Reno Rodeo History
Welcome Rodeo Fans to the “Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West!”
The “Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West,” the Reno Rodeo is a 10-day event. The Reno Rodeo is a PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) sanctioned sporting event. Reno Rodeo is a non-profit organization made up of almost 1000 volunteers. Over 140,000 fans will be in attendance for the 4th richest PRCA tour rodeo. The event impacts the Reno/Sparks area economy with $42 million going to hotels, casinos, restaurants, and retail. The Reno Rodeo has been nationally televised on CBS Sports, Fox Sports Net, Versus, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Classic.
Countdown to 100
With our 100th anniversary approaching quickly we thought it would be good time to remind our members of some of the history and traditions of the Reno Rodeo. So, we will be bringing you a little history in every issue of the BullSheet. Most of the information will be extracted from Guy Clifton’s book, “A History – The First 80 Years”. As we get closer, we may even try to get some of our long-standing members to tell us their stories.
The rodeo association president was Lee McKenzie, and it was announced by the PRCA that the event would be televised nationwide. The annual parade again kicked off a rodeo week celebration that included fireworks, gunfights, a Jell-O jumping contest, the Harolds Club or Bust Chili Cookoff, and the traditional “Buckaroo Breakfast” sponsored by the Reno Host Lions Club. The grand marshal of the parade was country music and television star Louise Mandrel.
Cotton Rosser, as usual, was the stock contractor and among the stock was Classic Velvet, the famed bareback horse, which had been at the National Finals Rodeo the year before.
Competition inside the arena saw the saddle bronc competition end in a four-way tie. Battle Mountain’s Joe Marvel, who was the model for the 1983 rodeo poster, shared the first-place money with Monte “Hawkeye” Henson, Tom Miller and Clint Johnson. The all-around champion was Australian Dave Appleton, who won the bareback and finished a point behind the four winners in the saddle bronc competition.
Other winners included the father and son team of Dick and J.D. Yates in the team roping, Dan Webb in calf roping, Harold Hapenstal in bull riding, Russ Solberg in steer wrestling and Jimmie Munroe in barrel racing.
More that 50,000 people attended the seven performances.
The Reno Rodeo of 1984 saw the return of legendary cowboy Jim Shoulders. Long retired, Shoulders wasn’t competing. Rather, he was the grand marshal for the rodeo parade. “Reno’s a good cowboy town,” Shoulders told reporter Jim Sloan of the Reno Gazette-Journal. “A cowboy feels at home here. I like it here.”
The parade featured more than 325 floats, bands and participants and lasted more that two hours. “Spectators began assembling along the shady sidewalks between the Mapes and Washoe County Courthouse as early as 8:30 a.m. and by 10:15 a.m., when the parade had made its way down to Second Street, the roadside was jammed by several thousand onlookers,” the Gazette-Journal reported.
Tim Grinsel was the rodeo association president and the event featured more that $357,000 in prize money and more than 600 of the top cowboys and cowgirls in the country. Despite the stiff competition, it was Battle Mountain’s Joe Marvel who stole the show.
Marvel, the 1978 world champion, who had cut back his rodeo competition to only 10 or 15 events, put together two of the best rides of the week in winning the spurs. On opening night, he thrilled the sold-out crowd with an 85 aboard a bronc named Laramie Boots. In Sunday’s finale, he needed only a 76 to win the event, but scored an 82 aboard Flying Dutchman to win his third saddle bronc riding championship at the Reno Rodeo.
The all-around champion was roper J.D. Yates. Other champions included Walt Woodard and Doyle Gellerman in team roping, J.C. Trujillo in bareback, Dan Webb in calf roping and Dale Johansen and Randy Queen in bull riding.. The barrel racing champion was a 14-year-old superstar in the making by the name of Charmayne James, who rode her horse, Scamper, to the title.
The rodeo received nationwide coverage in 1981 as association president Clint Wells announced a deal with Blair Television to film the event. The grand marshal of the parade was Katharine Ross, the film actress who starred with Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Ross was presented with the Silver Spurs Award, the first woman to receive the honor. Past winners included John Wayne, Glenn Ford and Jimmy Stewart to name a few. Ross, who starred in the television movie “Rodeo Girl,” rode in the Reno Rodeo Parade. The parade included seven mounted posses, a wagon train, several mule trains and even some camels in addition to the bands and usual dignitaries. Gov. Robert List, U.S. Senator Howard Cannon, and Reno Mayor Barbara Bennett all participated in the parade. Reno’s KTVN Channel 2 televised the rodeo parade live.
The purse for the rodeo, which was again dubbed the Reno High-Roller Roundup, was increased to a record $188,000, which announcer Bob Tallman said it would
put the Reno Rodeo in the top five nationally, and the largest of it’s kind for a six-performance rodeo. More than 830 contestants were signed up to compete.
A story on veteran roper Roy Cooper that appeared in both the Nevada State Journal and Reno Evening Gazette helped illustrate the life of rodeo cowboys. Cooper took command of the calf roping with a time of 9.2 seconds heading into the championship go-round. At the same time he was leading the event in Reno, he was also leading rodeos in Poteau, OK, and Chickasha, OK, and was in the running for the title in a rodeo at Big Springs, Texas. He had caught a plane to Reno just in time to compete.
Cooper, a three-time world champion at that point in his career, went on to win the calf roping title in Reno. Two other world champions had winning performances in Reno. Gary Leffew captured the bull riding and Joe Alexander won the bareback. Jimmy Cooper was the all-around champion. The top team ropers were Mark Arnold and Mike Garrison, while Tom Miller won the saddle bronc, Neville McCarthy the steer wrestling and Jan Hansen the barrel racing.
In 1982, Washoe County Sheriff Vince Swinney was the president of Reno Rodeo Association and the event’s name was returned to simply the “Reno Rodeo.” Both the PRCA and Women’s Professional Rodeo Association announced the Reno Rodeo would be the richest on each organization’s circuit that year. With added money of more than $102,000 combined with the cowboys’ and cowgirls’ entry fees, the event had prize money worth more than $300,000. Swinney told the Nevada State Journal that the rodeo deserved its slogan: “the wildest, richest, rodeo in the west.”
The rodeo parade was moved from the Saturday preceding the rodeo finals to the first Saturday of rodeo week. Organizers figured it would be a good kickoff to rodeo festivities.
Other changes included the addition of a mounted drill team competition and the addition of the Wrangler Rodeo Clown Bull Fighting Competition. Reno was selected as one of 30 rodeos nationwide in which the rodeo clowns could earn points toward a bull fighting championship.
Local businesses rallied around the rodeo with number of special events. They included a street dance, chili cook-off and a battle of the bands. The University of Nevada and Harrah’s helped promote the rodeo with a concert at Mackay Stadium featuring Willie Nelson and Crystal Gayle, two of country music’s hottest acts at the time.
More than 700 cowboys and cowgirls participated in the rodeo and more that 45,000 fans attended the six shows. The all-around champion was Lane Johnson.
