Tales from the Morgue: Stories from Tucson's first rodeo

February 15, 2014 12:57 pm  • 

Read some stories about the first Fiesta de los Vaqueros in 1925.

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  • The very first Fiesta de los Vaqueros began Feb. 21, 1925, the brain child of Leighton Kramer and the Arizona Polo association.

    The rodeo took place at the Santa Catalina field. As noted in the Arizona Daily Star Feb. 21, 1925:

    The field, now complete with its grandstands, graded surface, and well fenced corrals, was but a month ago, an uncleared strip of desert country near the country home of Leighton Kramer, president of the Polo association.

    Kramer and other Tucson businessmen began planning the rodeo more than a year before it came to pass. Kramer's donation of the land for the rodeo, also to be used for polo, helped make the idea come to fruition. From the above-mentioned article:

    With the undertaking underwritten by a large number of responsible citizens of the community, the rodeo plan, once started, moved forward rapidly, and the contracts of some of the best talent in the game came about in answer to the offer of $4300 in prize money, with a $250 saddle added for the riding events.

    The committee planned to make the rodeo an annual event. It seemed well on its way the first year. So many visitors came to see the parade and rodeo that the city had to advertise for vacant beds, asking residents to open their spare rooms and sleeping porches to accommodate guests.

    Next: Preparations for the parade, and boy, have prizes changed since 1925.

  • From the Arizona Daily Star Saturday, Feb. 21, 1925:

    VISITORS CROWD HOTELS FOR OPENING OF RODEO

    Indians in Native Regalia and Mounted Police to Add Color to Pageant Preceding La Fiesta de Los Vaqueros.

    With a crash of martial music from two military bands, the tramp of horses' feet and the colorful stream of cowboys, cowgirls and Indians, the Fiesta de los Vaqueros, Tucson's first annual rodeo will open this morning when the parade starts on west Congress street at 10:30 o'clock.

    Contestants and visitors from all parts of the country are filling the hotels and rooming houses of the city to capacity, and more cars are arriving each hour, bringing people who are either taking part, or wishing to see the rodeo at Santa Catalina field.

     

    Prizes for the parade were offered in categories that included most typical cowboy costume, most typical cowgirl, prettiest horse, biggest hat, finest saddle and bridle, best decorated auto, most comical costume, oldest man on horseback, most typical prospector, best outfitted child under 12, fattest horse and skiniest horse.

    Prizes included cash and merchandise from local stores. One merchandise prize was a 100-pound sack of potatoes. The prize for fattest horse was "one big cactus ham from Arizona Packing Co."

    The prize for skinniest horse was one pair of ladies's silk teddies from Myers & Bloom. Let's hope the skinniest horse was ridden by a woman.

    The Arizona Corporation Commission made arrangements for people without cars to arrive at the parade and rodeo in taxis. Rides were 25 cents each way for a party of four and applied to all the taxi lines in the city during the rodeo.

    And, yes, the rodeo meant a school holiday even in 1925:

    Aiding in making the first annual rodeo a success, the heads of all of the city schools and the University of Arizona have declared Monday a holiday, and all of the students will be able to attend. The Evans School for Boys, at Tanque Verde, will be closed Monday, and the students are attending the show as a body, the bigger number of them arriving in the city last night to remain over the three days of the event.

     

    Tomorrow: Some of the performers.

  • From the Arizona Daily Star Saturday, Feb. 21, 1925:

    MULLINS FINDS BEST CONTEST MEN IN TUCSON

    Experts From All Over U.S. Here For First Rodeo in City's History

    "I have seen many rodeos, but never one that drew so many of the best boys in the game as the Tucson event," said Johnny Mullin, ... who is aiding Sid Simpson and Ed Echols in handling the Fiesta de los Vaqueros at the Santa Catalina field this afternoon, tomorrow and Monday.

    All week long the contestants have been arriving for the events, and among the ones now in the city are the "top hands" of the riders, ropers and bulldoggers of the United States. In the groups are many who accompanied Tex Austin to the International Rodeo at the Wembley Stadium at London last year, where they represented the United States in competition with the best cattlemen of the world.

     

    The growing list of bulldoggers - a "dangerous, spectacular sport" -  included contestants from Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Billy Kingham, of Cheyenne, Wyoming, was considered one of the best in the business and a leader in his class.

    Some other contestants of note:

    Among the many notables that are gracing Tucson at present — waiting for the opening event, when the first gun of the three-day Rodeo will be fired is Chief Hawk, chief of a tribe of Pueblo Indians that arrived today from the Taos reservation at Taos, New Mexico.

    The chief comes to Tucson to win the prize in the bronc riding event and the bulldogging contest.

    Those that have seen him work say that his competitors will have a hard time in keeping up with him. He has repeatedly taken both first and second money at many events here in the southwest.

     

    Among the contestants were some ladies, of course:

    Known in private life as Mrs. Mike Hastings, wife of the stellar bulldogger, who will work in the Tucson rodeo, Fox Hastings is noted in her own right as a rider and bulldogger, in fact, believed to be the only woman bulldogger in the rodeo game.

    Traveling overland from Fort Worth, Texas, where they attended the stock show, Mike and Fox Hastings arrived in Tucson in their roadster with the pet mount of Mike traveling behind in a trailer. The pony, an intelligent little strawberry roan, will take his part in the program this afternoon when Mike starts from the line to catch his steer in the arena for one of the most spectacular feats of any rodeo, the bulldogging.

     

    And what rodeo would be complete without a clown?

    Seated in the middle of a wild eyed pitching steer, Red Sublette, who with his famous trick mule, Sparkplug, appears at the Tucson rodeo this afternoon, is as comfortable as the ordinary mortal in an easy chair. At least, so he says.

