Big Jim: the Tucson Rodeo Parade

2014-02-18T00:00:00Z 2014-09-12T09:22:24Z Big Jim: the Tucson Rodeo ParadeJim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The 89th Tucson Rodeo Parade will take place this Thursday, starting at 9 a.m. The route goes south on Park Avenue from Ajo Way to Irvington Road, then west to Sixth Avenue, then north to the Rodeo Grounds, where it ends.

It is the longest non-mechanized parade in the United States. (It used to be called “the longest non-mechanized parade in the world,” until the organizers heard of a longer one in Sri Lanka, complete with elephants. Now it is the world’s longest non-mechanized parade without elephants!)

It got its start in 1925, signaling the start of the first Tucson Rodeo. It ran through Tucson’s downtown business district, as it did until 1991, when it moved to its present route for safety considerations. Early prizes were given for the Biggest Hat, the Fattest Horse and the Skinniest Horse, The Most Typical Cowboy and Cowgirl, and the Best Decorated Automobile. (The parade was not de-mechanized until 1940.)

Nowadays the parade is sponsored by the Rodeo Parade Committee, which also maintains a wonderful museum in the Rodeo Grounds, containing a great collection of antique horse-drawn equipment. It’s well worth a visit.

But what of the parade itself? Thursday’s event will feature 143 entries, including 78 wagons and 19 marching bands, including the Pride of Arizona and the Fort Mohave Tribal Marching Band. It will have drill teams, riding clubs, and sheriff’s posses. Miss Teen Navajo will be there, as well as representatives of Tohono O’odham Nation.

The Tucson Chinese Cultural Center won the big prize past year – they’ll be back. You’ll get glimpses of history with the Tucson Mormon Battalion, Black Lawmen of the Old West, The Sons of Confederate Veterans, and a Vintage Fire Brigade. Entries are sponsored by clubs, businesses, non-profits, and even governmental entities. In other words, you’ll see a good cross-section of Tucson as it was and still is — a diverse group of folks with some shared history and a strong desire to celebrate who they are and who they were.

Whose parade is it? The Rodeo Parade Committee raises the money and organizes the whole thing, for which Muchas gracias. Out-of-town visitors buy tickets and occupy the grandstands. The parade route is lined with south-side Tucsonans. And as I showed in the previous paragraph, just about everyone with any kind of stake in our community may be found marching in it. I guess the answer is simple: it’s our parade!

And by the way, I’ll be there, riding in the Little Mexico Restaurant and Steakhouse wagon, (#315) and picking my banjo. Give me a wave as we go by!

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About this blog

Jim Griffith is the former director of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona, and co-founder of Tucson Meet Yourself. He’s also the author of seven books on the folklore and folklife of our region, most recently “A Border Runs Through It.” His books can be purchased at tucson.com/wildcatgear.

If you have questions or suggestions for Jim Griffith or this blog, e-mail bigjimgriffith@gmail.com

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