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Wyoming lei burial honors 1908 paniolo roping champion

  • WYOMING TRIBUNE EAGLE VIA AP
                                Mike Kassel, assistant director of the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, conducts a lei burial at Frontier Park Arena in Cheyenne, Wyoming in honor of famous paniolo Ikua Purdy.

    WYOMING TRIBUNE EAGLE VIA AP

    Mike Kassel, assistant director of the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, conducts a lei burial at Frontier Park Arena in Cheyenne, Wyoming in honor of famous paniolo Ikua Purdy.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. >> Ikua Purdy might not have known a soul in Cheyenne when, after travel by steamship and train, he arrived in the frontier town from Honolulu in 1908.

But by the time he was done at Cheyenne Frontier Days, Purdy was well-known by most, if not all, of the rodeo’s 10,000-plus attendants.

As a paniolo, which refers to the Hawaiian cowboy tradition that traces back to Mexican-Spanish vaqueros, Purdy won the top steer roping prize at that year’s rodeo, becoming the first non-Wyomingite to come out victorious in the competition.

Though already inducted into the CFD Hall of Fame, Purdy was further honored Monday afternoon when a lei brought by Purdy’s grandson was buried near where he won the 1908 competition at the arena.

Mike Kassel, the assistant director of the CFD Old West Museum, conducted the burial. Purdy’s grandson, who made the lei with leaves from Hawaii, brought it to Cheyenne in 2018, hanging it at Purdy’s portrait in the museum gallery, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports.

“As it started falling apart, we thought it would be a good idea to dispose of the lei in an honorable and purposeful way,” said Kassel.

The 1908 rodeo that Purdy won was also the first CFD at Frontier Park, after about a decade of it being held at Pioneer Park. Purdy was joined by two other Hawaiians, one of whom — Archie Kaaua — placed third in the same competition.

“The Hawaiians did an amazing job of demonstrating the paniolo skills of how they did roping,” Kassel said.

Though this year’s CFD has been canceled due to concerns about spread of COVID-19, Kassel said the rich history of Cheyenne’s world-famous rodeo is a good reminder of why CFD will bounce back.

“We’re going to be doing (Frontier Days) again next year, and it’s going to be bigger and better than ever before,” Kassel said. “We still have a great legacy that means so much to so many people. Any chance to remember that is worthy.”

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