Every contestant, volunteer, audience member and vendor is part of history when they attend the 2021 August Rodeo, Thursday, Aug. 19; Friday, Aug. 20; and Saturday, Aug. 21.
They are part of history because the Payson August Rodeo is the World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo. It started in 1884 and has been held every August since — not stopping for either World War or the Great Depression.
It started out small, with local ranchers and the cowboys working for them, paying entry fees from which winnings were distributed. It became a chance for the folks from the outlying ranches and farms and town residents to come together, visit, and enjoy the cowboys competing, potlucks and dances.
The late Pat Cline, a member of the large Haught family that has lived in Payson since pioneer days, shared stories over the years about the rodeo. One of the family’s favorite sayings is, “We came to Payson and were too poor to leave.”
Older family members said people from the farms and ranches would come to town for the rodeo and camp out or sleep on the floors and porches of acquaintances’ homes and use the same bathwater to get cleaned up for the dances.
The August Rodeo has been held in a variety of places around town. The story goes it started in a meadow where the Sawmill Crossing is now located and where once a thriving sawmill operated. It was held on Main Street; in the meadow where the Payson Golf Club is located; in the area where the Bashas’ center is; and at Rumsey Park. In fact, the old rodeo arena was on the property before Rumsey Park was built. It had a covered grandstand and vendor booths under the seat structure and prime parking in the shade of ponderosa pines.
The old arena was used well into the 1980s and the event had a companionable, small-town feel.
Since moving to the Payson Event Center, west of the Mazatzal Hotel & Casino, the event has grown. There are not many local competitors now, but the event attracts some of the top-ranked cowboys and cowgirls in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. There are usually at least 250 to 300 competitors. Last year, due to COVID-19, the Payson Pro Rodeo Committee limited the number of contestants and put extra precautions in place.
This year, according to John Landino, a member of the rodeo committee, “No precautions are planned for the rodeo since it is an outdoor event.”
Festivities started Thursday, Aug. 19 with Women’s Cactus Series Barrel Racing. Admission for the event was a can of food for area food banks.
The annual Rodeo Parade, sponsored by the Zane Grey Kiwanis, is at 9 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 21 on old Main Street. The theme this year is Mardi Gras.
Special guests participating in the rodeo include Gizmo McCracken, clown and barrelman; bullfighters Luke Kraut and Clifford Maxwell; The Cowgirls Historical Foundation drill team; two groups doing flyovers at the Saturday night Patriotic Performance, the Cirrus 2 Airventure (C2A) and the Falcon Warbirds.
Once again, the stock is provided by Salt River Rodeo.
The announcers are Reed Flake and Rob Smetts.