One of the first great cowboys of the Reno Rodeo was Jesse Stahl of California.
Stahl, an African-American, was considered one of the great bronc riders of his day, but he seldom finished first in any competition because of his skin color.
The Reno Rodeo was an exception.
Stahl was the steer wrestling champion in the first Nevada Round-Up in 1919, took the bull riding title in 1920 and ’21 and won bulldogging in 1921. Born in Tennessee in 1883, Stahl moved to California as a youngster and quickly took to rodeo events, particularly bronc riding. Standing more than 6 feet and weighing 220, he was a gifted athlete who had a combination of great strength and coordination. He had an amazing ability to stay aboard virtually any bronc or bull.
“I saw him just once, but I still remember it,” said 92-year-old Thomas Fleming of San Francisco. “It was at a rodeo in Chico, where I grew up. If you heard he was a cowboy, you heard it right. He was one of the best.”
At a rodeo in John Day, Ore., in the 1910s, the judges gave Stahl second place after he clearly outperformed the winning rider. Stahl responded to the snub by again riding his bronc, but this time sitting backwards on the animal. He would later perform the stunt at rodeos around the country, including the Reno Rodeo. Stahl died in 1938. He was conducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in 1979.
The Reno Rodeo would not have taken place if it weren’t for Charles W. Mapes, Sr. A cattleman, businessman and civic leader, Mapes was one of the driving forces behind the first Reno Rodeo and the trophy named in his honor – the Mapes Trophy – became one of the coveted awards in the rodeo’s history. The son of a Comstock pioneer George Washington Mapes was born in Sept. 13, 1879 in Beckwith, Calif. A year before his parents established their permanent home in Reno. From his early days he was trained to rope and ride on his family’s extensive cattle ranches in Nevada and California and he became an expert horseman, a skill he displayed in the early days of the rodeo.
The Mapes Trophy (which is on display in the President’s Room) debuted in 1920 and honored the top Nevada cowboy at each Reno Rodeo by having their name engraved.
The stories for the Count Down to 100 are excerpts from “A
History – The First 80 Years” by Guy Clifton.