More. That was the theme of the Pepsi Plaza introduced at the Cody Stampede this year.
More booths. More animals. More activity to keep early arriving fans occupied before the 100th anniversary Buffalo Bill Cody Stampede Rodeo began.
Yes, you could sit on Mongo’s broad back and pose for a picture, as can be done before each Cody Nite Rodeo, or ride a mechanical bull, as usual.
But you could also take your kids into a fenced petting zoo to frolic with a donkey or pigs. And there was background music, some provided by Jeff Gore of Abilene, Texas, who displayed a “Duck Dynasty” beard, or the Whitlock Sisters.
In addition to the usual concession fare at Stampede Park, other booths offered Pepsi products, cheesesteaks, lemonade and bottled water.
There was also a considerably expanded selection of rodeo souvenirs, from stock contractor Frontier Rodeo Company T-shirts to 100th anniversary T-shirts and belt buckles.
The University of Wyoming set up a booth and so did the U.S. Army, each recruiting in their own way.
The dual goal of the plaza was to offer fans a little bit of extra entertainment and to hopefully stagger traffic and parking. First impressions were that the idea was successful on both counts.
“It looked like it was working,” said Stampede co-president Mike Darby after the first night.
Without even putting a shrug of effort into being showcased, Mongo, the Mo Betta Rodeo bull, who might be the most popular in the world, overshadowed all other animals out front.
Mongo, now 7, does make a strong visual impression. For $10 people can sit on him and pose for pictures.
“Flat busy,” said Mongo’s guardian for opening night, Edward Hordern, a Cody Nite bullfighter, describing the demand for “rides.”
Hordern said he loves Mongo, but pretty much so does everyone else.
There was a suggestion Mongo participate in this year’s Stampede Parade, but owners Maury and Nikki Tate felt the demands would be too much for him. Even if he just rode on a float.
Mongo, it seems, may be closing in on the end of his Cody Nite tenure. Nikki Tate said the plan is to breed him to four different cows this coming winter with the idea an heir to the Cody gig be produced. “Mongo II” would come along for a season before Mongo retires to the company’s Oklahoma ranch.
“He’s maxed out,” Nikki Tate said.
In the meantime, Mongo continues to model his 2,000-pound bulk without displaying a single bad temperament quality common to other bulls.
Thomas Ackerman, 9, of Billings, sat on Mongo for a photo snapped by dad Chris.
“Let ’er buck,” Chris said. Thomas shook his head no, do not let ’er buck. “He’s gigantic,” Thomas said.
A small gift shop is situated at the front of Stampede Park, but for the Stampede, merchandise selling was expanded. Nikki Tate said a small run of commemorative belt buckles was made up marking the special anniversary of this rodeo.
T-shirts sold for $20 and they could be imprinted on the spot with a choice of eight different decals.
“It’s new,” Nikki Tate said.
Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley seemed to be a big hit. Dressed in period costume in the plaza, a steady stream of fans approached requesting pictures.
Buffalo Bill, founder of the city, and the man for whom the rodeo is named, was looking pretty spry for 173 years old.
Roger Harrell, who has played Buffalo Bill for the Cody Gunfighters show, brought out his buckskins.
If kids did not really know about the famed duo, parents and grandparents certainly were able to pick them out of the crowd.
Harrell was asked if he thought fans all knew he was Buffalo Bill, as opposed to a generic western figure.
“They get it,” he said. “They say, ‘There’s Wild Bill Cody.’”
Bill Cody was pretty wild and so is the rodeo named after him. Inside the arena they did “Let ’er buck.”