The 117th World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo may be over, but the verbal boxing match regarding the event's actual year of birth is as heated as ever.
In one corner is Payson's Pat Randall, who believes that an official rodeo program from 1931 touting the town's 38th annual rodeo puts its first year at 1893.
In the opposing corner is just about everyone else who has an opinion on the matter, starting with local historian and Rim Review scribe Stan Brown who quotes other historical documents which say the rodeo was created, as advertised, in 1884, and that Randall's evidence to the contrary is merely a misprint.
Until some pioneer family steps forward with an older program, newspaper article, or ticket stub from the first rodeo, it's not likely either side is going to give in on this debate.
Still, into the fray steps longtime local Al Ayers, armed with a copy of the book "Arizona Charlie," written by Jean Beach King about her great uncle, the legendary Rim country cowboy Charlie Meadows.
King has died since the 1989 publication of the book, according to John L. Myers of Heritage Publishers. But in the book's prologue, King reported that her research was culled from Meadows' "diaries, newspaper headlines and articles, and treasured scrapbooks," as well as interviews conducted shortly before his death by Arizona state historian Effie Keen and Zane Grey who characterized Meadows in his book, "Stairs of Sand."
In chapter 4 of the tome, titled "1884: Charlie's First Wild West Rodeo," King wrote:
"... Charlie entered his first Wild West roping contest in August of 1884. He competed against another settler and fellow 'Hassayamper,' John Chilson, in Payson's mid-town cow pasture ... This contest set a precedent one that has been carried out each August since 1884 ..."
After discussing the disputes between the towns of Payson, Prescott and Denver over claims to the title of "World's Oldest Rodeo," King adds that the fair owner of the title "will probably remain unknown, but Charlie's 1884 Payson rodeo is considered by many to have been the first genuine Wild West rodeo ever held."
Randall, as the 1893-booster she is, writes-off King's version of history as fiction.
"When you get a book written in 1989 that's more or less a novel about Arizona Charlie, don't go for that as a source of historic fact," Randall says.
"That's outlandish," responds Brown. "You need to look at the source material that was used, not the publication of the book and the source material goes back to Charlie Meadows' own diaries and quotes. This is a very well-documented book, it's not just a fictionalized account."
King's bibliography in "Arizona Charlie" includes 37 sources of historical information including Charlie Meadows' journals, scrapbooks and letters, and other materials which date as far back as 1883.
Meanwhile, Randall also continues to disagree with Brown's view of her 1931 program particularly his statement that, "The other historical articles in the program are so full of errors that I'm not surprised that the dates are wrong, too. I wouldn't trust anything I read in that thing."
"How can Stan Brown dispute the accuracy of the historical articles written by Fred Croxen in that 'silly' program," she writes, in part, in a letter to the editor which appears in today's edition of the Roundup.
"According to the program editor's note, Fred Croxen 'prepared much of the ... historical facts used in [the] articles together with a more detailed history of grazing and mining in Tonto Basin,'" Randall continues. "Interestingly, Stan Brown wrote the introduction to and edited and published that same history ["The History of Grazing in the Tonto"] in 1999. Now in 2001 he claims the articles to be 'full of errors' and believes oral histories of old-timers he never talked to are more accurate.'
"For one thing," Brown responds, "the editing I did of Croxen's paper ... points out in all of the footnotes the many errors that Croxen had," Brown responds. "He picked up all of the lore from the old-timers he talked to and took it at face value ... Croxen was not a historian, he was simply a forest ranger recording the folklore that he received from local pioneers.
"I would be happy to go over (the articles in the 1931 program) line-by-line and point out, very clearly, that there are historical errors."
The Roundup challenges its readers to help solve this ongoing mystery. Now that this year's World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo is over, take a look around your attics, garages and basements. If you have any definitive proof of when the August Doin's actually began particularly rodeo programs that predate the controversial 1931 issue give us a call at (928) 474-5251.