Aloha Rodeo: Comes home a champion

  • “Aloha Rodeo” by David Wolman and Julian Smith

You don’t hear a lot about Hawaiian cowboys.

And you don’t hear a lot about Hawaii cowboys who became rodeo champions.

But if you read, “Aloha Rodeo,” you’ll learn about both.

This wonderful book by David Wolman and Julian Smith tells the 1908 story of Ikua Purdy, Jack Low and Archie Ka‘aau‘a, who traveled 4,000 miles from Hawaii to test themselves again the toughest riders in the West.

They weren’t given much of chance, but they surprised everyone — not themselves — when they came home champions and legends at the same time.

How they did defies all odds.

Aloha Rodeo takes you on a wonderful ride through history. Not only is this an amazing story, you will learn much in the details of this book that is available at the Kauai Museum. The history of Hawaii is fascinating and these authors cover it well.

The rodeo, though, is the focus. Here is what they wrote about it:

“When it was time for steer roping, the stands were buzzing with talk of the three men from across the Pacific. Everyone knew the paniolo were in town — ‘world beaters with a rope’ one newspaper called them. But hardly any of the spectators had actually seen them in action, in part because it took so long to get them horses.

“When the Hawaiian appeared at Frontier Park, the audience and other cowboys paused to take them in: ornate leather chaps, long rawhide lariats, flowers around their hats, and dark skin — they were different in every way. To locals and tourists in Cheyenne, the paniolo were not just odd; they were interlopers. The Wyoming Times reported that Ikua had ‘promised’ to come to Cheyenne and make good his defeat of MacPhee’ last year’s champion, ‘against all comers.’ Whether or not this was accurate — it sounded more like something Eben would say — to Frontier Days fans, the Hawaiian had thrown down the gauntlet.”

Wolman and Smith are excellent writers. They don’t waste words. They take you on a straight run along with three riders and all the challenges they overcame and what was at stake. Not just their pride, but their cultural identity. They were not just competing for themselves, but for all of Hawaii.

If you have time to read one book in the coming month, make it “Aloha Rodeo.”

If you’re interested in reading this book, I’ll be glad to lend you my copy.

It is available, locally, at the Kauai Museum.


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