In the beginning, there was a virtual who’s who of Reno, joining to start the Nevada Round-Up. They were the movers and shakers of the times, and the nucleus include William H. Moffat, the famed cattleman; George Wingfield Sr., banker, entrepreneur and political king-maker; William Woodburn Sr., the community’s chief federal attorney; Reno’s mayor, W. E. Stewart, and Charles Mapes Sr., the second-generation powerhouse of a most significant Nevada family; Charles Sadlier, later known as the “father of Reno Rodeo.” His subsequent presidency of the Reno Rodeo ran 13 years (1935-1948), the longest span of leadership in the events history.
The birth of the Reno Rodeo also marked the beginning for one of America’s greatest western artists and writers. In 1919, Will James was paid $20 to illustrate posters and a souvenir program for the First Annual Nevada Round-Up Rodeo. It was the first piece of commercial artwork for the man who would go on to illustrate 20 books and numerous articles before his death in 1942.
James was born Joseph-Ernest Dufault on June 6, 1892 in Quebec Canada and spent his childhood in Montreal. At 15 he set out for the Canadian west, but after a dispute with the Canadian Mounted Police involving a murder, he drifted south and changed his name to William Roderick James.
James worked as a bronc buster in Montana and Nevada, where he ran into more trouble with the law. While working on the Riordan Ranch in Nye County in 1914, James and another cowboy rustled a small herd of cattle in White Pine County. James was arrested and held in the White Pine County jail in Ely while awaiting trial. He later changed his plea to guilty and was sentenced to 12 to 18 months in the Nevada State Prison in Carson City. While confined in prison James spent his time working on artwork, particularly drawings of ranch life and horses. After his release, he again drifted throughout the west before returning to Reno in 1919, when he was commissioned to do the rodeo artwork.
James married Alice Conradt of Reno. They lived in Washoe Valley and Billings, Montana before his death.
The stories for the Count Down to 100 are excerpts from “A
History – The First 80 Years” by Guy Clifton.