Come Share Our Heritage At The Rodeo Reunion

BACKTRACKIN'

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One year ago, Jayne and I were working on our book, "Rodeo 101, History of the Payson Rodeo," so named because it is the history of the first 101 years of that event -- 1884 through 1984. Jayne spent 30 years gathering the information and had planned to have the book written more than two decades ago, in time for Payson's Centennial Rodeo, but time and obligations prevented it from reaching fruition.

At last, in 2004, Jayne and I took up the task in earnest. Written and oral information had been collected since 1961. Still, before we started writing, we made countless phone calls and talked with everyone we knew who might have information about Payson's Rodeo.

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Some old Payson Rodeo buddies gathered for this photo in 1990. The men are (from left) Harry Shill, Duke Haley, Buck Croft (rodeo clown), Jim Spain, Frank Kelly and Benny Reynolds.

Writing this book was an education for both of us. Our research -- which included interviews with hundreds of people, the reading of countless old newspaper articles, books, and old rodeo programs -- completed a picture that neither of us had ever seen.

Our efforts took us into previously unexplored areas, such as the rodeo horse races. We knew that some good horses had run down Payson's dusty main street. We did not know that some of those horses were the fastest short-distance horses in the world. We knew there was betting, but some of these cowboys would bet the ranch on a horse race. We knew from our ancestors that Payson's Rodeo started as an annual event in 1884. We did not realize the overwhelming evidence, both oral and written, that documents this truth.

Still, those facts pale in comparison to what we learned to be the real story of the Payson Rodeo. The overriding challenge of this book was how to convey the spirit and the importance of an annual three-day event that was as essential as Christmas to the culture of the old-timers of the Tonto Basin. How could we explain a celebration -- tribal in nature -- that was socially, economically and culturally tied to the industry that spawned it? The continuity of the Payson Rodeo survived world wars, depressions, recessions, stock market crashes, hell, high water, and droughts.

Due to Payson's remote location, her people had free rein to celebrate as they chose. For the first 70 years of her existence, Payson was always a wide-open, self-governing town, but during the three-day August Celebration, the cowboys gave a more potent meaning to "wide-open." During the celebration, activities such as gambling, fist fighting, steer-busting, cock fighting, and the distilling, drinking and selling of "White Mule" thrived. For the first 70 years of the Payson Rodeo, the law north of the Salt River condoned these activities, used gambling to support the rodeo, and outside law was shunned. Payson -- especially during the August Celebration -- was self-regulated and uninhibited. Rivalry, betting, visiting, and dancing were the mainstay of the celebration.

Through all of this activity, Payson was safe for women -- indeed, they were treated with great respect and consideration -- and children had a "ball."

The celebration was addicting to all who attended. As soon as it was over, many counted the days to next year's rodeo.

Finally, in reviewing rodeo results we found the same names spelled differently. We saw other names that we knew were spelled wrong. Many of these we have corrected, but some slipped by us. We did the best we could with the information we had.

Last, we advertised both on the radio and in newspapers for information and photos. We extended the deadline for accepting information and pictures four times. Still we missed people -- important people with good information -- and if you are one, we hereby apologize. But, there came a point when we had to lock the doors, compile the information assimilated, and finish the book. We were already more than 20 years behind schedule!

Finally the book was completed and sent to the printer who was told, "If you can't get it back to us before Aug. 10, 2004, don't take the job!" We badly wanted the book before the 2004 rodeo. The printer was late and we had to have books flown in at considerable extra expense. I reckon it's easier to find an honest horse trader than an honest printer.

But, two days before the rodeo, we got some of the books. We had a book signing at Sue Malinski's Art and Antique Corral. At least, at the time, we thought that we were having a book signing. As we looked back on the event a few days later, we realized that what we had was an Old-Timers Rodeo Reunion.

Many of the people who attended were former Payson Rodeo contestants. Many others were rodeo goers who came to see the old cowboys, to buy books and get them signed by those cowboys that they had known and rooted for years ago.

