Soon it will be rodeo time in Payson as the World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo has its 127th edition Aug. 18, 19, 20 and 21. Here’s a quick look at how its reputation grew.
One of the key elements early on were horse races and one of the biggest races around occurred in 1886 in Payson. The race was between Deser, a sorrel entered by the Houston brothers, for whom Houston Mesa Road is named. Its foe was Brown Dick, a horse of Calvin Watkins, who lived in today’s Tonto Basin area.
Here’s some of what the Hoof and Horn newspaper out of Prescott wrote about the race on Sept. 2, 1886.
“During a recent visit to Payson, in Tonto Basin, the editor of HOOF AND HORN was present at one of the most exciting and warmly contested races ever run in the southwest. For several months the race was the chief topic of conversation among the stockmen of the central portion of the Territory, as the horses entered and the character of the men backing them were sufficient facts to guarantee that the contest would be made for all it was worth. The horses entered with their respective backers were Deser, a sorrel, eight years old, raised in Tonto Basin, and entered by the well known Houston brothers, while Brown Dick, his opponent, was entered by Hon. Calvin Watkins, of Gila county. The race was a five hundred yard dash for $1000 a side, while the confidence that the residents of the sections represented by the horses reposed in their respective favorites winning resulted in wagers being placed to such an extent that not less than $5000 changed hands on the result. On the day of the race each horse was in perfect condition and showed the result of splendid care and training, E.L. Chilson, or as he is more popularly known “Uncle Em,” handling the sorrel, while Marion McCann, an equally noted horseman, performed the same offices for Brown Dick. The track selected was a fine one, being about a half mile east of Payson and so located that an excellent view could be obtained by the large crowd in attendance, many of whom had come from a distance of over one hundred miles by wagon and horseback to be present. By unanimous desire of the parties Colonel L.F. Eggers, District Attorney of Yavapai county, acted as starter, and after considerable jockeying both horses about noon secured a splendid “tap-off,” and came flying down the track neck to neck, reaching the home stake with hardly a hair-breath’s difference between them, and making one of the prettiest ties ever witnessed in the southwest. By the desire of all parties interested the horses were again brought to the starting point, and after half an hour’s delay spent mostly in jockeying the race was again run, resulting in a victory for Brown Dick, who, however had but little to boast of, as he passed over the line less than a foot ahead of his rival. Time, 27 seconds.”
The Payson rodeo continued to evolve and its great reputation continued to spread. Here’s a clip from the Sept. 5, 1919 Coconino Sun, which ran a clip from the Miami Silver Belt, about it.
“The rodeo at Payson this year was one of the biggest events they have ever pulled off in this home of the cowboy, says Sheriff Shute and Deputy Kerrick, who returned home Saturday from the north end of the county. Some fine records were made in riding and roping and there were many dandy good big crowds. As usual, there was a world of fine eats for all comers, as the Payson section is not only a cow country but a veritable garden of Eden for the farmer.”
Newspapers around the state carried word of upcoming Payson rodeos. They knew that some of the best entertainment could be found here. The Morning Sun newspaper out of Yuma had this to say about the rodeo in their Aug. 15, 1925 edition.
“Payson, Arizona, Aug. 14 - The Payson annual cowboy celebration, consisting of calf roping, horse races, bronco and bull riding and other cowboy sports and exhibitions, will attract a big crowd to that community Thursday, Friday and Saturday, August 20, 21 and 22, it is believed by George Cline, arena director, and by the committee in charge, consisting of L.E. Boardman, Guy Barkdoll and Ralph Hubert.
“Several prominent entries of horseflesh have already been made for the free-for-all horse race of a quarter-mile with a $150 purse. A minimum of five horses are to be entered at $20 per entry.
“There will be dancing every night of the fete, with a famed Phoenix orchestra furnishing music and offering old-time cowboy tunes as well as some of the latest ‘Charleston’ features.
“The celebration is an annual affair sponsored by the entire community of Payson. It yearly attracts hundreds from great distances, as it is non-profit, all receipts being paid to contestants and performers after deductions for legitimate expenses.”
After World War II the rodeo continued its grandness with some interesting additions. According to Jinx Pyle and Jayne Peace’s book “Rodeo 101,” rodeo clown Andy Womack brought a bear into the arena in the 1950s. A brief shot of this bear can be found with this article, taken from an old 16 mm clip of film shot at the 1956 Payson Rodeo. To this day the Payson Rodeo continues to be a place where many of the world’s best come to show their skills.