Originally Published: June 10, 2011 9:52 a.m.
The "World's Oldest Rodeo" proves its claim with an event that started in 1888 in Prescott and has hit it up every July since. 1888! That's 22 U.S. presidents ago.
If you ask the competitors, rodeos don't make their mark on tradition through anything but prized belt buckles. Make no mistake - these are professional, working cowboys who ride for pride, not to mention food and gas money. You think gas price hikes have cut into your budget? Try getting bucked off a bull shy of eight seconds and then having to drive to Cheyenne that night with no payday.
The "World's Oldest Rodeo" has, simply, always been there. Even the oldest Prescott citizens have never in their lives known a time without Frontier Days. Tom Mix once attended. And if you haven't seen the annual bleacher section of visiting NYPD or LAPD cops every July, or sat through a monsoon rainshower during competition, you haven't noticed that there's more to the rodeo than the rodeo, or that tradition never gets old.
And the rodeo's model for durability has seen Prescott through historic times.
Just months after the stock market crash of 1929 - called in the days after that October "the wildest liquidation of securities on record, which wiped out billions of dollars" - Prescott was keepin' on. Afternoon shows in July 1930 started at 1:30, same as they do today. Open-air pavilion dancing was featured every night of the rodeo.
The summer after Pearl Harbor, while the country was reaching a new strength from within, Prescott Frontier Days galloped on, then in its 55th year.
Along with a then-record for cowboy competitors that summer was a close brush with tragedy. Billy Crawford, a cowboy from Willcox, fell with his Brahma just a couple of jumps from the chutes and fractured his skull. Meanwhile, one Evening Courier article described the week that summer as "a cowboy's homecoming with more than 200 true sons of the West cramming the arena, as the 'round the clock' show romped to another day of chills and spills."
When the City of Prescott celebrated its 100th birthday in 1964, the rodeo had its biggest summer ever to that point. The legendary Dizzy Dean, while calling a Yankees-Tigers game from Yankee Stadium on the CBS Game of the Week, even called out to Prescott Frontier Days. He announced during the broadcast that a top official of the Prescott Rodeo was at the game, and Diz went on to extol the virtues of the Prescott tradition, including the local weather and Fourth of July celebrations. ("Some mystery has developed, however," the local newspaper article said at the time, "since no one caught the name of the person from Prescott.")
Barry Goldwater served as the parade's Grand Marshal that year, and the presidential candidate drew 30 members of the media to downtown, including news outlets from New York, Washington, D.C., and the CBS and NBC television networks. Almost 12,000 people flocked to the three-day event.
History aside, the week of Prescott Frontier Days also brings out the world's best pro cowboys, who are still working out how to get from Prescott in July to December's National Finals Rodeo in Vegas. Current world leader in the all-around cowboy standings, Trevor Brazile, who became the first pro rodeo cowboy in history to surpass $4 million in career earnings in May, will make a return engagement to Prescott Frontier Days this summer. Joining him is the usual assortment of Top 15-ranked ropers in the world.