Other title winners included Allen Bach and Jake Barnes in team roping, Gary Hemstead in bareback, Jim Pratt in saddle bronc, Darryl Hoss in bull riding, Jimmy Cooper in calf roping, Paul Hughes in steer wrestling and Lynn McKenzie in barrel racing.
In 1979, with Paul Richards as president, the Reno Rodeo became a self-sustaining entity. Underwriting from local businesses was not required. The purse was increased significantly with more than $115,000 in prize money being offered.
Legendary cowboy Casey Tibbs watched the rodeo from the stands. Cotton Rosser was the stock contractor and Bob Tallman the announcer. The entertainment included Benny Binion’s stagecoach and a group of performing monkeys who made up Rosario’s Monkey Review. The rodeo was filmed by New York-based Blair Television, who made an hour-long special featuring six-time world all-around champion Larry Mahan and Tallman. It was narrated by legendary sports announcer Curt Gowdy of American Sportsman fame. Mahan was doing double duty during the rodeo. Not only was he competing, but he was also appearing at the Shy Clown Casino as a singer.
The queen was Julie Solari, Daughter of past president George Solari.
The all-around champion was Doug Brown of Silverton, Oregon, who also won the bull riding. Julio Moreno and Denny Watkins defended their title in the team roping, as did Gail Tyson in the barrel racing. Other champions included Paul Tierney in calf roping, J.C.Trujillo in bareback, Bobby Berger in saddle bronc and Pat Nogle in steer wrestling.
The 1970s ended with the Reno Rodeo a resounding success. It also ended with a vow from the Reno Rodeo Association directors to continue to increase the purse and make the Reno Rodeo one of the country’s premier events.
In 1980, the Reno Rodeo underwent a name change, chosen to illustrate the growing prominence of the event in terms of prize money on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit. It was dubbed the Nevada High Roller Round-Up. (It was changed back to the Reno Rodeo in 1982.) The purse was more than $140,000 and Reno had become a must-stop rodeo for all the top cowboys on the PRCA circuit.
The Reno Rodeo Association president was Reno veterinarian Jack O. Walther, following in the footsteps of his father, Jack T. Walther, who was the association president in 1964.
The parade was believed to be the largest ever in the city and certainly compared to the giant Fourth of July affairs of the 1950s. Featuring the Budweiser Clydesdales and grand marshal Merle Haggard, it stretched more than three miles and lasted 2 ½ hours. People lined the streets downtown and all the way to the rodeo grounds on Wells Avenue. Haggard, the famed country singer, also received the Silver Spurs award, which had been discontinued in the ‘60s. The award recognized celebrities who helped carry on the western traditions.
The rodeo association was stressing community involvement, urging businesses to decorate their storefronts in western style. Businesses were also encouraged to sponsor teams for the annual Businessman’s Steer Decorating Contest. This event consisted of two-man teams. One was responsible for holding the steer while the other raced across the arena and tied a ribbon to the steer’s tail. Bob Beach, publicity director for the rodeo in 1980, recalled one poor businessman who was advised to put the steer’s tail in his mouth so that he could have both hands free to tie the ribbon. “Well, the steer took off and that guy didn’t let loose of it’s tail and he lost his front teeth, ‘ Beach told the Reno Evening Gazette.
Caption: Teams hold on for deal life in the 1979 businessmen’s steer decorating contest.
Countdown to 100 – March 2019
In 1977, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. was heavily involved as a sponsor of the pro rodeo with its annual Winston Awards. Reno was the designated site for the presentation of the awards for the first half of the rodeo season. Each event leader would receive a bonus check of $2,500, which would be presented during the Reno Rodeo. Reno Rodeo Association president Frank Knafelc said having the awards would virtually guarantee every top cowboy in the country would come to the Reno Rodeo. Assured of being in attendance were Miss Winston Cindy Alexander and her husband Joe, the great bareback rider.
The rodeo was expanded to six performances and the opening performance on Wednesday night was designated as “Family Night.” Wilbur Plaugher was back as the rodeo clown after a five-year absence and spent some time opening night showing off a picture of himself in the rodeo program that showed him as a bronc rider in the 1940s. “I used to ride in all events, but I’m mostly clowning now,” Plaugher told a Nevada State Journal reporter. The legendary Casey Tibbs was in town to promote the rodeo and also took part in the parade. The rodeo queen was Teresa Pratt.
Opening night drew an overflow crowd of 8,500 for family night and more than 1,000 people had to be turned away at the gates. The Journal reported that cars were backed up from the Fairgrounds to the Wells Avenue overpass.
A new event this year was actually the return of an old event – the wild horse race. “It seemed to be a crown pleaser,” publicity director Ken Dennis said. “It’s a rough action thing. More men get hurt than horses.”
Joe Marvel, the Battle Mountain bronc rider, turned in a spectacular ride in the championship go-round on Sunday to win the silver spurs for the saddle bronc. Another Battle Mountain resident, Christi Venturacci won the barrel racing. Fallon’s DeMar Thurman captured the title in the steer wrestling. Other champions included Jack Ward in bareback and Bill Nelson in bull riding. Corky Warren and Ed Herdis tied for first in the calf roping. Reg and Leo Camarillo were the champion team ropers.
The Rodeo Association said 40,000 fans attended the event, with opening night and the Sunday finals announced as complete sellouts.
Fans returned in droves to the 1978 rodeo, as well, with average attendance about 7,800 for the five days of competition. Only the Saturday afternoon show, when the Washoe zephyrs were howling from the west, failed to sell out. William Elwell was the rodeo association president and Reno attorney Paul Richards was the first vice president. Genny Buttram, a University of Nevada student, was the rodeo queen.
Richards spent part of the rodeo dressed up in a “Black Bart” clown suit. He provided some comic relief to the crowd, but did suffer a painful experience in the process. The Nevada State Journal explained it this way: “No serious injuries to the riders or stock were reported during the rodeo although a number of cowboys were seen limping from the arena…Richards himself may have been one of the most grievously injured when, with a dash of over-exuberance on the part of the costumers, his Black Bart clown suit was overloaded a bit with an explosive charge that, in his own words, ‘singed my rear end a bit.’”
Inside the arena, there were some memorable performances, especially in the saddle bronc where Canadian cowboy Wilf Hyland scored an 87 in the championship go-round, one of the highest totals ever in the event at the Reno Rodeo. Hyland’s ride was good enough to give him the championship by a point over former world champion “Monty Hawkeye” Henson and Bill Pauley.
California cowboy Dudley Little captured the all-around title, and also won day money for Sunday’s short go-round with the fastest times in steer wrestling and team roping.
The bareback competition featured a pair of future PRCA Hall of Famers battling for the title. In the end, Bruce Ford edged Joe Alexander by three points to claim the championship.
It was a year for ties in several other events. A three-way split in bull riding saw Hall of Famer Donny Gay share the title with Brad Richman and Jerry Beagley. In calf roping, Pax Irvine and Lyle Cochran split the winnings and in steer wrestling, C.R. Jones, Jack Hannum and Dan Torricellas all finished with identical times.
