Early Memories Of The World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo

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The August Doin's are over for this year, but planning for next year has already started. That's how it's been for the past 120 years.

If Daniel Webster would have defined "The August Doin's" in his dictionary, the definition would be something like this: "a gathering of family and old friends; rowdy cowboys; a place where steer busting, chicken pulling, gambling, fighting, and homemade likker were illegal, yet sanctioned by the locals and those who came back to celebrate each year; a place where one could watch world-class race horses and world-champion ropers."

Our new book, "Rodeo 101, the History of the Payson, Arizona Rodeo," has been well received. Our book signings were great. It was nice to meet new people and visit with dear old friends.

I wish we could turn back the hands of time for just a day so everyone could see what the Payson Rodeo used to be like. Trying to convey the "spirit of the August Doin's" is nearly impossible. It had to be witnessed. If you are fortunate enough to be part of a big family that reunites each year to reminisce and laugh, to hold the new babies and visit with the old folks, to look forward to Aunt Norma Jean's oatmeal cake and Aunt Hazel's pork ribs, to see some of the women's new quilts and the men's new saddles and new horses, to take your new spurs for all to admire, and to witness some of the best ropers and riders in the country -- you may catch a glimpse of what it was like. But it wasn't just one family -- it was many families. And there was much more than I described above.

When Jinx and I were interviewed on KMOG Radio, Don Holcombe asked each of us, "What is the earliest rodeo you can remember?" Jinx said 1948. He can remember his dad winning the turkey shoot. My earliest memories were in 1954 when I entered a foot race on Main Street. I couldn't wait to enter the races. I was lined up with the other kids at the starting line, ready to run my heart out for 50 cents. Dad said if I won the race, he would give me 50 cents, too. When the man who started the race shot a gun, probably a blank, I lost all interest in that race and ran for cover. I watched the race from behind a tree in front of the Pioneer Bar. My folks just hadn't brought me to town often enough.

Another thing I remember is the American flag flying from a tree in front of the Pioneer Bar, which by the way, burned in May of 1956. When we were on Don Holcombe's radio show, a caller asked us when the Pioneer Bar burned. We didn't know exactly, but guessed the early 1950s. Roger Buchanan called in and said it was in May of 1958. But he was wrong, too. We called Donna Garrels and she said it was 1955 or 1956. We called Alta Garrels Dudley and she said she would ask Freda Gist Lee who has a great memory. Freda said it was in May of 1956, the day she graduated from eighth grade. Pat and Raymond Cline thought this sounded right as Raymond pumped water from the Ox Bow swimming pool to try to put out the fire at the Pioneer Bar. Anna Mae Deming said 1956 sounded right to her. So unless someone else has some new information on this subject, we will take Freda's word for it. The Pioneer Bar burned in May of 1956.

Back to the Payson Rodeo. The other early memories of the Payson Rodeo were snow cones and Brahma (brammer) bulls. I had a red snow cone everyday and I looked forward to the bull riding, although it scared me nearly to death. When it was time for the bull riding, I watched nervously from the hood of our car. When a bull jumped the fence -- a daily occurrence -- and ran in my direction, I dived under the car. From there I could see all I wanted to see. I listened to the announcer, so I knew when the bull was either caught or headed off Ox Bow Hill. Either way, I felt safe enough to climb back onto the hood of the car to watch the rest of them. It was scary, but it was excitement to the max.

The dances were just as important as the rodeos to me and my sister, Jeanne. We loved to watch Mom and Dad dance and we loved to dance with Dad. Then when it got late and we were tired, we would climb onto a bench that lined the dance hall at Polly Brown's Elks and sleep until Mom and Dad were ready to go home. This was tradition for many, many youngsters. We also saw friends at those dances. I especially remember Bill and Jeanne Conway who came up from the lower Tonto Basin. And I loved to watch Eddie Armer and his sister, Ida Jane, dance. Eddie's feet could fairly fly.

In the book, "Rodeo 101," Jinx and I asked several people what they remembered about the Payson Rodeo. They saw different things, depending on their age, but here are what some of them had to say:

Roger Buchanan -- who took the cover photo of the book: "The first wrestling match I ever saw was in Payson. Some promoters from the Valley had brought the show into town for the rodeo. The Blue Terror was the bad guy with a mask and everything and the good guy was a blond guy dressed in green. Before the match, the Blue Terror had walked into the Pioneer Bar and ordered whisky. Walter Holder was behind the bar and gave him a jolt of White Mule. The Terror threw the whisky in Walter's face and yelled, ‘When I say whisky, I mean Whisky!' Walter reached across the bar, grabbed the guy and pulled him forward with one hand, and hit him in the chin with his other fist. The Terror was knocked back into the arms of his manager. I thought right then, ‘when I get big enough to order whisky, I'm just going to drink it and keep my mouth shut!'"

Ronnie McDaniel -- who wrote the introduction to the book: "When my grandmother took me to watch my first rodeo, near where the Payson Golf Course is now located, we went home and I rigged an old saddle, with no stirrups, on an old sawhorse, and I was ready to rope! I was my own announcer and pretended to be Joe Bassett, a local roper."

Terry Wilbanks -- "When they closed off the streets and had those dances!"

Leckie Jean Cline Ski -- "Downtown Payson at night. It was just one big party. When the fights and tear gas got too bad, we moved out into the street to dance."

Anna Mae Ogilvie Deming -- "It was a great gathering of family and friends. There was so much love and respect -- just a world of good people. It meant as much as Christmas. It was something we looked forward to from one year to the next. We danced the Varsovienne, the Schottische, the Paul Jones, just everything. It was a wonderful time!"

Harry Shill -- "The dances, the fights, seeing old friends."

Dess Morris -- "Those wild bulls that jumped the fence and ran all over!"

Edward Childers -- "My best recollections of the rodeo are: Anticipation -- something exciting to look forward to. Preparation -- Mom measuring me up for new shirts and Levis. Friends -- some I hadn't seen since the last rodeo. Dancin', dancin', and more dancin', which sometimes led to romance. Good old bare-handed fist fights; some of the best I've ever seen. That damned tear gas gun that Dad used when he decided it was time to stop the fight."

Pat Cline -- "I remember when one of those brammer bulls jumped out of the arena and went east. They usually went off Ox Bow, but this one headed for Starr Valley and he was around the upper end of the valley for a month. He scared Bob Peach who lived up the creek from us. He said, ‘Mrs. Haught, there's a critter up there and I don't know what it was, but it ain't a ‘buffler.' The bull bred eight of Mother's 10 cows and we had lots of half and quarter brammers from then on."

Jinx Pyle -- "Brown Bomber. I was sitting in a pine tree during the famous horse race between Brown Bomber and Cindy McGee when Joe Bassett made a flying tackle from his horse that sent both he and Wayne to the dirt. As Western as that was, it was the courage of Brown Bomber, who kept coming back in the face of Wayne's whip, that most impressed me."

NOTE: If you want a numbered "Rodeo 101" collector's edition book, call Git A Rope! Publishing at (928) 474-0380 or call Sue Malinski at (928) 472-4677. "Rodeo 101" is now available at Sue Malinski's and Jackalope Books. The limited, numbered collector's edition sells for $100. The soft-cover edition of the book sells for $25.

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