Not My First Rodeo
My niece was six when her family packed up the Chevy, locked up their heartland home and pointed the
car in the direction of Cody/Yellowstone Country.
Like so many other Western-bound road-trippers, the family took their time so they could enjoy the
pleasure of free ice water at Wall Drug, observe the giant sculpted faces of four of our favorite U.S.
presidents and drive through the massive national park known for its fossils of ancient mammals, weird
geologic deposits and grasslands before arriving in Cody.
With me as enthusiastic tour guide, we did it all. We toured Yellowstone, lingered for hours exploring
Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and of course, watched the Cody Nite Rodeo.
Of all the things we did and saw, my niece loved the rodeo most of all. She loved the clowns, the hats,
the horses. And even at a young age, she couldn’t stop talking about the athleticism of the young
cowboys who gave it their all.
Last year my now-teenage niece returned for a stay with Aunt Corrie, and we of course went to the Cody
Nite Rodeo. Her enthusiasm for this classic event remained, although this time largely because she is a
typical boy-crazy girl. As I started to explain to her what she was about to see, she looked at me with
those impatient teenage-girl eyes and explained – with an annoying eye-roll for emphasis — that she
knew what was happening because, “Aunt Corrie, it’s not my first rodeo.”
It’s certainly not the first time I’ve heard some variation of that line, though. I know and meet countless
visitors and have many friends who experienced their very first rodeo as a child during a cross-country
So, where did this phrase come from, I wondered? I’ve heard it most of my life, and I’d imagined that it
had been a line from some great Western movie. Maybe Joel McCrea, assuring his employers that he
could of course guard that shipment of gold, because, you know, “it’s not my first rodeo.” Or James
Arness playing Zeb Macahan, and assuring his brother that he can protect his pretty sister-in- law and
her kids because, of course, “it’s not my first rodeo.” Or John Wayne uttering the line in virtually any
movie he was ever in, because he was, well, John Wayne.
Unfortunately, the true origin of that oft-used line is disappointing, at least to me. The line was first
uttered by actress Faye Dunaway playing the role of Joan Crawford in the 1981 film “Mommie Dearest.”
The scene wasn’t even in a Western. The character Joan Crawford, furious that she was being removed
from the board of directors for Pepsi, yells: “Don’t ‘mess’ with me fellas. This ain’t my first time at the
rodeo.” (Full disclosure: she didn’t say “mess.”)
The line, though, has become a catchphrase. A few years later, country singer Vern Gosdin released a
song called “This Ain’t My First Rodeo.” A NASCAR driver named Darrell Waltrip used the line in a post-
race interview. Others have used it, too, to emphasize their experience in this or that.
Here in Cody/Yellowstone Country, we really don’t care if it’s your first or your 100 th rodeo, as long as
you have a good time. And there’s never been a better time than this year, as the Cody Nite Rodeo
celebrates its 80th season.
Until next time, I’m waiting for the first rodeo of the season and loving life here in Cody/Yellowstone