The first big rodeo held in Tucson was in the spring of 1901 and a number of Arizona rodeo stars of yesteryear were there to do their stuff.
In those days they didn't rope calves. The contestants had to rope, throw and tie down large 3- and 4-year-old longhorn steers single-handed. Obviously, the cowboys couldn't make the fast time then that they do today roping and tying the small calves used in the arena. It required an expert roper mounted on a good fast well-trained rope horse to even catch those longhorns and when a contestant did it in 35 or 50 seconds he was rated speedy.
The steer was given a 100-foot start, too. The rodeo was held in Tucson Park, a desert waste southeast of Tucson proper. Wagons, buggies and mounted horsemen circled the arena to view the big event.
It was during the 1901 rodeo that Clay McGonigal broke the world record when he threw his steer and tied it down in 23 seconds flat. Sometime later he did the job in 22.4 seconds. In the contest with McGonigal that day were Doc Goodwin, Buster Gardner, Joe Gardner, Tom Wills, Bill Swingle and half a dozen other Arizona punchers.
McGonigal was the last man to be called. When his name was announced one of the Gardner boys was riding his horse. Running up to him, McGonigal said, "Shed that there hoss, my steer's comin.' " Mounting the horse, McGonigal tested his rope and yelled, "Let 'er go, boys." His exhibition was full of intense interest and the steer driven out for him to tie lent excitement to the contest as it was one of the gamest of the lot.
This story was originally published in the Tucson Daily Citizen on Feb. 23, 1955.
This story was part of a column, Pioneer Anecdotes, written by George H. Smalley, editor of the Citizen from 1898 to 1901.