Now that the rodeo season is over and I have a little spare time on my hands, something that I never have during the season, and having no picture of anyone to send in for Memory Trail, that is of anyone of whom I have not already written, I have just let my memory run wild back over the years of rodeo activities and have marveled at the progress that has been made in this great sport.
There is one spot that keeps recurring to my memory, and I guess it would be of as much interest, especially to some of the old timers, as anything I could write at this time, and that is the first rodeo staged in the Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas, this last March twenty-five years ago.
Of course, the Fat Stock Show had been going on for many years then. In fact I can remember the Fat Stock Show back in the days when I came in from Palo Pinto County to try and get a little city education at the Fort Worth University. And I can still remember how I envied those students whose fathers were wealthy cattlemen and came into the city during the stock show and took their sons out for a good time among the show cattle and visiting ranchers from the home range. Even at that time there a kind of rodeo (called a riding and roping contest) and while it was staged during the week of the stock show it had no connection with the show and was usually held on what was known as the Texas and Pacific reservation fully two miles from where the show was held.
“Booger Red” Privett, that grand old bronc rider of half a century ago nearly always had a hand in those riding and roping contests. Later on he had his own wild west show, which was practically all bronc riding, and he used to bring his show into Fort Worth, stock show week, get a location on the North side near the Fat Stock Show grounds and do a land office business. Booger would perhaps not have over a couple of paid bronc riders with his show, but he always had plenty of outside talent as there were any number of cowboys in with cattle what would get that they could ride one of his broncs or ride at one just for the sport of riding. Booger used to parade by the stock show grounds leading one of his noted buckers and announcing that such and such a well known cowboy was going to attempt to ride this famous man-hating outlaw bronc for a big side bet, and usually most of the stock show spectators followed the procession, and Boogers purse would grow fat from the stock show crowds, because he was furnishing them the kind of amusement they desired.
All this time the Fat Stock Show was struggling along with the aid of the merchants of the city, and each year it was not until after the merchants had been called upon for financial aid and underwriting the expense of the show, that it could be given out what the premiums in various livestock classes would be at the show.
In 1916 the Stock Show Committee having awakened to the fact that cowboy contests or exhibitions was what the public wanted along with the stock show, made a contract with Miller Bros. of 101 Ranch fame to put on a kind of wildwest show as the feature attraction of the stock show. It was a big success, so the following year the committee made a contract with Homer Wilson and Lucille Mulhall to produce the rodeo.
If any of the old timers still have one of those prize lists it will disclose that the total prizes in all events for the week’s show were but $1050.00and the biggest purse in any event was for the cowgirls roping contest which Lucille Mulhall was suppose to win, and which she did win.
I can remember many of the old time hands who were there for that show, Fred Wilson, brother of Homer, Hugh Strickland, “Powder Face” Tom Eckerd, Tex Crockett, Guy, Everett and Floyd Shultz, Booger Red, Jr., (Laird was his last name and he was no kin to Booger Red Privett) Slim Caskey, Ike Lewis, Calgary Red, Tex McLeod, Tommy & Mildred Douglas, Bud Clayton, Johnny Judd, Rufe Rollins, Leonard Stroud, Ed Lindsay, Slim and Prairie Lillie Allen, Clyde Lindsay and many others who were the top hands of that era.
It was that first real rodeo there that the famous bucking horse “Blue Jay” was ridden. Homer Wilson had made a deal with E. A. Scott of Anson, Texas, to bring the famous bucker in for the show. Homer was to pick three riders, and if the horse threw all three of them Scott was to get $500 for the use of the horse, but if the horse did not throw all three riders then Scott was to receive nothing. The three that Wilson picked were Rufe Rollins, Leonard Stroud and Booger Red, Jr. Rufe drew first sitting at the famous bucker whom it was claimed up to that time had more than a hundred victims to his bucking prowess. The horse was snubbed in the arena, and there came near being an arena fight over the saddling. Ed Lindsay was seeing to the saddling for Rufe and he insisted in setting the saddle where he wanted it which was farther forward than Scott wanted it. But Ed won the argument and Rufe mounted the steed. Those who knew Rufe Rollins know that he was a great bronc rider, furthermore he had plenty of confidence in his own riding ability. Just the minute the horse was free of the snubbing horse Rufe began to put the steel to the big bucker. This was something new to the horse. Other riders had waited, trying to figure out what the animal was going to do. It’s the same difference as being on the offensive and defensive, a phrase that we hear much of right now. Rufe went on the offensive at once, placing the animal on the defensive, and somehow it was just the right thing at the right time. He rode Blue Jay and in a measure broke the great steed’s spirit. After that, both Stroud and Bogger, Jr. rode him and it was not long after that time that Blue Jay with his great reputation behind him was a docile plow animal.
Fort Worth was a wide open saloon town in those days and there was a lone beer bar just outside the coliseum, near the rear and I as official announcer used to help the late Col. Zack Mulhall who did most of the directing of the arena, in round up the cowboy for their turn in an event. If they were absent from the arena I knew just where to find them – at the beer bar. It also gave me an opportunity to grab a drink between announcements, thus keeping my vocal chords well oiled.
That rodeo there in the Coliseum in March, 1917, really put the stock show as well as the fort Worth Rodeo on the road toward a long and brilliant career. It was just five years after that first rodeo that the whole stock show venture had acquired a firm standing where the merchants no longer had to underwrite the expenses, and the show has grown until, for several years with several additions to its seating capacity, the Coliseum has been too small to take care of the crowds properly.
Now it is understood that there may not be a rodeo in Fort Worth next March, or if there is one, it will just be a small one held in the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum on Camp Bowie Boulevard. But it is my opinion that Fort Worth owes it to cattlemen and others who have supported the show for years to hold a Fat Stock Show and there is no better place that I know of anywhere than the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum and grounds. In fact, the stock show should have been divorced from the stock yards years ago.
Foghorn Clancy was a God-send to the rodeo world, because he was such a gatherer of information about early day rodeo, and wrote it for the purpose of not losing it. He also wrote a book “My Fifty Years In Rodeo” which covers 1897 to 1947. However he continued to put out brochures of information for people such as myself who is still gathering the facts of early day rodeo. He was an amazing, forward-thinking announcer and publicity man for rodeo.