler the rear legs of the steer. The heeler must throw the loop to catch the moving rear legs, and that, my Anglo friends, is quite a trick. For Indians it is a breeze. The Indians make it look easy. Try it sometime. As a team roper it is possible to be a champion well into your 60s. Something for your old age. Navajo Paul Arviso has been competing in rodeos for 40 years. His grandfather was captured by the Apaches and ransomed back for a horse. Since then his whole family has been involved with horses, with the exception of Paul Jr., who makes some of the best Navajo jewelry in Indian country.
The hide race is for the very young. A child is pulled on a dried cowhide around the arena in clocked time. The object is not to fly off on the turns. No child does. They all seem quite happy. They all win. The hide race is a carryover from the buffalo-hide race with which the Indians celebrated a successful buffalo hunt.
The wild cow scramble seems like nothing but pure damn foolishness. The idea is to pull down one of the wild cows running loose in the ring and milk from it enough milk to pour out in front of the judges. Do this and you have won and got a cut lip and maybe a broken arm.
The big event is saved for last. Anybody can ride a bull, but no one can. That is, all you have to do is hang on and get the beautiful huge thing to buck. Getting it to buck is easy; after that, the trouble starts. Indians are excellent at bull riding, and Dugan LeBeaux, the Oglala Sioux, is the best. He is lucky to draw an enormous Charoles, and he has the skill and courage to stay on. Some bulls are spinners and others are hookers. LeBeaux's bull is a hooker and a spinner. A spinner bucks fast in a tight circle until the rider "can't remember his butt from Wednesday," and then is thrown into the stands to contemplate a different way of life. A hooker bull will catapult the rider forward, then bend his head back and hook the rider off with his horns. Once the rider is on the ground the bull examines the rider carefully before leisurely placing his sword of horns on him—he who had the temerity and stupidity to get on his back—before allowing the Indian to dart off. All this while the bull keeps telling the Indian, "Didn't anyone tell you I was a spinner and a hooker?"
But as Dugan LeBeaux sails off his bull gracefully after running out the time and winning it all—including the all-round grand prize of a two-horse trailer, plus $1,600, plus the satisfaction of frustrating the bull—he gives a look that seems to say to the bull, "Didn't anyone tell you I am Dugan LeBeaux, an Oglala Sioux, part of the crowd that took Custer?"
It is no surprise to the Indian that this is the last rodeo in Gallup because they are building an interstate highway through the rodeo grounds. The Indians were removed from much of their land 100 years ago for the railroads. It is the sign of our changing times that today, now, the Indians are moving for a new highway. But there is no sign of the changing white man or, better, the white man changing.
As Sonny Jim James, the handsome, braided, long-haired Modoc Klamath says, "There have been many changes, but no changes in scalping the Indian."
They have promised to build another ceremonial center nine miles out alongside Interstate 40 in the Red Rocks. We shall see. If they do next year—go. And enjoy it.
The grand exit parade from the arena has begun. The Zu�i band gives each of the great Indian nations a beat. The dancers are all bunched with their separate nations as they parade past in a fantastic glory of color and quick prance—the powerful Navajo, the Crow, the Yakima, the Ute, the Zu�i, the Pima, the Taos, the Kiowa, the Laguna, the Isleta, the Sandia, the Jemez, the San Juan and the big Apache nation—all celebrating an original American sport. Not a sport that destroys, but a ceremony that creates, in the style of the Indian.