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.
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.
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.
See also the American Heritage Center’s virtual exhibit on Palen and CFD at https://virmuze.com/m/uwyo-american-heritage-center/x/js-palen/.
Cheyenne Frontier Days is happening right now through August 1, 2021. Enjoy this historic event that’s been held annually since 1897.