Julio Moreno, a longtime pick-up man at the Reno Rodeo, teamed with Denny Watkins to win the team roping overall title. Gail Tyson won the barrel racing.
In 1975, famed western sculptor Robert MacFie Scriver was selected as grand marshal for the parade. Frank Groves was the Reno Rodeo Association president and nearly $200,000 was spent to build new stalls and improve the grandstands at the rodeo grounds. The rodeo parade had a patriotic theme and the grand entry featured a giant unfolding Liberty Bell containing a horse and a flag girl holding an American flag. The rodeo queen was Kaylene Allen.
Inside the arena, the crowd and the media were firmly behind Battle Mountain cowboy Joe Marvel. Marvel had won the average in saddle bronc at the National finals Rodeo the year before and fans were hoping for a strong showing at Reno. Though Marvel earned cheers on opening night with the second-highest score in saddle bronc, he didn’t make it to the final go-round.
Bill Nelson ended up as the saddle bronc champion. The all-around champion was 19-year-old Clay Finley who also won the calf roping. Other winners included Buster Green in bareback, Randy Magers in steer wrestling and Lindalee Whipple in barrel racing. The top team ropers were Howard Nichols and Carl Clark.
Cold and rainy weather hampered attendance at the rodeo and the association announced the event drew 22,500 fans, down from 28,000 the previous year. Still, Reno Rodeo president Frank Groves announced all the businesses underwriting their rodeo had their investments returned in full.
Patriotism was again the theme for the 1976 rodeo as the United States celebrated its bicentennial. A horse owned by stock contractor Cotton Rosser jumped out of a giant birthday cake during the celebration All of the flag girls at the rodeo carried the “76” flag as part of the celebration.
Dom Azevedo was the Reno Rodeo Association president and Cindy Carlile the rodeo queen. Making his debut as the rodeo announcer was Bob Tallman, a former Winnemucca cowboy, and an up-and-coming announcer on the rodeo circuit.
The large rodeo parade also had a patriotic theme. Reno’s Carol Grace dressed in a Betsy Ross costume and her horse had a Nevada license plate on his hind end that said “Betsy.” Spangles the Clown helped entertain the crowd and excellent weather brought out a huge crowd, which lined Virginia, Pine and Center streets. After the Saturday parade, Battle Mountain cowboy Dan Filipini stole the show in saddle bronc, winning the go-round with a score of 66 points, helping to set the stage for Sunday’s finals.
Leo Camarillo, the veteran team and calf roper, earned all-around champion honors on Sunday, also winning the calf roping. This year, a set of silver spurs was presented to the winner every event. Camarillo, in contention for the world all-around title, could not stay around for the awards ceremony, as he had to get to another rodeo. His sets of silver spurs were accepted by Fallon cowboy Anson Thurman. Other champions included the legendary Bruce Ford in bareback, Jack Roddy in steer wrestling, Denny Flynn in bull riding and Marilyn Camarillo in barrel racing. The top team ropers were Jeff Barmby and Les Hirdes, while Bobby Brown and Kent Cooper tied for the saddle bronc championship.
In 1972, rodeo association president Ernie Martinelli was promising a thrilling show. He didn’t know how thrilling until a brahma bull escaped from the rodeo grounds and had to be chased down by stock contractor Cotton Rosser and roping champion Julio Moreno in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn several blocks away.
Bindee Benson, the Reno Rodeo Queen, was joined by two other Nevada women in the festivities – Miss Rodeo America Pam Martin of Las Vegas and Miss Rodeo Nevada Sue Copely of Lovelock.
The parade grand Marshal was trick roper Monte Montana, would also provide entertainment for the rodeo.
More than $30,000 in prize money was put up and all of the top cowboys in the country were entered in the competition, including Larry Mahan, on his way to a sixth all-around world title. The rodeo clowns included Hall of Famer Wick Peth, Larry Clayton and John Taylor.
The all-around title went to Don Scott, who also captured the calf roping championship. Other champions included Ace Berry in bareback, Larry Mahan in saddle bronc, Larry Clayman in steer wrestling, and Regina Clayman in barrel racing. The bull riding title was split between Spark Brown and Marvin Shoulders, son of the famed cowboy Jim Shoulders. The top team ropers were Ron Poindexter and Howard Nichols.
In 1974, the rodeo returned to television as rodeo association president signed a deal with CBS for the event to be shown on the CBS Sports Cavalcade. This was also the year a near tragedy occurred during the final performance when Benny Binion’s stagecoach overturned, injuring country singer Sue Thompson and rodeo director and past president George Solari. Thompson was taken to St. Mary Hospital and kept for several days. She was reported as stiff and sore from the ordeal. Solari suffered a cut on his head and required several stitches, but he was back at the rodeo grounds shortly after the incident. He described his injury as “a beautiful shiner.”
This was also the year the rodeo was expanded to a record five performances – Thursday and Friday nights, both an afternoon and evening show on Saturday and the finals on Sunday. Miss Reno Rodeo Melody George was joined by Miss Rodeo America Donna Howsley for the annual parade. The grand marshal of the parade was past president Ray Peterson.
Jerold Camarillo of Oakdale, California, was named the all-around champion. Joe Alexander, the multi-time world bareback champion, captured the event in Reno. Other champions included the legendary Deal Oliver in calf roping, Bill Pauley in saddle bronc, John Quintana in bull riding, Lynn Perry in steer wrestling and Charlene Jeperson in barrel racing. The team roping champions were David Motes and Denny Watkins.
Rodeo officials were thrilled with the record attendance brought about by the added performance. “Whatever we’re doing wrong, we’re going to keep doing it wrong,” president Jack Utter told the Reno Evening Gazette. “This is has been the biggest rodeo we’ve ever had.”
In 1971 Bob Peterson, whose father Ray was president on the Reno Rodeo Association through the 1950s, was the association president. He followed the winning formula established by his father, starting the rodeo off with a huge parade highlighted by Hollywood celebrities. This year Slim Pickens was the grand marshal of the parade, though he shared the title with Patrick Wayne, who arrived in Reno just after shooting the film “Big Jake” with his father John. During the rodeo Pickens presented Governor Mike O’Callaghan with a Winchester-National Rifle Association Centennial Rifle.
Cy Tallion was the rodeo announcer, Cotton Rosser the stock contractor and Bobby Adams the queen.
Larry Mahan was named the all-around champion and another Hall of Famer, Dean Oliver captured the calf roping and the $1,114 paycheck that went with it. The saddle bronc champion was Bill Nelson of San Francisco. Alvin Deal won the bareback, Jack Roddy the steer wrestling, C.W. Adams the bull riding and Fallon’s Sammy Thurman the barrel racing. The team roping champions were Hall of Famer Jim Rodriquez and Ron Goodrich. The Indian bronc riding champion was Cory Abel of McDermitt.