Among those who attended that first book signing were Tammy Kelly, our guest of honor, a Payson native and six-time Professional Women's Rodeo Association Bull Riding Champion. Her husband, Frank "Machine Gun" Kelly, who won the bull riding in Payson in 1959, was also there to sign books. Also in attendance was Leroy Tucker, a regular at Payson Rodeos and Arizona Rodeo Association All Around Cowboy in 1957.

Other well-remembered names in attendance were Duke Haley, Ronnie McDaniel, Harry and Sharon Shill, Big Dick Derwort, Ed Childers, Doyle Crabtree, Billy Baker, David Thomas, Bill Armstrong, Miss Rodeo Arizona, and former rodeo queen and now Gila County Supervisor, Tommie Cline Martin.

I could name many more, but the point I am making is that, with so many old friends meeting in one place, what started as a simple book signing evolved into a full-scale reunion.

It was great to see these people looking through the Rodeo 101 book, hearing the laughter and comments like, "I remember him!" or "Remember when ...?" Soon the contestants were signing their pictures in the book for each other, as well as for their fans.

Jayne and I knew that we had done a good job with the rodeo history, but what we hadn't realized, until after the book signing, was how much joy the book was bringing to so many people. Jayne and I had long talked about the need for some kind of reunion for the old Payson families. Since the Tonto Cowbelles dissolved in the year 2000 and the Daughters of the Gila County Pioneers quit sponsoring the cowboy Christmas balls, something had been missing.

We both knew that this book-signing-turned-reunion had to become an annual thing. Extending a hand out to the old rodeo people and the old Payson families would make it a great event. It would recapture that part of the rodeo flavor that existed in Payson when strangers were invited to sleep on the porches of town-folks' homes or camp in the meadow. Also, many of the old family reunions are dwindling in numbers. There was a need for us all to get together at some place other than the funeral of some old-timer.

But, why not invite the public? We decided to invite everyone who has any connection with, or love for, the Payson Rodeo, past or present.

We sent special invitations to many of the old Payson Rodeo contestants to come to our First Annual Payson Rodeo Reunion. Almost without fail, they have told us they will be there to sign books, visit, and tell the stories of the old rodeos.

We are inviting the public to come and get their "Rodeo 101" books signed by the cowboys and meet the old-timers of the Payson Rodeos.

And so, the hours are from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 20 at the gym at the Tonto Apache Reservation. The Taylor Hale and Don Gibson band will play the old songs of rodeo by-gone-days, not so loud that you can't visit, but plenty loud enough to dance. There will be old-fashioned barbecue by Jack and Joyce Warter and John and Flora James. In the spirit of the old rodeos, donations to cover the cost of the food will be accepted and fully appreciated.

This year's guests of honor will be Lynn and Nancy Sheppard of Globe. Lynn is well known to all who followed the sport of rodeo throughout the years. Nancy is a trick rider and roper of unequaled talent. She is the only woman to ever spin two ropes at the same time while standing on a running horse.

I have no idea what a hard-cover "Rodeo 101" book will be worth in a few years, but it will be worth more if it has been signed by the Sheppards, Leroy Tucker, and Dave Erickson, the man on the cover. How would you like to have a hard-cover book signed by longtime rancher and rodeo cowboy, Fred Chilson? We are so sorry that he won't be with us this year, for the Chilsons were a big part of the Payson Rodeo since the first one back in 1884.

Jayne and I see this as a chance for all Payson, old-families and late-comers, to meet, mingle and visit, get to know one another and absorb some Payson Rodeo culture as it was.

We want to thank Sue Malinski for believing in our book and giving us a great start. Her store is too small for us now, so we have to move on, but Sue will be around, helping here and there.

We feel the Rodeo Reunion is in pretty good hands. Pat Cline, Lorraine Cline, Lecki Jean Cline Ski, Jayne Hatch, and Jack Warter, will be there to see that things run smooth.

Books by Jayne Peace-Pyle and Jinx Pyle: "Looking Through the Smoke," "Mountain Cowboys," "History of Gisela," "Rodeo 101- the History of the Payson Rodeo," "Blue Fox," "Calf Fries and Cow Pies," and "Muanami -- Sister of the Moon." The books can be purchased at Sue Malinski's Art and Antique Corral in Payson and from Lorraine Cline in Tonto Basin.

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