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 it in?” The answer is no, and no.
When the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo (SWR) was being organized in 1931, the organizers had no money—but many expenses. Money was needed for everything including facilities, advertising campaigns, stock contractors and other expenses.
To raise the needed funds, the directors sold capital stock in the Rodeo. Their stated goal was to issue up to $50,000 worth of SWR, Inc. capital stock.
In the initial stock sale one hundred forty citizens brought stock worth $13,020 to bolster the Rodeo coffers. Today, that amount seems relatively small, but that same amount in today’s dollars would be approximately $90,000—a significant investment by the first SWR shareholders.
The first ten shares, at a cost one dollar each, were purchased on April 1, 1931 by Doctor A. E. Adkins. The last fifty shares of the initial purchase before the first Rodeo were bought by H.M. Bennett.
Periodically during the next fifty seven years, the SWR conducted several stock selling campaigns, but with limited success. The last stock was sold in 1988 when BHJ, Inc. and Burger King, Inc. each bought 250 shares.
In the end, the total sales of SWR, Inc stock only amounted to $23,040, a far cry from the original stated goal of $50,000. There was good reason why the stock was not especially popular in later years. Basically, purchase of the stock was not a good investment. The stock was non-negotiable capital stock: that is, it could not be traded or redeemed and could not increase in value. Anyone who bought stock was really just making a donation to the SWR.
On the other hand, purchase of the stock was an investment in the Rodeo and that’s why people bought it. If the generous one hundred forty citizens who purchased the original stock had not done so, we might not have a SWR today.
Even though the stock had no real monetary value, it was valued as a symbol of the purchasers’ support of the SWR. Over the years SWR stock has been willed to descendants in life estates and has been transferred to others for a variety of reasons. In all, 5,586 shares of SWR stock were transferred from original purchasers to others.
The greatest value of the stock was that originally it gave the shareholders a voice in the SWR. Annual shareholder meetings were held to discuss the last Rodeo and plans for the next one. Originally, twenty five shareholders were elected to the General Board and a smaller number for an Executive Board which actually managed the rodeo. Over the years, as shareholders moved and passed on, the shareholder system eroded and was finally abandoned. Today, an Executive Board of thirteen members is responsible for the SWR. Where are all the SWR stock certificates today? Who knows? No doubt they might be found in safe deposit boxes, on museum walls, in old dusty trunks, second hand shops, family scrapbooks and many other places we cannot imagine. Many have probably been discarded as “old stuff.”
So, if you have a SWR stock certificate it is worth nothing. But keep it. It has another kind of value-a historic one.
IN THE END, BUTT DARTS HAD TO GO
The Sheridan WYO Rodeo (SWR) Board of Directors is always on the look out for new ideas that provide fun and amusement for rodeo fans. One off-the-cuff idea lasted for twelve years.
Butt Darts was a unique SWR “surrounding activity” which lasted from 1990 to 2002. According to Bruce King, past president and secretary of the SWR Board of Directors, the game began among some local rodeo cowboys and local folks after a Rodeo performance in 1990. King described the event as “lightly woven” and “loosely put together.” The first Butt Darts competition took place at the fairgrounds in the old sales pavilion, commonly referred to as the “Bull Pen.”
The rules were simple. All you had to do was tuck a quarter between your legs, negotiate an obstacle course without dropping the coin, squat over a shot glass at the end of the course and drop the quarter in the glass. Simple. You won.
In case of a tie, each contestant put three quarters between their legs, negotiated the course, and whoever got the most quarters in the shot glass won the “shot off.”
Competitors were urged on by hundreds of cheering spectators, most of them adequately fueled with post rodeo libations. The crowd’s fever pitch was raised even further by board member and announcer, Roger St. Clair, who, in full cry, provided color commentary of the event to the accompaniment of pounding, pulsating music. This daily post-rodeo performance event was a definite crowd pleaser and a highlight of SWR Week. In its heyday, the event was described sardonically by one Rodeo Board Member as “nearly a world championship.”
Yep, it was a fine thing for a time, but the event’s success eventually made it too difficult to manage and presented some safety and liability issues.
