Joseph S. Palen: Cheyenne Frontier Days Chronicler

If you’re interested in the history of Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD), a great place to start is the J. S. Palen papers at the American Heritage Center. Born in 1912 in Salina, Kansas, Palen became fascinated with cowboy culture at an early age and was soon a collector of memorabilia.

Postcard from Cheyenne Frontier Days, ca. 1920.
Box 24, J. S. Palen papers, Collection No. 10472, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In 1939, Palen received a degree in Veterinary Science and worked as a meat inspector while serving in the armed forces. He married Ruth Jackson in 1940 and would go on to have two sons, Gene and “Stampede” cartoonist Jerry Palen. In 1946, he moved to Wyoming where he worked as the resident veterinarian for the Wyoming Hereford Ranch. Soon thereafter he opened a private practice in Cheyenne, Wyoming. 

His passion was documenting rodeo history and CFD. He assembled extensive scrapbooks on the topics, including an entire folio devoted just to Steamboat, a horse born in 1896 that was considered among the best bucking broncos in rodeo history. Palen’s collection grew so large that historians, museum curators, and collectors sought him out for his knowledge.

Cheyenne Frontier Days postcard showing Ferguson Street in Cheyenne decked out for the event, ca. 1910.
Box 24, J. S. Palen papers, Collection No. 10472, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

His contributions to rodeo history would gain him the Rodeo Historical Society’s prestigious history award from the National Rodeo Hall of Fame. CFD inducted him into their hall of fame in 2006.

The Palen collection at the AHC is the culmination of more than half a century of research and collecting. CFD forms a large portion of his papers. It includes nearly all of the souvenir programs, most of the official programs, several pins/buttons/watch fobs, thousands of newspaper clippings, and hundreds of photographs. There is also a wealth of information about other rodeos, the history of rodeo and its participants.

A variety of rodeo scenes were featured on this 1907 postcard.
Box 24, J. S. Palen papers, Collection No. 10472, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

See also the American Heritage Center’s virtual exhibit on Palen and CFD at

Cheyenne Frontier Days is happening right now through August 1, 2021. Enjoy this historic event that’s been held annually since 1897.


This entry was posted in Agricultural history, Current events, popular culture, Ranch history, Rodeo history, Uncategorized, Western history, Wyoming history and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Joseph S. Palen: Cheyenne Frontier Days Chronicler

  1. Dan Nelson says:

    Hard to tell from the photograph of the 3rd postcard light tan) above, but it looks like the lady on the horse in the circle to the left (1907) is the same photo cropped from the first postcard that begin this post, dated ca., 1920s, Staff might want to look at the originals and see if it is. If it proves to be, then the first postcard could go back to the 1907 era as well. Just a hunch! Enjoyed the photos.

  2. Dan Nelson says:

    what would my URL be? Thanks! Dan Nelson

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