In 1972, rodeo association president Jim Halley caused a stir when he supervised a herd of steers up Virginia Street without permission of the city fathers. In future the association asked for – and were mostly denied – the right to do this. Parade committee chairman reported that veteran actor Chill Wills would be among the participants, sitting atop the stagecoach owned by Benny Binion of Las Vegas. The grand marshal was Michael Landon, known best as Little Joe from Bonanza fame.
The rodeo was once again four performances and so many participants signed up in the team roping that preliminaries had to be held the week before. A new event was a special youth steer riding contest, open to youngsters 12 to 15, won by Brian Rosser, son of stock contractor Cotton Rosser.
Oakland cowboy Steve Cosca was named all-around champion, edging his hero Larry Mahan for the title. Cosca also won the bareback completion. Montana cowboy Shawn Davis, the reigning world champion, won the saddle bronc. Other champions included Bob Blackwood in bull riding, Frank Shepperson in steer wrestling, Stan Harter in calf roping and Barbara Bell in barrel racing. Vince Garcia of Elko was the Indian bronc riding champion.
The stars of the 1969 Reno Rodeo parade were the famed Budweiser Clydesdales. Rodeo association president B.M.“Zim ” Zimmerman announced the eight-horse team would be on display throughout the rodeo. Other features of the 1969 show included an expanded Indian pageant, which was extremely popular the year before. “This should be the biggest and best rodeo in Reno’s history,” Zimmerman to the Gazette. “The leading cowboys in the nation are among the record number of cowboys signing up for our competition. Cotton Rosser is providing us with the wildest and wooliest stock on the rodeo circuit.”
Fourteen reigning queens, including Miss Reno Rodeo Virginia Hunter and Miss Rodeo America Patricia Evans, were in attendance.
Tom Flenniken was the all-around champion. Other title winners included Bill Darnell and John Paboojin in team roping, Paul Mayo in bareback, Bob Wiley in calf roping, John Jones in steer wrestling, Bob Berger in bull riding and Fallon’s Patty Thurman in barrel racing.
Battle Mountain rancher Tom Marvel, whose three sons, Mike, Joe and Pete would attain great success on the PRCA circuit in the 1970s won the Nevada Open Stock Horse competition with his horse Cottontail.
The decade closed on a high note. The Reno Rodeo was growing again, in popularity and prominence.
Hollywood came to Reno for the 1970 rodeo as the event returned to the popularity it enjoyed in the 1950s. Among the celebrities converging on Reno were Dennis Hopper of “Easy Rider” fame, Michelle Phillips of the band the Mamas and Papas, Don Everly of the Everly Brothers Band, Slim Pickins the former rodeo clown, Chill Wills, Dean Stockwell and Robert Mitchum. The celebrities appeared at a street dance that was one of the kickoff events of rodeo week. Miss Rodeo America Chris Vincent led a contingent of 17 queens attending the event. The Reno Rodeo queen was Wendy Von Fluee. Jack Horgan was the rodeo association president. The Nevada State Journal ran an editorial with the headline: “Annual Western Event Is Winning Them Again.” The editorial spoke of the dark days of the early 1960s and the ensuing rebound in 1968 and 1969. “So it appears the lean days are a thing of the past – and the Reno Rodeo opening Friday will undoubtedly furnish proof of this. But what provides even more proof is the fact a fourth performance has been scheduled. Heretofore the shows have been held Friday evening and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Now another performance will be staged on Saturday night.
The top cowboys in the country were signed up. “We are looking forward to the biggest show in the history of the Reno Rodeo,” Horgan told the Reno Evening Gazette. Numerous world champions such as Larry Mahan, Dean Oliver, Roy Duvall, Jerald Camarillo, Leo Camarillo and Doug Brown were among the entrants.
Despite some inclement weather the expansion to four performances proved to be a resounding success, with 23,128 fans in attendance.
George Solari succeeded Maps as the rodeo association president in 1967 and promised another tremendous year. Those people not dressed in western wear during Rodeo Week were “arrested” and thrown into a makeshift jail manned by the Reno Junior Chamber of Commerce. Those captured could purchase a red garter promoting the rode to get out of jail. Proceeds from the sale if the red garters went to bring children from Sunny Acres Children’s Home in Carson City to the rodeo.
A highlight of the parade was the float from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, which included legendary Chief Winnemucca, followed by a large group of Indian dancers.
The all-around champion was Modesto cowboy Ace Berry. John Edwards of Cheyenne, Wyoming, took first place in bareback, winning $780. The saddle bronc champion was Shawn Davis of Whitehall, Montana. Bob Sheppard won bull riding, Mark Schricker the calf roping and Donnie Yandell the steer wrestling. The team roping title went to Jim Watson and John Miller. Reno’s Beth Williams was the in the barrel racing. The special silver buckle for the greenhorn calf-tying contest went of Reno television personality Bob Carroll, who tied his calf in 82 seconds.
With Harry Drackert the rodeo association president in 1968, more than 20 Indian tribes converged on Reno for an Indian encampment and pageant. Dancers from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe opened the pageant with a program called “The Legend of the Stone Mother,” which told the story of the creation of Pyramid Lake. An Indian rodeo queen was also selected to serve along with Reno Rodeo Queen Cheryl Ferretto. Eloise Ann Baptiste was the Indian queen and she would go on to represent Reno Rodeo at the Pendleton Round-Up later in the year.
Fans were starting to return to the rodeo in better numbers, as well. More than 5,800 watched the Sunday championship go-round and saw John Ivory, a former Reno resident and Nevada saddle bronc champion, win the all-around honors as well as the championship saddle bronc. Bo Ashern won the bull riding, Walt Mason the bareback, John Jones the steer wrestling and Bob Hungate the calf roping. Top team ropers were Ed and John Gomez from Livermore, California. Stock contractor Cotton Rosser took first place in the wild cow-milking contest.
In 1965 the event attracted numerous world champions, including two-time all-around and six-time calf roping champion Dean Oliver. The two reigning champions in saddle bronc and bareback – Enoch Walker and Jim Houston – also came to compete as did two-time world steer wrestling champion Harley May.
The Reno Rodeo Association, with George Southworth as president, said the 1965 rodeo would be “one of the best in history.” Judy Holt was the rodeo queen. Cotton Rosser and the Flying U Rodeo Company returned as stock contractor and Johnny Jackson of Woodlake, California, was the announcer.
The clowns were perennial favorites Jauquin Sanchez and Wilbur Plaugher. New events added to the program were the buffalo riding and Indian saddle bronc riding. Jim Crutcher of McDermitt had the most points after the three days of competition in the Indian saddle bronc contest. AS Sunday crowd of 5,000 saw Hall of Fame roper Jim Rodriquez, Jr., of California win the all-around championship.
Charles W. Mapes, Jr., was the rodeo association president in 1966, following in the footsteps of his father, who was a lifelong supporter of the rodeo.
Mapes met with the Washoe County Commission shortly after he was elected to the post and asked for $6,000 in new bleachers to increase the seating at the rodeo. The commission reluctantly granted the wish, putting the Reno Rodeo Association on notice that improved attendance was needed.
Mapes also extended the celebration to a “rodeo week” in Reno. The actual performances were still held over a three-day period, but many community activities were added in the days leading up to the start of the rodeo.