In an attempt to deal with the problems, in 2002 the Board imposed an age limit of twenty-one, hired deputies to check identification, and continued the practice begun the year before of charging admission.
These changes were nails in the Butt Darts coffin. There was public outcry and as a consequence, the average nightly attendance shrank from four-hundred to one hundred fifty people. The final nail turned out to be dueling piano players who were substituted for loud, raucous recorded music. That was just too much. Butt Darts was not the same.
So, in 2002, Butt Darts had its last hurrah. But the Board was not concerned that what was “nearly the stuff of legends” was buried. Instead, the Board was relieved. The relief was best expressed by Tracy Swanson, past SWR President and Butt Darts champion who chortled, “We finally put a stake in the heart of Butt Darts.”
SHERIDAN WYO RODEO: CREATING A NAME, CREATING A LEGACY
It was spring, 1931, and the organizers of the first big professional rodeo in Sheridan, Wyoming, were busy. They had to do everything from scratch: build new facilities, design an advertising campaign, and find stock contractors and vendors. One major thing to do was to name the new enterprise. What should they call the new rodeo?
Rather than decide themselves, the new Rodeo Board members held a local contest and to let the public help name the new event. Many entries were received but the Board settled on three finalists. The three finalists were: “Sheridan’s Old West,” “Sheridan’s Frontier Jamboree,” and “Sheridan WYO Rodeo.”
The selection committee recommended “Sheridan WYO Rodeo” to the Board as the first choice, but not all would agree. A heated discussion ensued, but finally “Sheridan WYO Rodeo” won out. The winning entry was submitted by Frank Panetta, of Sheridan, who received the $5.00 prize. Years later, young Frank would become a member of the Rodeo Board.
It is amusing to think that but for a vote or two, we could easily today be looking forward to celebrating the “Sheridan’s Old West” or “Sheridan’s Frontier Jamboree” this summer. Somehow they don’t have the same ring as “Sheridan WYO Rodeo.” Do you think?
There was a seven-year period when the Sheridan WYO Rodeo had a different name. The Rodeo had been halted in 1942 and 1943 because of World War II, but in 1943 the Rodeo Board decided to bring it back. But, because of the war effort, they had to restart the rodeo engines on a much more modest scale–only two events the first year and only a two day show.
The Sheridan WYO Rodeo emerged from its wartime cocoon as the “Bots Sots Stampede”–a local rodeo for working cowboys. Although the Sheridan WYO Rodeo Board of Directors was still in charge, they had good reason to change the name and the formula.
The Board believed that because the war was still in progress, a two-day show was about all they could handle. Rather than put on a small and inferior show under the name of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo, they thought it best to change the name temporarily. The Board wanted to protect the pre-war Sheridan WYO Rodeo reputation of a nationally known professional big-time rodeo. So how did they come up with the name “Bots Sots Stampede?” They looked to the past. In 1914, 1915 and 1916 there had been a series of rodeos called the “Sheridan Stampede” and the theme of the rodeos was “Bots Sots” which in the Crow Indian language means “very good” or “heap good.” The Board simply combined the name of the old rodeo with its theme. The Bots Sots Stampede was born.
The name would only be used through 1951. That year, when public support for the Rodeo was low, a public poll was used to find if the community wanted to keep the rodeo. The public not only voted to keep the Rodeo but also to bring back the name “Sheridan WYO Rodeo.”
That’s why, this year, we’re all going to the Sheridan WYO Rodeo! See you there!
THE SHERIDAN WYO RODEO RODEO HAS LEGACY OF COMMUNITY SUPPORT
The Sheridan Wyo Rodeo (SWR) was founded in 1931, to “entertain and amuse the citizens,” and provide for “civic betterment and improvement.”
To anyone who has been present for SWR week within the last few years, it is obvious that the SWR continues to meet the first objective. It’s the biggest, most fun filled, action-packed community celebration of the year.
Not so obvious is the history of support–the “civic betterment and improvement” part–the SWR has provided the community, in particular the Sheridan County Fairgrounds.
In the last 77 years, the SWR has provided upwards of $400,000 dollars worth of improvements to the Fairgrounds–improvements that can be used by all fairgrounds’ user groups.
