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Mon, Feb. 17

Rodeo 2014: 50 years after Prescott's centennial, in 1964, city still embraces its rodeo

On the Fourth of July in 1964, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater rode a palomino horse named Sunny through the streets of downtown Prescott amid throngs of spectators who had gathered for the annual Frontier Days Rodeo Parade.

Goldwater, the parade grand marshal who would seek the Republican Party's nomination for president later that summer, led the procession, greeting folks with a grin and doffs of his cowboy hat.

It was Goldwater's only public appearance during the Independence Day holiday before he returned to Washington, D.C., the next day.

Fifty years ago on Wednesday, Prescott celebrated its centennial, and folks lined the city streets and every other available vantage point along the route of the parade, which honored "Prescott's Past, Present and Future."

At the time, a local spokesman told the Prescott Evening Courier that the parade was the largest ever held in the city, with a record crowd of close to 25,000 people.

This week, the Frontier Days Rodeo will mark the city's sesquicentennial year, highlighted once again by its parade, which will draw another big crowd and focus on memories of the last 150 years in Prescott.

As for the rodeo, it should be as exciting, if not more so, than it was here five decades ago.

All you have to do is compare the numbers.

In 1964, Silver City, N.M., cowboy Walt Nichols won the three-day Prescott Frontier Days Centennial Rodeo, garnering $1,161 in prize money and a centennial buckle as the all-around champion.

The total prize money awarded that year was $17,421. That's a far cry from the amount of cash that's doled out now. In 2013, the seven-day rodeo handed out a whopping $230,000 in total prize money.

But the differences don't end there.

In 1964, some 220 contestants from Arizona, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Illinois and Canada came to Frontier Days. In 2014, 585 cowboys from across the country have entered the rodeo, even if some of them do not show due to snags with travel. Several of them are among the best rodeo cowboys in the world.

As for the events that the rodeo offered 50 years ago, there were seven, including saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, girls' barrel racing and wild cow milking.

These days not much has changed, as Frontier Days rodeo contestants compete in bareback riding, barrel racing, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping and tie-down roping.

This summer, on the 150th anniversary of Prescott, the rodeo may not seem altogether similar to what it was like in 1964.

However, the Frontier Days Rodeo's tradition is alive and well, and it should be as successful, if not more so, once 2064 rolls around.

Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc

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