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Jan. 27, 2021

Ford authors book revealing rodeo’s effect on American identity

By Leah Newell, communication assistant


Dr. Elyssa Ford

Dr. Elyssa Ford

A new book authored by Dr. Elyssa Ford, an associate professor of history at Northwest Missouri State University, discusses how diverse communities are impacted by the rodeo arena.

Ford’s book, “Rodeo as Refuge, Rodeo as Rebellion,” recently was published by the University Press of Kansas.

“It’s just a story that we don’t really know very much about,” Ford said. “I hope this book helps show this different version of our history to people.”

Ford examines the role that identity plays in race- and group-specific rodeos. She notes some people use rodeo as a way to escape from a white-dominated, sometimes unwelcoming outside world, but for others the rodeo is a method to unite and celebrate different identities.

Rodeo is often seen as a white-specific arena, although Native Americans and African Americans are examples of other groups with connections to rodeo, Ford said. In the book, she argues that the existence of separate rodeo circuits has continued long after the end of legal segregation in the U.S. because people have a historical connection with rodeo, and the separate rodeos allow people to learn and celebrate the history of their groups in the rodeo and within the United States.

“Rodeo is more than a sport,” she said. “Rodeo is a way that people express their identity as Americans and as westerners.”

As an undergraduate student, Ford interned at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas, and her experience there inspired her to write about rodeo. At that time, only two non-white women were part of the Hall of Fame and Ford believed those underrepresented groups deserved more recognition.

“To me, as someone from Texas, who knows that there were vast Hispanic ranches in my own state, I knew there was African American involvement in rodeo,” Ford said. “I knew there was Native American involvement in rodeo and ranching. To me, it didn’t make a lot of sense that none of that was known or recognized by this national museum.”

Ford, who joined the Northwest faculty in 2011, teaches courses in U.S. history and women’s history, and her research focuses on women’s history with emphases on gender, race, sexuality, identity and memory. In addition to the National Cowgirl Museum, she gained experience at the Arizona Jewish Historical Society, the El Paso Museum of History and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Ford holds master’s and doctorate degrees in history as well as a graduate certificate in museum studies from Arizona State University. She earned her bachelor’s degree in international studies from Colby College in Waterville, Maine.


Media contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager | mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704