But, it’s not the dollar figure that’s important. More important is the spirit in which the support is given for the betterment of the Sheridan County Fairgrounds.
It all started in 1931 when the SWR wanted to stage the first SWR but the facilities were totally inadequate. Consequently, the SWR organized and built an additional grandstand and replaced the fences, bucking chutes and stock pens.
The SWR spent over $10,000, which was raised by selling Sheridan WYO Rodeo capital stock to community members. Since then, the SWR has initiated many other projects and teamed with the Sheridan County Fair Association to make them happen. Among the major projects are:
1936: Constructed new grandstand to replace existing grandstand. The SWR obtained a $16,000 loan from the County Commissioners and promptly repaid it.
1951: Organized water lines and restrooms and helped build new barns. Cost of $5,900 was split with Sheridan County.
1965: Developed arena floodlighting plan with Montana Dakota Utilities and arranged installation. Cost was split with Sheridan County. 2005: SWR Gold Buckle Club arranged air conditioning for Exhibit Hall and split cost with Fair Board. Total cost was $13,000.
2006: SWR and Gold Buckle Club arranged installation of Gold Buckle Club seating and additional east side chute seating at cost of $120,000.
The SWR has made many other investments in the Fair Grounds over the years, including 1946 when the SWR simply gave that year’s $5,000 rodeo profit to the Fair Association for “improvements to the grounds.”
The tradition continues. Currently, the SWR is engaged in discussions with the Fair Association about how to obtain a new Crows Nest (Announcers Booth) and additional and improved seating in the next few years.
In fact, the Sheridan WYO Rodeo Gold Buckle Club is prepared financially to fully fund new and improved Gold Buckle Club seating at its own expense when details have been coordinated with the Fair Association.
The SWR is proud that in its 77th year it continues to support the Sheridan Community in the spirit of its founding members. And the SWR looks forward to future joint efforts with the Fair Association that will make the Fairgrounds a better place for the entire community.
RODEO THRIVES DUE TO COMMUNITY TEAMWORK
The Sheridan WYO Rodeo enjoys unprecedented community support. There are many examples.
Each year, more than 100 sponsors provide about $400,000 in financial support. One of the sponsors, the Sheridan WYO Rodeo Gold Buckle Club, consists of individuals who support the rodeo financially.
Rodeo attendance is always increasing, with more people enjoying the WYO from around the world each year. It wasn’t always this way. In 1951, for example, community support was weak; so weak that the Rodeo came perilously close to cancellation.
Attendance was on the decline and the public was apathetic; and there was a distinct disconnect between the Rodeo and the community. This was a major concern.
The most demoralizing factor for the SWR Board of Directors was that local merchants did not support the Rodeo, either monetarily or in spirit–and they were the ones that stood to benefit the most! The directors had no option but to declare, reluctantly, that if the merchants did not get on board and support the effort, then the Rodeo would be cancelled.
In response to this alternative, the Chamber of Commerce conducted a public poll through The Sheridan Press. Essentially the poll asked: Do you want to have a rodeo or not? When the public realized that the Rodeo was in jeopardy, it voted 30 to 1 in favor of continuing the Rodeo. The poll served to reinvigorate the community.
When the public had spoken, the situation improved–temporarily. Several changes were made; for instance, merchants held a window decorating contest and provided prizes to be given away the second day of the show; the Chamber of Commerce lined up merchants to enter floats in the parade; and everyone promoted the idea of dressing Western for the Rodeo.
So, the show went on. Merchant cooperation helped made the difference, as did the rekindled community enthusiasm. But, the measures were temporary. Merchant and public support would have to be revisited frequently in the coming years.
Today, it seems unlikely those torturous years could ever return because the Sheridan community has evolved an unbeatable winning formula with all the right ingredients:
An abundance of willing and generous sponsors
A community full of rodeo fans who appreciate good rodeo and like to have fun the third week of July
A professional rodeo that is ranked 19th out of almost 700 PRCA rodeos
A corps of community volunteers who help with the Rodeo and the surrounding events
A Rodeo Board dedicated to staging one of the worlds best rodeos year after year in support of the Sheridan community.
In the end, the success of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo is due to only one thing – COMMUNITY TEAMWORK. It works every time.