Hollywood celebrities once again returned for the rodeo. This time starlet Jane Russell and actors Brian Dunleavy and Wendell Corey were in town to promote their new movie, “Waco.” The rodeo queen was Cindy Lee.
A new underwriting system was put into place with more than 150 businesses kicking in funds for the rodeo. When it was over, the underwriters had 50 percent of their funds returned. The plan to increase the seating worked to perfection as more than 8,000 turned out for the final day of the rodeo, and crowds of more than 7,000 were in attendance for the first two days.
Mapes also announced that special “Buckles of Merit” we be distributed to directors Jack Horgan, Jake Prior, Harry Drackert, Jim Mortenson and Ron Palmer for their efforts during the rodeo.
In 1964, Jack T. Walther was president of the Reno Rodeo Association, which unveiled a new 3000-seat grandstands built to replace those destroyed in the 1962 fire. Carolyn Leino, the rode queen for m 1963 cut a ribbon during a special ceremony held to celebrate the opening of the $108,000 grandstand.
Wooster High student Jeannie Harris was the rodeo queen and the Christensen Brothers were the stock contractor for the second consecutive year. Attendance was much better at the rodeo with 15,000 people attending the three-day event. For the third straight year, a rainstorm and power outage impacted opening night.
A highlight of Saturday afternoon’s performance was the Pony Express ride by the Washoe Horseman’s Junior Club which brought a letter bearing greetings to rodeo fans from Governor Grant Sawyer in Carson City. The 30-mile ride took riders about 2 two hours from Carson City.
The 1965 event attracted numerous world champions, including two-time all-around and six-time calf roping champion Dean Oliver. The two reigning champion is saddle bronc and bareback – Enoch Walker and Jim Houston – also came to compete as did two-time steer wrestling champion Harley May.
The Reno Rodeo Association, with George Southworth as president, said the 1965 rodeo would be “one of the best in history.” Judy Holt was the rodeo queen. Cotton Rosser and the Flying U Rodeo Company returned as the stock contractor and Johnny Jackson of Woodlake, California, was the announcer. The clowns were perennial favorites Joaquin Sanchez and Wilbur Plaugher.
A Sunday crowd of 5,000 saw Hall of Fame roper Jim Rodriquez, Jr., of California win the all-around championship. He teamed with Ken Luman to win the team roping. Ronnie Raymond rode a horse named “Royal Taboo” to the saddle bronc championship, edging Reno’s Lyle Smith by a single point. The bull riding was also close with Bob Sheppard and Larry Mahan tying for first place, each with a score of 67.
Not long before the 1963 Reno Rodeo, members of the rodeo association board fretted about whether to a hold a rodeo at all. The main grandstand at the rodeo arena had burned down not long after the 1962 rodeo and couldn’t be rebuilt in time for the 1963 show. Maybe it would be best, some said if no rodeo was held.
That’s when Harry Frost spoke up.
There would be a rodeo, by God, if he had to put it on all by himself. The board immediately had a change of heart. The rodeo, complete with temporary bleachers, went on as scheduled. Harry Frost was always a man of his word.
Though small in stature, Frost was a giant in northern Nevada sports for decades.
It started when he was a 150-pound halfback for the University of Nevada in the mid-20s. Frost played for the legendary coach Lawrence T. “Buck” Shaw, the former Notre Dame star, who went on to be the first coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
Frost made enough of a name for himself to be elected to the University of Nevada Athletic Hall of Fame.
His involvement with the Reno Rodeo started in 1934 and continued until his death at the age of 88 in 1992.
“He was a very dedicated man,” his longtime friend Harry Parker told the Reno Gazette-Journal after Frost’s passing. “He would help anyone who needed him. Harry was one of the finest I knew.”
Frost and his wife, Ethel, owned a ranch off Huffaker Lane in southwest Reno, and they were avid supporters of most civic causes.
Frost’s daughter Odile was the Reno Rodeo queen in 1950.
“Who’d want to live anywhere but in Nevada where you can meet nice people like Harry and Ethel Frost,” Parker told the Reno Evening Gazette for a feature article about Frost.
An avid horseman, Frost was the first man elected to the Nevada Horseman’s Hall of Fame. He was on the Reno Rodeo Board of Directors for many years and served as the association president in 1963.
The 1992 headline in the Reno Gazette-Journal reporting his death said: “Harry Frost, rodeo leader, dies at 88.”
A better description couldn’t have been written.
In 1960, the Reno Rodeo took a turn that altered if for years to come. Acting upon the wishes of Reno businessmen who wanted to add another big tourist weekend, the dates of the rodeo was moved from the traditional Fourth of July weekend to earlier in June. The thinking was that tourists would still show up for the Fourth of July. Now they would have another reason to visit the area with the rodeo held in June.
The change was met with a lukewarm reception from the public and attendance numbers began to plunge. The quality of the rodeo, however, did not wane. Reno continued to attract the top professional cowboys in the country. Those fans that did turn out saw some excellent competition.
In 1960, Reno Rodeo Association President Ray Peterson told the Reno Evening Gazette that entries were coming in for the rodeo at a faster pace than ever before.
He said there was no other rodeo taking place during the same weekend as the Reno Rodeo and all the top cowboys were sure to turn out. They did, with Casey Tibbs, Guy Weeks, Dale Smith and most of the other Rodeo Cowboys Association competitors in town for the competition.
The rodeo parade was also back, with George Solari the parade chairman and Jack Horgan his advisor. Rex Bell was again the grand marshal of the parade. Reno’s Sherry Wagner’s was the rodeo queen, and the Flying U Rodeo Company of Cotton Rosser and Dick Pascoe provided the stock. Clem McSpadden, now in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, made his debut as the announcer.
Attendance was down, with an estimated 11,500 fans attending the three-day event. Still, as the Nevada State Journal reported, “rodeo association officials expressed satisfaction with the turnout marking the first time Reno Rodeo dates have not fallen over the Fourth of July holiday.”
Even after a severe ranching accident in 1955 broke both his legs and ended his competitive career, Rosser continued to be a part of rodeo in a variety of capacities. In 1956, he and another rodeo cowboy, Dick Pascoe, bought the Flying U Rodeo Company. Pascoe later sold out to Rosser, and Cotton has been providing stock and producing rodeos from his home base in Marysville, California ever since.
Not bad for a city boy who spent his youth on Rainbow Pier in Long Beach, California. But even as a youngster, Rosser always dreamed of being a cowboy.
The son of a building contractor, Rosser’s first experience with cattle came at the Wrigley Ranch on Santa Catalina Island. It was there he learned the trade and got his start in amateur rodeo. In 1951 while at Cal Poly, he was honored as the national all-around champion.
The Flying U first provided stock to the Reno Rodeo in 1957, and the relationship has continued virtually unstopped ever since. The Reno Rodeo simply wouldn’t seem right without Cotton Rosser on horseback inside the arena, rope in hand, tossing a bottle of Jack Daniels to an unfortunate cowboy after a bad spill.
