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It's a story of evolution. Of how the rodeo began. Of how buckaroos morphed into full-on cowboys.

The Ravalli County Museum's National Senior Pro Rodeo Association Exhibit takes museum-goers on a journey from the humble beginnings of rodeo to the decadence and grandeur of the sport today.

"It's really the story of how the rodeo began," said museum spokeswoman Sarah Monson.

The exhibit, which opens on Thursday in conjunction with the National Senior Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame induction ceremony, gives detailed descriptions of all things rodeo.

Pictures show the different sports, like barrel racing, ribbon roping and saddle bronc riding, and descriptions detail how the sports evolved from ranch-life necessities to blood-pumping competitions.

Also featured in the exhibit are authentic cowboy clothing and their practical uses.

"It was designed to protect the cowboy and the horse," Monson said.

But as the years went on, the clothing turned into fashion statements as well, she said.

In another room, the walls are covered with dozens of plaques and Senior Pro Rodeo awards. One case holds beautiful belt buckles and ornamental spurs.

"They can get pretty ornate," Monson said.

A second case displays many different tools of the trade, like gloves, bits and "peacemaker" revolvers.

"If you want to know what it's all about, what they do in the rodeo, this is the place to go," Monson said.

Also on display are numerous ranch brands, as well as different types of barbed wire.

The collection came from the NSPRA Hall of Fame. The Ravalli County Museum doesn't own the items but is the caretaker.

"They've entrusted it to us," Monson said.

The exhibit opens Thursday, the one day admission will be free. The exhibit will run through Aug. 30.

While the exhibit is interesting, what will really bring a crowd into the museum is Thursday's NSPRA Hall of Fame induction ceremony, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Five honorees will be inducted, and a barbecue dinner and dessert will follow. Tickets are $20.

The barbecue continues until 8 p.m. Activities include a branding party, and trick-roping.

At 8 p.m., country band Northern Lights hits the stage for a street dance outside the museum. Tickets for the dance are $5.

Tickets are available at the Ravalli County Museum at 205 Bedford in Hamilton, the Ravalli County Fairgrounds at 100 Old Corvallis Road in Hamilton, or Accu-Tax at 1226 Eastside Highway in Corvallis.

For more information, call the Ravalli County Museum at 363-3338.

Reach reporter Whitney Bermes at 363-3300 or