    The cowboy clown, who with his drollery has amused two continents, has but recently return from the trip to Europe, which he made as a feature of the mammoth rodeo put on at the Wemberly (sic) Stadium in London by Tex Austin.

    Sublette, who is the most famous rodeo clown in the United States today, has a long record of successful performances in many different shows and is well known all over the west as a good entertainer both by the cattlemen who know him personally and by his audiences who have never seen him without the "hick" makeup with which he enters the arena.

     

    Tomorrow: Bulldogging from an automobile, and rodeos inspire even the British to enthusiasm.

  • The rodeo parade heralding the first Fiesta de los Vaqueros, Feb. 21-23, 1925, was a hit, as was the first day of the rodeo itself, attended by approximately 5,000 people.

    Although the present-day parade is advertised as non-mechanized, and until recently was touted as the longest non-mechanized parade in the world, the first parade was not completely so. It included a "large number of cars, of trick and more sedate varieties."

    The rodeo began a bit earlier than planned because there were so many ropers wishing to compete.The first day's calf roping contest was won by Arthur Beloat of Buckeye.

    According to the Arizona Daily Star, Feb. 22, 1925:

    The second event, the bucking horse contest, was spectacular from start to finish. Most all of the mounts used were fighters, and several of the contestants joined the air service abruptly as the California and Arizona horses put forth every effort to live up to their reputations.

     

    The cowgirls' race was called off because there was only one contestant. Steer tying team contests and bareback riding were also included, but more than half of the bareback riders "were dismounted" before finishing the course.

    One horse managed to retain its perfect record:

    "Little Jeff," famed as the hardest number loose on four legs, and thus far unridden, still held the title last night, although Bill Shepard of Arivaca, made an attempt to put a kink in the western horse's unbroken record. Saddled in the chute, Little Jeff started the party for the Arizona lad before the gates were well open, and as the barrier dropped, came pitching into the clear alone, having left Shepard clinging to the gateway. Little Jeff is still unridden.

     

    But the twist came in the bulldogging, or steer wrestling, competition. While most contestants rode horses as is customary, two did not:

    Shad Bowyer, driving a Packard car, furnished the mount for Homer Roach and Jack Brown in the final bulldogging event, while a long-horned buckskin steer led the party a merry chase before he was thrown. Brown's first trial for the steer failed and resulted in a bad spill for the puncher, but the steer later fell to Roach who threw him quickly.

     

    Happily, there were no injuries on the first day of competition.

     

  •  

    I can't say it any better, so I'll present this article that ran in the Arizona Daily Star Feb. 22, 1925:

     

    RODEO, APPEALING TO EVERY CLASS OF PEOPLE, INSPIRED EVEN THE BRITISH TO ENTHUSIASM

    London Press Unanimous in Praise of Exhibition of Manly and Womanly Sportsmanship and Courage That Shook Wembley Exhibition

    By Thomas D. Ranson

    It may seem superfluous to analyze the appeal of rodeo shows with the American public. The pity is that people in eastern cities are not given more opportunity to see really worthwhile rodeos. A sold out grandstand would invariably greet these exhibitions of daring, skill and horsemanship, which appeal so deeply to the American public, and, which are free from the element of needless cruelty which usually repels the Anglo-Saxon who witnesses a bull fight.

    The tremendous hit made by Tex Austin's rodeo show at Wembley, England, last year, illustrates the popular appeal of this form of entertainment, and the desirability that the rodeo shall become a national American pastime as disinguished from a form of show to be seen only in the west.

    The Wembley show was the most stupendous and ambitious Empire exhibition ever staged on the soil of Great Britain. It contained huge exhibits from every part of the world, with shows and exhibitions of all kinds illustrating amusements and customs of peoples from the far corners of the Earth.

    And then Tex Austin's rodeo came along and ran away with the whole show.

    The writer had an opportunity to see the principal English newspapers and illustrated magazines, and discussion of the rodeo and illustrations of the rodeo occupied more than half the space devoted to the Wembley exhibition.

    It is not easy to move a stolid race like the British to lyric enthusiasm, but the following are examples of press comment, which illustrates the impression of American skill and daring called forth by the rodeo exhibition:

    The London Times: "It is funny to hear middle aged, theatre going England, hum and haw about the alleged brutality of steer roping. We sometimes feel fat and over-civilized in the presence of these mighty men of the plains, with skins of leather and muscels (sic) of steel. They are true examples of the pioneers who could conquer a continent."

    The London Graphic: "The writer is not easily thrilled, but he was thrilled yesterday. Imagine a man, going at full gallop, crawling under his horse's belly and emerging safe in the saddle on the other side without checking the animal's speed."

    The London Sphere: "We confess the women riders stirred us to greatest enthusiasm. The sight of these gallant cowgirls standing up in the saddles and performing breath taking stunts while their horse galloped at full speed drew cheer after cheer from the thousands of massed spectators. These are the finest and most inspiring representatives the Americans ever sent England."

    And so ad infinitum. There are enthusiasts in various branches of sport, but a good rodeo exhibition appeals to every class and age, and provides thrills for the most sophisticated.

     

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About this blog

"Tales from the Morgue" is a way for the Star to share stories from the treasure trove of information held in its old files.

Johanna Eubank, aka the Morgue Lady, was a research assistant in the Star Library — also known as News and Research Services — for 18 years before becoming an online content producer. She has had her share of sneezing fits after digging into dusty old files, so she's sure to find a few old stories to re-examine.

If you have suggestions, comments or questions about this blog, e-mail jeubank@tucson.com

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