When the Wilbanks property, located just south of the golf course, was sold in 1949, Payson's rodeo arena was moved to a location just, north of Highway 260 and east of Highway 87. This was a 44-acre piece of land claimed by the Forest Service and leased to the Payson Chamber of Commerce. Because of its location, it was called the Y Arena by Payson folks.
The arena was built by volunteers -- Fritz Taylor, Ed Taylor, Dick Robins, Floyd Pyle, Gene Pyle, Malcolm Pyle, Howard Childers, Orin Childers, Walt Surrett, John Gleason, Fred Chilson, Junior Haught, Sammie Garrels, Leck Cline, Ed Armer, Clyde Sellers and many others. Owens Brothers Lumber donated some of the materials. It was truly a community effort. Even kids, including me, ran here and there among the men doing go-fer work.
The arena saw lots of use. During the summers, it was busy most every Sunday, with jackpot ropings. It became a major cultural center for Payson with half the population gathering there to see the horse races and ropings, or just to visit and to catch up on the happenings around town and the Rim country. There were concession stands where you could buy a soda pop or hot dog.
By 1953 an oval racetrack, complete with starting gates, surrounded the arena. The entire location, parking lot and all, was fenced so that admission could be charged at the entrance gate. Orin Childers, rode his mare, "Boots," patrolling the grounds to make sure spectators paid at the gate, but he always cast a blind eye in the direction of a kid slipping under the fence.
Along about the 10th of August every year, it was time to get the rodeo grounds cleaned up, the fences and chutes repaired and everything ship-shape for the year's big event -- the annual rodeo, sometimes still referred to as the August Doin's or just the Doin's.
For the first several years of the arena's existence, there were no bleachers. Locals just backed up to the fence with their pickups, opened the tail gate, placed some 2x10s across the bed for seats and generally made do. The choice parking places were reserved for the folks who did the work preparing the grounds and arena for the big event. The workers also received passes for themselves and their families for the three-day event. Others parked on the pine-fringed hills close by, spread their blankets and lawn chairs in the most advantageous locations available and made ready for the show.
Along with the Y Arena came some major changes in the Payson's August Doin's. The 1950s brought an end to using local cattle as rodeo stock, and stock contractors were contacted. More professional cowboys were participating in the Payson Rodeo and they expected better stock.
The locals then talked of brahma bull riding, and all the rough stock was bigger, better and rougher. Love and Spence contracted to bring the stock to the rodeo for several years. Among their bucking stock was a great, blue-whale of a bull. He had banana horns and an attitude. I don't recall the official name of this blue bull, because he was simply known as that banana-horned bull o' Love and Spence among the local cowboys and that is how we all referred to him. Here, we will shorten his name down to BB.
I attended every day of every August rodeo held in the Y Arena and never saw anyone ride that blue bull. The first time I saw him buck, I think the year was 1953, he was turned out with a noted bull rider on his back. The guy was known as the Alamo Kid and was sitting among the top 10 in that event, according to the announcer.
The Alamo Kid was a bull rider. I saw him ride a "sure-enough-tuff" bull the following day but ... BB's second jump hurled the Alamo Kid into the air like he was the main rotor sprung loose from a helicopter! Almost before the Alamo Kid hit the dust of the arena, BB had cleared the fence at the southwest corner and was departing Payson. Some cowboys followed in pursuit. No one tried to ride BB the next day. He was AWOL, tearing up the turf some 11 miles from town. Two days later Fritz Taylor roped BB as he was running down a sand wash below Ox Bow Hill.
It wasn't until the following year that I saw BB buck out again. Several local cowboys and a few of the rodeo hands were mounted and waiting with their loops cocked at the southwest corner of the arena just in case ol' BB tried that stunt again. The chute gate opened. BB launched another would-be rider through the ozone layer, left a couple of clowns in his wake, belly-rolled over the arena fence scattering seating arrangements, cotton candy, soda bottles, snow cones, and spectators as he headed for points south. This time it was Gene Pyle, riding Tinker, who dabbed a loop on him as he churned another route off of Ox Bow Hill.
BB missed the second day of the show that year, but arrived back in time for a repeat performance during the afternoon of the third day. By then, everyone knew what was going to happen. There were no less than a dozen men waiting with their saddles screwed on tight and their ropes down. They knew BB would come through or over the arena fence. He did. Again he was roped, this time before he left the rodeo grounds and again by a local cowboy, Malcolm Pyle.
For years -- at least six -- Love and Spence brought BB to Payson. At least once and sometimes twice a year, he escaped the confines of the arena, and always, it was one of Payson's own who piled a loop on him. Leck Cline is another local who roped ol' BB.
It can be said in defense of the rodeo contestants that they didn't want to take a chance on injuring a trained roping horse while chasing a ladino bull off the rugged side of Ox Bow Hill. Some of those boys rode high-dollar horses like Dale Smith's blue-roan calf horse, Poker Chip, so I don't blame them for not wanting to take on ol' BB.
Still, it became a matter of pride among the locals, that it was always some Rim country, mountain-bred cowboy riding a horse of the same description that stopped ol' BB short of his quest in becoming a permanent resident of Mexico.
Roping ol' BB sounds pretty tame on paper, but try this: Sometime when you are heading off Ox Bow, take a gander at that country. Try then to imagine diving off that hill on an 1,100-pound horse makin' about 32 mph, hot on the tail of an 1,800-pound brahma bull. Your horse is jumping brush, twisting around cactus, and taking you under tree limbs that will split your head open like a melon if you don't duck at the right time. A person who can stay on a horse during a chase like that could have ridden the average saddle bronc in the Love and Spence string. Now, think about roping that 1,800-pound bull from the back of your 1,100-pound horse. You'll have to be right on that bull and ready when you hit a clearing. Take two swings with your loop and throw it; he'll likely be in the trees again or jump off another bank before you get a third. Then, what if you catch him? Let's see -- 1,800 plus 1,100 at 32 mph on a 16-percent grade, cedar-infested north slope 15 miles west of Hell's Gate equals ... Well, this is one of those equations better left to a ranahan (cowboy, top hand) than a math teacher.
My point is that this is what Payson's cowboys did for fun 50 years ago. They were men with the bark on. The Payson Rodeo was last held in the Y Arena in 1962. The blue bull is just a memory -- camped under a few old Stetson hats -- but the names of the cowboys will live on as long as there is someone like me to tell their stories, and someone like you to read them.