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Perhaps this is why his image now appears in a country music video alongside Martin Luther King and John Wayne. And why thousands of people will visit the memorial display at the Cheyenne Frontier Days this week, to touch the unimaginably soft leather glove, caked with resin, that Lane Frost wore on his last ride, and to caress the heavy blue leather chaps, a few yards from the dirt in which he died. There will probably be a few worse today, in the oval arena beneath the sky so wide that the earth feels as if its been shoved right up into its brilliant blue belly.


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In fact, it was almost routine: he was tossed off, he got hit by a horn, he fell down, he got up again, and the bull turned away. By then, spectators were heading for the cotton-candy stand, applauding the ride. But then he fell again, face first, into the mud. The horn, or broken rib, had hit an artery, and within a few minutes, or seconds, he was dead.

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And so, while it was not a bad wreck, in the realest sense it was the worst wreck in the history of rodeo, the wreck from which the sport, it is now clear, will never recover. Because it was the wreck that claimed Lane Frost.

To catalogue the details of his life in order to effectively convey what he meant, and still means, to the rodeo is like trying to explain the essence of the prairie by describing the color of its grass, and its dirt, and its livestock. In each case, to isolate the individual elements is to come up well short of an understanding of the phenomenon. First of all, in his 25 years, by all accounts Lane Frost lived his life above reproach. He never said no to a fan. He was a good husband. He resisted the lures of the buckle bunnies who linger late in a rodeo arena, looking to sidle up against the winners.

He was that way all the time. Around everybody.

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Still, of the 1, cowboys entered in the current Frontier Days, ride the bulls, and in the rodeos sanctioned each year by the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, there is no shortage of either the fearless or the foolish, all anxious to sit astride an animal that weighs a ton, and that, for eight full seconds, knows nothing but rage.

In , Lane Frost won the championship of bullriding, and won the biggest buckle you can win. Then, in Lane Frost did something no one had ever done, and his legend began to take strong root. He rode a bull named Red Rock, a bull that no cowboy had been able to stay on in attempts.

Lane Frost did. This was the rodeo equivalent of pulling the sword out of the stone. And in five subsequent rides, Frost stayed on the bull twice more, and Red Rock threw him three times. Like the other king, Lane was larger than life in life, and now he is much larger than life in death; his Graceland is the whole constellation of rodeo arenas that cover the western landscape. But the title also does him a disservice, because in its allusion to the corpulent, sopping shell of a man who welded rock and roll to the American soul, it implies a mindless obeisance on the part of a herd of fanatics, worshipping an ideal instead of a person.

Whereas Lane Frost more or less lived the life that embodied the ideal. The people who now remember Lane Frost remember him in his true scale and measure, which was only that of a man who lived his life very well and did his work with dedication. And in the land of livestock and grassland and corral and endless highway, that is more or less everything. And that is why, for all of the temptation to see something profound in the death of a heroic American cowboy, we would do well not to try to analyze the essence of the legend, or take outsize meaning from his death.

We would do better to simply note it, and not forget it. The story of Lane Frost is a simple one. In a world where life is reduced to good and evil, Satan and the Lord, staying on the bull or falling off it, working the ranch or losing it, the death of a great cowboy is as profound as life can get. In fact, the modern rodeo cowboy has the stablest of dreams: earn enough money to put down on his own piece of land, and buy a few head of cattle.

En route, for alI of the dirt and the muck, for all of the renegade pedigree, it is a clean and exhausting and fulfilling way of spending your time here. They still are. The danger is hardly a surprise.

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The bullrider is generally a small man, holding on to a rope wound as tightly as possible around the neck of a bull whose only instinct is to rid himself of the irritation on his back, and then, having done so, to search out the rider to give a payback for his audacity. There have been only 11 deaths in PRCA-sanctioned rodeos in the 27 years of its existence, but few bullriders lack scars. Charlie Sampson, one of the best bullriders, has one ear, and the corners of his eyes are crowded with scars the shape of barbed wire.

Some get hurt in the chute, which fits the bull like a coffin. He was a world champion.

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He was one of the best at what he did. In the Olympics he was knocked out for five minutes when his bull bucked him off in front of the chute, then turned around and walked over him—in the idiom, he got stepped on. She was packing to move to Santa Fe. For the briefest of moments, between the time he let the bull buck him off and the time the bull caught him, the entire world of rodeo delighted in his return.

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Ten seconds later, it had gone wrong. Everyone knew it, because when the ambulance pulled away from the grandstand, it was not going fast. It was the picture-perfect getaway, textbook stuff. He sailed free, facing the sky, and then, in the air, he turned around like a cat so that he landed on all fours, four or five yards from the bull, in the dirt.

But it had been raining all week, and the dirt was muddy, and he had trouble getting up—maybe just a microsecond lost, but a critical one, for the bull had circled around. On Saturday, funds from the rodeo will go towards supporting the Tough Enough to Wear Pink Crisis Fund, which helps cancer patients with medical bills, prescriptions, equipment, and more. Wear your pink in the stands!

On Sunday, gates will open at noon; rodeo events will begin at 2pm. We will be saluting the U. Armed Forces. All Veterans with a valid military ID will have free admission on Sunday. Also kids' tickets distributed to kids through the schools gain kids free admission. Read more Read less. Map and Directions View Map. Save This Event Log in or sign up for Eventbrite to save events you're interested in.

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