“He’s a living legend,” said longtime Reno Rodeo announcer Bob Tallman. “Cotton Rosser has done more for the sport of rodeo than anyone I know.”
When he isn’t tending his stock on the Flying U, Rosser is often flying his own airplane off to meetings.
Rodeo is a family affair for the Rossers, with his wife Karin, sons Brian, Reno and Lee, daughters Katherine Rosser and Cindy Moreno and son-in-law Julio Moreno among the more than 60 key players at the Flying U. Moreno is a former two-time team roping champion at the Reno Rodeo and the longtime pickup man inside the arena.
The Rossers produce about 60 rodeos a year, with Reno as their showcase event. “Next to the National Finals Rodeo, this is the best one there is,” the 70-year-old Rosser said. “All the top cowboys come here, and we have six or seven of the best stock contractors.
In 1958, the Reno Rodeo Association was celebrating its 25th anniversary. Ray Peterson was again the president and Jack Horgan was in charge of the parade. Glenn Ford was again the winner of the Silver Spurs Award and this time was in Reno to receive the honor. Lieutenant Governor Rex Bell was the grand marshal of the parade once again. Gayle Shipley Newman, the 1957 Reno Rodeo Queen, handed off the title to Betty Chism.
For the first time, a reined stock horse competition was added, and competitors included Tom Marvel of Battle Mountain, Frank Borges, Marvin Jones, Don Porney and Lee Revorse, among others.
The 1958 rodeo belonged to Texan Harry Tompkins, a multiple world champion in bull riding and all-around. Tompkin won the bareback and bull riding competitions and was named the all-around champion. Tompkins was interviewed for the 50th anniversary of the Reno Rodeo and said he still had his championship saddle for winning the all-around. Other winners in 1958 included Marty Wood in saddle bronc, Guy Weeks in calf roping and Carl Mendes in steer wrestling. The team roping champions were Hall of Famers Gene Rambo and John Rodriguez, Jr. Gordon Frazier of Nixon, a cousin to the great roper Levi Frazier, won the Nevada saddle bronc competition. More than $22,000 in prize money was distributed.
In 1959, the Reno Evening Gazette put out a special section dedicated to the rodeo, explaining the various events, rodeo-specific terms and even the hand signals used by the judges. The rodeo drew fans from around the country. Ted McDonald Productions of Hollywood filmed the rodeo for distribution to more than 300 television stations around the world. The Silver Spurs Award was presented to Fred , and the footage of the presentation was to be rushed to Hollywood for immediate distribution throughout the country.
Lieutenant Governor Rex Bell led the parade and visitors crowded the streets. A float sponsored by Harrahs featured figure skating champion Gloria Nord, who performed pirouettes and figure eights on the moving float. It was announced that champion cowboys would receive silver belt buckles donated by Newt Crumley. Nancy Vogt was the rodeo queen.
Gerald Davis won the steer wrestling and the all-around championship. Harley May was saddle bronc champion, Bob Maynard won the bull riding, and Buddy Peak took the bareback title. Bronc Curry and Dale Smith captured the team roping title, and Bucky McCullar was the calf roping champion. The Nevada saddle bronc champion was John Welch of Battle Mountain.
In 1956, veteran actor Jimmy Stewart was in Reno to receive the coveted Silver Spurs Award, presented to the Hollywood actor who best kept the western tradition alive. Stewart was honored for his work in the film “The Man from Laramie” along with the film’s director Anthony Mann. The spurs were made by Reno’s Hoot Newman. Stewart rode atop a stagecoach during the Reno Rodeo parade, which was again led by Lieutenant Governor Rex Bell.
Rodeo Association President Rey Peterson was injured during a riding accident, and Harry Frost took over many of his duties. The Reno Rodeo Association Board of Directors included Lawrence Semenza, Milt Zimmerman, George Vargas, Jack Walther, Marshall Guisti, Guy Lent, Ralph Menante, George Parker, Fred Talley, Al Adams, Jack Horgan, A. E. Holgate, George Southworth, Jr., Lee Frankovich, Gordon Harris, Les Sanford and J. E. Slingerland.
Cotton Rosser and Chuck Sheppard were the judges, and Chuck Parkinson was the announcer. The Reno Evening Gazette reported that the rodeo would be covered by NDC, ABC, Mutual, and CBS radio; by Fox and CBS television; by Universal Newsreel, and by all of the news services.
Frank Sinatra, whose movie “Johnny Conch” debuted in Reno during rodeo week, donated two silver belts buckles as prizes for the rodeo.
With all the publicity, Casey Tibbs again seized the moment, winning the all-around title and the saddle bronc riding while finishing second in bareback. Hallo of Famer Bill Linderman won the steer wrestling, Harold Zwierlein the bareback, Sonny Davis the calf roping and Bill Boag the bull riding. Team roping champions were Duane Rutledge and Hap Lambert.
The Reno Rodeo Association promised an even bigger show in 1957. The Reno Evening Gazette reported the rodeo would kick off with the “longest parade in the history of the city,” under the direction of parade director Jack Horgan. The Silver Spurs Award was being presented to actor Glenn Ford and director Russell Rouse. Ford didn’t attend the rodeo because he was on location shooting a film. Actress Anne Francis accepted the award on his behalf. Rod Cameron, star of the television series “State Trooper” was also a special guest and received a special“Nevada State Trooper” badge.
“Thousands Watch Huge Parade in Downtown Reno” was the headline in the Gazette after the Fourth of July Kickoff. “In a gala holiday mood, visitors and Renoites alike applauded their favorites in the two-hour parade held under clear blue skies in near-record heat,” the Gazette reported. “The parade still snaked its way through downtown Reno as the first participants entered the rodeo grounds on Wells Avenue signaling the grand entry before a packed stadium.
Cotton Rosser and Dick Pascoe of the Flying U Rodeo Company provided the stock, along with Johnnie Jackson of Washoe Valley. Wilfred Cline’s champion bronc “Cheyenne” was brought to town, where he kept his unridden streak intact, bucking off former Reno champion Bill Ward.
The 1954 rodeo saw quite a stir when Bobo Rockefeller and her 5-year-old son, Winnie, attended the opening day of the event. Rockefeller was in the area to establish her residency in order to get a divorce from her husband, New York millionaire Winthrop Rockefeller. The Nevada State Journal reported photographers tried to take pictures of Mrs. Rockefeller and her son, but “Police Chief L. R. Greeson threatened them with jail if they did, citings city ordinance that a person’s picture may not be taken without permission.” Mrs. Rockefeller was the guest of Charles Mapes, Jr., owner of the Mapes Hotel and longtime supporter of the Reno Rodeo.
The rodeo was once again billed as “the world’s richest” with a purse of $20,000 put up for the cowboys. Once again the Chamber of Commerce put out a call to homeowners to make rooms available for rent. “ It is expected the city will set an all-time high as a popular place for spending the Fourth of July weekend, and the influx of tourists and rodeo fans is threatening to swamp transient accommodations all over Reno and Sparks and the surrounding areas,” the Nevada State Journal reported. Governor Charles Russell led the parade. Pat Deaton was the rodeo queen.
