Seventy years ago the biggest open rodeo in the west got its start as a small junior rodeo.

Now the Freedom Rodeo and Old Cowhand Reunion brings in a crowd of almost 7,500 to a town with a population of only 250, said Brett Smith, rodeo spokesman.

“It’s a huge event for Northwest Oklahoma, not just Freedom,” he said.

But even though the event has grown over the decades, it has never forgotten its roots, Smith said.

In fact, he said the rodeo still includes two junior events each year – girls junior barrel race and junior roping for the guys.

The rodeo, which runs Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. each night, also holds true to its roots by remaining an open rodeo, Smith said.

“We’ve been wooed to become professional,” he said, “but because of the heritage we haven’t.”

“We want to keep that local flavor,” he said.

Smith said it is that local flavor which truly makes the Freedom Rodeo unique and “a piece of Americana.”

“It’s not just another cowboy contest, just another rodeo,” he said. “It’s an experience.”

He said the Freedom Rodeo is different because it offers more than just the usual events. Of course there are roping and riding contests to be enjoyed each evening, but on Saturday there are special events that you cannot find anywhere else.

Most noteworthy is the “Great Freedom Bank Robbery and Shootout,” which Smith described as “an old-time melodrama.”

He said the whole town has literally gotten in on the act. A facade of rough cedar planks has been placed on all the buildings so that Freedom really looks like an early day cow town.

Throw in a cast of 30 characters, which includes everyone from outlaws to saloon ladies, and he said it makes for quite a show.

Another thing that sets the Freedom Rodeo apart is the Old Cowhand Reunion. This reunion celebrates the area’s ranching history and each year a local rancher is recognized with the ‘Honored Old Cowhand’ award.

Smith said this year’s award recipient is DeWayne Hodgson, who has called Freedom home for most of his 77 years.

Until his recent move to Woodward Hodgson said he spent all but 10 years living and ranching in the Freedom area. And he said he still has his ranch there.

“We’ll always be a part of Freedom, hope Freedom will always be a part of us,” he said.

Smith said one of the reason’s Hodgson was selected as this year’s ‘Old Cowhand’ is because of his many years of community involvement in Freedom.

From volunteering at the rodeo to serving as a Sunday School teacher at the Freedom Methodist Church to actively supporting the Freedom school and especially FFA, Smith said Hodgson has been a big part of the community.

While Hodgson said he could think of many others who deserved the award as much as he does, he also said he was proud to be chosen.

“It’s a great honor,” he said.

Hodgson said he realizes the award is in appreciation for all he has done for the community, yet he feels more appreciative of what the community has done for him.

“I gave a lot of service to the community,” he said, “but I feel like the community has given a lot more to me.”

Above all he said Freedom gave him a good place to call home.

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