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Wed, Oct. 23

Enjoy the holiday and have fun at the rodeo

Happy Fourth of July! I hope that between the picnics and fun we all remember that today is our nation's birthday.

Speaking of fun, I also hope you've been enjoying Prescott Frontier Days, the "World's Oldest Rodeo." It concludes today with the Queen Coronation at noon and the eighth and final rodeo performance of 2000 at 1:30 p.m.

Over the past few weeks I've been giving you bits and pieces of Prescott's rodeo history. In researching more for this column, I wondered: "Why the Fourth of July?"

Why did they choose the Fourth for the rodeo and such? The first and easiest part of the answer comes from local historian Danny Freeman's book, "World's Oldest Rodeo: 100-Year History 1888-1988."

"Modern day rodeo is the only professional sport that came directly from an industry – the cattle industry. Most of the events staged at rodeos today have been common-place ranch work in the United States, Canada and Mexico for more than 100 years. Cowboy contests have developed into a truly North American sport with annual attendance exceeding that of any other sport."

To me the Fourth of July, obviously, is an American holiday. As I wrote two weeks ago, cowboys and what they do conjure up images of the heart of our country. So, what better sport or way to celebrate America's birthday than with a truly American tradition?

The second part of the answer to "why the Fourth of July" also is in Danny's book. "In those days (prior to 1888) sporting events were not held in Prescott, nor anywhere across America, on the Fourth of July. That day was held open for parades, band concerts, patriotic oratory, and the like."

Danny writes that in 1866, when the territorial capital was only two years old, the planners added horse racing to the celebration. And, they were popular from the beginning.

"As successful as the horse races were as a means of bringing people from the area to Prescott for the Fourth, by 1888 the merchants and townspeople had decided there was a need for something more. They wanted to bring people to town for the Fourth and then keep them there for the rest of the big celebration."

Hmmm. Merchants. People. Keep them there.

Sounds like tourism or our downtown and Prescott of today. It's amazing to me how future-minded these people were, considering the fact that visitors, tourism and keeping people here are still such vital concerns for the area.

In fact, as a member of Prescott Frontier Days and its media chairman, I often hear people ask why we concentrate about 70 percent of our efforts on bringing people here from out-of-town spots such as Phoenix.

Plain and simple: It's new money. Prescott Frontier Days' annual economic impact of about $10 million comes from bringing people here and entertaining them, with the hope that they go away with a smile on their face and leave a little cash behind in the process.

It sounds harsh, or vulture-like, but consider the support that Prescott Frontier Days receives from the City of Prescott, the businesses and area merchants. They sponsor and give to the organization to, one, support the community's heritage; two, Frontier Days gives thousands of dollars each year to charity; but also, three, these same merchants want to see a return on their investment.

That's fair. I can confidently say $10 million in five to 10 days is a fair return. (Actually, it is a lot.)

Maybe it should not be so amazing that the planners of 1888 had such a good grasp on the big picture of tourism.

They are the folks who laid the foundation for Prescott and the wonderful rodeo we enjoy today.


PARTING SHOT - "You got to pay your dues if you want to play and have fun."

- Barry Goldwater

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