Lawson Fore won the steer wrestling and took the all-around title. Jim Shoulders won the Bull riding and Casey Tibbs the saddle bronc title.
An eight-section parade, led by Lt. Gov. Rex Bell, the former movie star, highlighted the opening of the 1955 Reno Rodeo. The Chamber of Commerce predicted more than 26,000 visitors would be in Reno for the Fourth of July weekend. Wilford Cline was the stock contractor and A. E. Holgate, the arena director. The Reno Rodeo Queen was Pat Martin of Gardnerville, and the announcer was Bud Bentley. One of the judges for the rodeo was Cotton Rosser, who also competed in the team roping despite the fact that his right leg was in a cast.
Among the competitors was cowgirl Sammy Fancher Hart, who competed in steer wrestling along with her father, Sam Fancher of Las Vegas. Harley May, the Hall of Fame bulldogger, won that event, and the all-around title.
In 1951, Gerald Roberts, the Strong City, Kansas, cowboy was back and in full glory at the Reno Rodeo. Roberts won the bareback and bull-riding competition on his way to the all-around championship for the third time. He was presented with a $500 handcrafted saddle presented by Larry and Louise Root of Reno. Larry Finley won the average in the saddle bronc, although like the year before, a special buck off was held between the top five riders for a $500. The winner was Casey Tibbs, winning his first title in Reno.
One of the biggest stars of the 1952 rodeo was a rampaging Brahma bull. The Nevada State Journal reported it this way: “There was plenty of excitement at the Reno Rodeo grounds yesterday and a crowd that comfortably saw two Brahma bulls leap the fence, one to run into a nearby pen, the other to take off down Alameda Avenue with cowboys and policemen on motorcycles in close pursuit, but not too close for safety. The belligerent Brahma was finally cornered well down Alameda Avenue (now Wells Avenue) and traffic on the street was halted while he was marched home, tightly roped, between two cowboys.”
Casey Tibbs won the championship saddle bronc riding and finished second in bareback to be named the all-around champion.
In 1953 a new set of grandstands, with seating for 5,000, was erected in time for the show, once again billed as “the world’s richest rodeo.” Link Piazzo w the rodeo director in charge of ushers and chairs. Bill Mayo was in charge of parking, and Roy was the parade chairman and marshal. Ray Peterson was still the president of the rodeo association. The city was packed with visitors once again, and the chamber of commerce put a call out to private citizens to rent rooms in their homes. More than 27,000 people attended the three days of rodeo action.
Casey Tibbs was the star of the show. He won the bull riding, tied for first in the saddle bronc and was named the all-around champion for the second consecutive year. Bud Linderman won the bareback, Buck Abbot the calf roping and C.T. Jones the steer wrestling. Bige and Bud Duncan of Lovelock won the team roping. Lindsey Rogers was the Nevada saddle bronc champion.
Richardson, one of the greatest ropers to ever come out of Nevada, was both a great team ropers and calf roper. He dominated the Nevada calf roping competition at the Reno Rodeo for years. He won the overall calf roping title in 1942 and also won the team roping title in 1941 with Levi Frazier of Pyramid Lake.
Born in Arkansas in 1897, Richardson moved with his parents to California in 1902. He grew up breaking horses and, during World War I, he served as a horseshoe instructor for the Army.
When the war ended, he moved to Nevada. “I met him when he first came into this country,” said Dr. Edwin Cantlon of Reno. “I can’t remember the year, but I remember he was riding a bay horse and leading a gray horse with a pack saddle and all his belongings on him. He spent the night at my uncle and grandparent’s ranch outside of Wadsworth.”
Richardson went to work for the Ceresola Ranch for a short time and also worked at the Monte Cristo Ranch near Pyramid Lake. It was there he met his wife, Dorothy, a New Yorker who had come to Nevada to get a divorce. They were married in 1929 and acquired a small homestead property in Olinghouse Canyon near Wadsworth.
A few years later they moved to a small ranch on Lakeside Drive in Reno.
During the 302 and 40s, Richardson started showing his considerable horsemanship skills in the Reno Rodeo arena.
Throughout his years on the ranch, Richardson shared his love of roping and riding with others, especially youngsters.
“He taught Steve Walther and Jimmy Halley, Harrie Frost and a lot of kids how to ride and rope,” Cantlon said.
That wasn’t his only skill. Among other things, he was a good musician,” Cantlon said. “He used to play the violin and was an all-around good character.”
After his wife died in 1956, Richardson moved to Arizona to be with his daughter, Roxy. He lived there until his death in 1973. The 1989 Reno Rodeo was dedicated in his memory.
Bell, a Hollywood film star of the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, was an avid supporter of the Reno Rodeo, participating in the parade every year he was in office and being honored as the grand marshal for two years.
“He loved the Reno Rodeo,” said his son Rex Bell, Jr., of Las Vegas. “That’s why he always participated. He was always in the parade. He always looked forward to that.”
Bell was an avid horseman. In Hollywood, he worked with western stars Tom Mix and Buck Jones before becoming one of film’s leading men himself. In 1931, he married film star Clara Bow, Hollywood’s “It Girl” and the most popular female film star of the era.
He3 left the film business in 1944 after appearing in more than 50 movies. He and Bow settled on their huge Nevada cattle ranch, in Searchlight.
In 1954, Bell, a Republican, was elected lieutenant governor by a wide margin, and re-elected by a landslide in 1958, despite a sweep by Democrats in other statewide offices.
He presided over the state senate in colorful western dress, and his flashing smile and friendly manner helped establish him as one of Nevada’s most popular politicians.
In 1962, he was the Nevada Republican Party’s choice to challenge Governor Grant Sawyer for the state’s top office. On July 4, shortly after a party fund-raiser in Las Vegas, Bell suffered a heart and died. His death was mourned throughout Nevada, and Hollywood, by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Honorary pallbearers at his service at Oak Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles included Richard Nixon, Gene Autry, and Tex Ritter, among others.
At the 1962 Nevada Day parade, a float commemorated his memory. It included his famed silver saddle and trademark white hat – relics familiar to anyone who had seen him in a Reno Rodeo parade.
“The Reno Rodeo was one of his favorites,” his son said. “ He enjoyed seeing the people he knew in Reno and the cowboys he knew from around the country.”
Casey Tibbs, at one time or another, was the wildest, richest cowboy of his day.
“He put ‘wild’ in ‘wild west,’” said his friend Sharkey Begovich, who had one of the best collections of Tibbs’ memorabilia anywhere displayed in his Gardnerville casino.
In the history of the Reno Rodeo, no cowboy ever won more events than Tibbs. His nine championships during the 1950s have never been challenged and likely never will.
Tibbs was born March 5, 1929, in a cabin 50 miles north of Fort Pierre, South Dakota, and started participating in rodeos at the age of 14. By the time he was 20, he had won his first world championship in saddle bronc, capturing the title in 1949. He was the youngest man ever to win a world saddle bronc title. Over the next decade, he won five more saddle bronc titles (his six are the most in PRCA history), two all-around titles and a world title in bareback.
