Rodeo has not always been the spectator sport it is today. It originated with the daily work of cowboys. In fact the word "rodeo" comes from the Spanish "rodear," a term used by vaqueros to round up, encircle, or move cattle. Since having fun is inherent to human nature, cowboys were quick to make games of the skills developed in the cattle business. Roping, bronc riding, and bulldogging moved from the corral to the arena in America during the 1870s and 1880s.
It was during the summer lull between roundups, in 1884, that several Rim country cowboys cooked up a contest of their roping skills. Two young ranchers, Charlie Meadows and John Chilson, were enjoying each other's company in Payson one weekend and they decided that a roping contest would be great sport. Word went out to meet on a Saturday in early August at the Pieper's meadow, approximately where the Sawmill Crossing theater now stands. Among those who gathered were Joe Gibson and O. C. Felton.
That same year Payson had gained a post office and a name, and just three years before Charlie Meadows had suffered a tragedy in his family.
In July of 1882 his father was killed by Apaches raiding their ranch home, situated in today's Whispering Pines. His brother Henry died two months later from wounds sustained in that raid, and the father and son had been the first to be buried in the Payson cemetery.
Charlie's brother John Valentine Meadows was also critically wounded,but slowly recovered during the months ahead.
He and his young brother were left to maintain the ranch, having moved their mother and younger siblings to Phoenix.
Both men were natural leaders. John became the first coroner and Justice of the Peace in the fledgling town of Payson. As such he became involved in the arrests, burials, and trials of the Pleasant Valley War.
In 1888 he completed his term, turning the job over to early settler Bill Burch. The Meadows family sold the ranch to one of the Haught families that year.
John's wounds continued to plague him, and one day in Phoenix the anger from that fateful day six years before surfaced again. As he stepped off a train an Apache recognized him and approached, boasting he had been in the band that killed his father and brother. In a flash John Meadows whipped out his revolver and shot the Indian dead. Before he could be apprehended, he caught the next train for California, notifying his family later. There, he became a county sheriff, and in 1918 an outlaw he was pursuing assassinated John Valentine Meadows.
Meanwhile, Charlie Meadows and his three younger brothers operated the ranch until it was sold, although Charlie was often out of town pursuing a career as a rodeo showman.
In 1886 he won the 4th of July steer roping contest in Prescott. The limelight attracted Charlie to this growing sport called "a rodeo," and he competed throughout the West. His name was famous enough to bring an invitation to join a Wild West show that would be leaving for Australia on Aug. 24. Charlie accepted, and returned to Payson to say his goodbyes, enjoy the sixth annual rodeo, and throw a never-to-be-forgotten wedding party for his sister Maggie.
It was the highlight of the rodeo that summer of 1890. Invitations had gone out and at least 200 persons were present on Payson's Main Street for what would be a double wedding. Everyone was on horseback, including the JP Bill Burch who married the couples. Maggie Meadows married Tom Beach and her friend Julie Hall married Emer Cole. As a wedding present Charlie gave each couple all the Meadows' cattle they could round up and brand on Burch Mesa. Charlie later said of the event, "Of all the Wild West shows, I never expected to see one to equal this. The riding on Burch Mesa that day, beyond question or doubt in my mind, was the most reckless and daring ever displayed at one place in so short a time."What Charlie Meadows, John Chilson and the others started in 1884quickly grew into the biggest annual social event in the Rim country. Families would come by wagon, stay for almost a week, visit friends and relatives, camp up and down Main Street, and take delight in the growing number of activities. Roping and calf tying contests expanded to include bronc busting, bull riding and bulldogging, horse racing and wild cow milking.
The businesses in town were booming, and each night a dance gave lonesome cowboys a chance to be less lonesome. It came to be called "The August Doin's." Whiteface bulls yielded to Brahmas and prizes were added to the usual "braggin' rights." The rodeo moved from Pieper's field to Main Street, but after the auto traffic and the crowd became so large broncs were smashing porches and fenders, it was moved to Bill Wilbank's field west of town.
By this time professional rodeo cowboys were entering from all over the West. In 1936 the rodeo cowboys had organized nationally and went on strike for better prize money. By 1945 they had become the Rodeo Cowboy's Association. That same year the Payson rodeo was moved to the junction of today's Highways 87 and 260 (Bashas' location). While there, in 1954, the local rodeo elected its first queen, Dora Lee Anderson (later Connolly).
In 1968 grandstands were built in Rumsey Park for the 84th Rodeo, and the event was moved there. That same year, the local rodeo committee became affiliated with the Rodeo Cowboy's Association. As if to complete the transition from local roping contests in the pasture to a major sporting event, in 1975 the Rodeo Cowboy's Association became the Professional Rodeo Cowboy's Association, or PRCA.
Would Charlie Meadows have been pleased with all of this? Undoubtedly.
Editor's note: Tracking history can often be a tricky thing, with stories changing from family to family, from generation to generation.
Stan Brown has a talent for condensing volumes of Rim country history into entertaining and informative articles. But he freely admits that he's not immune from making mistakes. If anyone finds inaccuracies in any of Brown's articles, please contact him directly at (928) 474-8535, or write to us at roundup@ cybertrails.com. Please include your name and number so you can be contacted if we have questions.