by Tom Ringley
NEWSPAPER COVERAGE AS UNTAMED AS A SADDLE BRONC
Newspaper coverage of rodeos today mostly provides readers with stark performance results. It wasn’t always so. In the early days, the news reporters did their best to report results with exuberance and flair.
Consider these examples of the Sheridan Press coverage of the first Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo in 1931:
“The Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo-the latest and most colorful addition to the ‘big league’ of western shows-was christened here, by Wednesday afternoon, by thrills, teepees and tumbles…”
“Hardly dry behind the ears, the new-born Rodeo proved a tempestuous youngster from the start…”
“He touched off the whole works in the line of western fireworks-freewheeling calves, hoodlum horses and skyrocket steers…”
“Although the steers were fast and the calves were faster, some remarkable exhibitions of riding, roping and wrestling were offered by the top hands of rangeland as they battled for honors in a modern arena which they openly declared as the best in the world…”
“The bucking horses-those racketeers of the range that would make Al Capone look like a Sunday school teacher-were hard pressed for thrills by the leather necked Bulldogging steers and the wiry little calves…”
“Jack Kercher provided the outstanding performance of the day when he sailed off his horse to pin a long-horned Texas steer to the ground in the brilliant time of 8 seconds…”
“The bucking horses, mean as a proverbial mother-in-law, usually provide the most excitement at any rodeo-and the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo is no exception…”
“The biggest hand of the day went to Burton Brewster, a home boy from Birney, Mont., after a spectacular ride straight toward the grandstand on Wolf. And he scratched him plenty on the way over…”
“Fog Horn was the first big noise from the bucking chute. He was ridden by Ray Gafford, who was wise enough not to arouse a temper that was nothing short of wicked at the very start…”
“Chuck Wilson, last year’s champion at Calgary, came out next on High Ball-and he proved a strong drink…”
“Rock Pile was not a bit stationary when he gave Floyd Stillings, 1929 world’s champion bronc tamer, a ride that even eluded the pickup men for a time…”
“The crowd didn’t get to see Paddy Ryan, another former world’s champion. Rompers laid him like a rug just about a jump and a half from the mouth of the chute…”
“Scorp Neeley, the top dude wrangler at Eaton’s ranch, almost committed Suicide by getting in the same chute with a horse by that name early in the afternoon, but was able to take him out for a canter later in the day…”
“In the Steer Roping contest, Lloyd Saunders, with the help of a horse with a college degree, romped in winner with the time of 23 seconds flat…”
“The calves were so fast that one promoter was rumored to have purchased a dozen to race on his greyhound track in Miami this winter…”
“When one cowpoke was thrown, the announcer called out gaily that ‘he merely landed on his head to save his feet’…”
“With approximately $15,000 in purses hinging upon hair-trigger finishes on the final day, the Rodeo fans on Friday were treated to a series of sensations that would make a library full of dime novels sound like an essay on early English literature…”
So why did reporters go to such great lengths to embellish the results? Well, remember, this was 1931. The only media coverage available was black and white newsprint. So, the reporters injected some “purple prose” into black and white to provide what we today call “color commentary.”
Besides, that’s just the way they did it in those days!
1936 WYO: DAREDEVIL PUBLICITY STUNT GOES AWRY
Once, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo, in its constant quest to provide entertainment for rodeo fans, resorted to “daredevil entertainment.”
In 1936, the SWR Board booked a daredevil stunt pilot for the rodeo. The pilot was Captain Frakes who made his living by crashing his airplane into burning buildings. It all sounded like a grand, exciting plan. The rodeo fans would love it. But there was a hitch.
It seems there was a Mr. L. K. McWilliams from Utah who was an agent of the US Department of commerce. He somehow got wind of the idea and declared that such a hare-brained stunt was unsafe and illegal. He vowed to stop it.
This created a big problem for the SWR Board who had already signed a contract with Captain Frakes. The Board wanted to cancel the whole affair, but Captain Frakes would have none of that. Either the SWR honored the contract or he would sue.
So, the SWR Board found themselves between a rock and a hard place. What to do?
It was then that the SWR Board President, R.E. McNally, an attorney by trade, wrote a stiff letter to the appropriate officials and dared them to interfere with their plans. The controversy was not just local. Somehow the feud came to the attention of the national media and the SWR received the kind of publicity it really didn’t need.
But, undaunted, the SWR Board and Captain Frakes carried on in spite of Mr. McWilliams who made last minute efforts to stop the stunt, but to no avail.
On the appointed day Captain Frakes crashed his airplane into a burning building especially built for the stunt somewhere out in the “back arena.”
Captain Frakes was pulled from the wreckage of the airplane and burning house and taken by ambulance to Memorial Hospital. Very shortly thereafter, he was, according to The Sheridan Press, “whisked out of town” to Billings, Montana.While in Billings he wrote a letter to the Rodeo Board that stated “I’m not running away from the law…I just rode up here.”
So the headline read: Frakes, Unhurt In Stunt, Flees State At Once.
The SWR never tried anything like that again. True, in the 1940’s a Lieutenant Amos Little made a parachute jump from an airplane and landed precisely in front of the grandstand. But that was tame compared to the intrepid Captain Frakes.
JOIN US FOR PINK NIGHT AT THE SHERIDAN WYO RODEO ON THURSDAY NIGHT of RODEO WEEK
The Sheridan WYO Rodeo was founded to help the Sheridan community and has found many ways to do so throughout its history.
In its first year, 1931, and several years thereafter, the SWR simply gave the profits from the rodeo to the Civic Improvement Society which was formed “to contribute to civic improvement efforts.”
This was a great idea until the SWR Directors cottoned on to the fact that when they gave all the profits away there was no start-up money for the next year.
The SWR also has a history of instigating and financing improvements at the Sheridan County Fairgrounds and this effort continues today.
But aside from continual facilities support of the Fairgrounds over the years, the SWR has helped the community with worthy causes in many other different ways.
Support has ranged from donating funds to the Service Men’s Canteen during World War II, to providing educational support for the Sheridan youth, to contributing to the Cowboy Crisis Fund. There are many other examples.
This year the Sheridan WYO Rodeo is partnering with Sheridan Memorial Hospital for Thursday’s Pink Night at the Rodeo, when we’ll take some time out of the evening to honor those whose lives have been affected by breast cancer and highlight the importance of screening.
We will be handing out free pink bandannas and selling limited edition King Ropes hats featuring WYO Rodeo/Link Partners in Pink, which will only be available on Thursday night. All proceeds from hat sales will directly support Sheridan Memorial Hospital’s Patient Comfort Care program at the Welch Cancer Center. This program provides funds to help cover travel expenses, comfort items during treatment, wigs, scarves, hats and much more. Our goal is to help make each patient’s journey through their treatment as comfortable as possible.
For more information about the Patient Comfort Care at the Welch Cancer Center, please call Meredith Sopko at 307.673.2418.
Make sure to wear PINK on Thursday night and show your support!
INVESTORS RODE STOCK TO RODEO, NOT THE BANK
Occasionally, Rodeo Board members are asked a question similar to this: “I have some Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo (SWR) stock that my grandfather bought. Is it worth anything and can I cash i