Tibbs won his first Reno Rodeo tile in 1951, winning a buck off and $500 prize in saddle bronc. He won the saddle bronc four of the next five years and captured all-around titles in 1952, 1953 and 1956. He won Bull riding in 1956.
Tibbs was rodeo’s biggest star in the 1950s, not only for the skill he showed in the arena but for the flamboyance with which he participated. He was featured in Life magazine after winning the world all around in 1951. His friends included the elite of Hollywood, including Gene Autry and John Wayne.
His flamboyance in the arena was mirrored outside it. Tibbs was known to love drinking, fighting, and gambling. He could win a big paycheck in a rodeo one day and blow it in a casino that night.
Long after his days of competing on rodeo circuit were over, he was a favorite with Reno Rodeo crowds, often being asked to join in the grand entry parade and participate in any way he could.
In his later years, Tibbs quit drinking and was known as one of rodeo’s greatest ambassadors. He was in the inaugural class inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame when it was established in 1979. A giant bronze statue of Tibbs riding the famed bronc Necktie was unveiled in 1989. Titled “The Champ,” the statue welcomes visitors to the Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Tibbs died January 28, 1990.
Professional cowboys did return to the Reno Rodeo in 1950 – in greater numbers than ever – as they pursued a purse topping $10,000, plus entry fees. Ray Peterson was in his first year as president of the Reno Rodeo Association.
The rodeo parade of 1950 was a spectacle all its own. It was so large it was divided into seven sections and would cover a four-mile route through downtown and into the rodeo arena. Governor Val Pittman and Senator George Malone were among the dignitaries participating in the parade, which also included “a thousand horses, hundreds of Indians and scores of floats” according to the Nevada State Journal. The Reno Rodeo queen was Odile Frost. The rodeo was underwritten by 143 local businesses, with additional contributions from the Bank Club of Reno, Harold’s Club, Harrah’s Club, the Mapes Hotel, Place Club, Palace Club, Riverside and Sam Jacksick.
More than 9,000 people attended the championship go-round of the rodeo, and an estimated 50,000 visitors converged on the city for rodeo week. Claude Henson of Chandler, AZ, was named champion all-around cowboy, receiving a custom carved saddle for his efforts. The bareback was a Henryetta, OK, cowboy named Jim Shoulders, who go on to win a record 16 world championships. This was his first-ever title at the Reno Rodeo. Other winners included Loren Fredricks in bull riding, Bart Clennon in saddle bronc, Ike Edson in steer wrestling, Clay Carr in calf roping and Claude Henson and Buck Standifer in team roping. The Nevada saddle bronc champion was Harry Rode.
A specialty event featuring six saddle bronc riders was on by a young California buckaroo named Cotton Rosser, who took home $500. Rosser would go on to become a hall of fame stock contractor. His Flying U Rodeo Company has been the stock contractor for the Reno Rodeo for over 50 years.
Peterson, a longtime supporter of the event, took over as president the Reno Rodeo and Livestock Association in 1950 and held the position for 12 tears. Those years just happened to be when the rodeo was the city’s greatest celebration, bringing thousands of visitors and the world’s top cowboys to town, for the Fourth of July festivities.
“He was a wonderful, wonderful man,” said his friend Harry Parker, himself a longtime supporter and owner of Parker’s Western Wear in downtown Reno. “The rodeo wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for him.”
Peterson was born in San Francisco in 1896 and, as a child, accompanied his father to Nevada to work mining claims near Walker Lake. In 1917, he moved to Reno and worked as a farmhand for the University of Nevada. He delivered newspapers to supplement his income. In the late 1920’s he started a long career in the lumber, first working for Jesse Smith Lumber Company, then founding his own company a few years later.
All the while, he was involved with the Reno Rodeo.
An avid horseman, he rod in every Reno Rodeo parade until his death in 1979. He was inducted into the Nevada Horseman’s Hall of Fame in 1990.
His sons, Bob and Ray, Jr., grew up on the rodeo grounds and shared in their father’s love for the Reno Rodeo.
Bob Peterson served as president of the Reno Rodeo Association in 1971, carrying on the family legacy.
In addition to his lifelong support of the rodeo, Ray Peterson also served on the Reno City Council and the Washoe County Commission.
“He was just a real community leader,” said Reno’s Link Piazzo, who served as a rodeo director when Peterson was association president. “He was one of the most wonderful people I ever knew.”
In 1949, a dispute arose between the professional cowboys and the Reno Rodeo Association that nearly caused the cancellation of the final performance. The Cowboys wanted to know whether $4,000 donated by four local clubs was part of the advertised prize money of $8,100, or in addition to that prize money. The dispute delayed the start of the finals 45 minutes, with the Rodeo Association agreeing to add $4,000 to the advertised amount. It was either that or risk losing more than $20,000 in gate receipts for the final show, according to angry Rodeo Association President Howard Doyle, who vowed there would be no more professional rodeos in Reno.
Gerald Roberts repeated as the all-around champion, also taking top honors in bull riding. Wilbur Plaugher, the famed rodeo clown, showed his skill as a competitor as well, winning the saddle bronc title. Buck Wyatt won the bareback, Clay Carr the calf roping and Stan Gomez the steer wrestling. The Nevada saddle bronc champion was again Ed Garaventa, who received #500 from the Holiday Casino, plus a championship buckle from Newman’s Silver Shop, and a set of spurs from Miller and Tietjen Bits and Spurs.
This was the year the Silver Spurs award debuted. Presented by the Chamber of Commerce, the award went to the Hollywood celebrity who helped keep western tradition alive. The first recipients were the legendary John Wayne, and film director John Ford, for their work in “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.”
Despite the threats of the association president, The Reno Rodeo was not finished. In fact, it was just getting started.
In 1947, the Reno Rodeo saw its first great tragedy when 24-year-old bull rider Bill Brendler of Modesto was killed during the finals. The young buckaroo fell directly beneath the bull and was kicked in the head, suffering a crushed skull. Brendler’s death is the only documented fatality in the history of the Reno Rodeo.
Despite the fatality, the Reno Rodeo was a huge affair for Reno. Rex Stuart, the veteran cowboy actor, was the grand marshal of the parade, and the top cowboys of the day were once again participating. Ty Cobb, the well-known Nevada State Journal newsman, covered the event for his newspaper. “Record-smashing attendance of 10,000 spectators sent the 1947 three-day Reno Rodeo off to a flying start amid the color and glamour of this typical all-western show,” Cobb reported. “All the familiar highlights of the rodeo – snorting broncs, daring riders, droll clowns – were featured as the ‘Greatest Show in the West’ opened its first day’s activities at the Reno racetrack grounds.”
Bud Linderman was again the all-around champion, edging calf roper Clay Carr for the title. Buster Ivory won the saddle bronc, Orrie Dooley the bull riding, Wallace Brooks the bareback, and Homer, once again, the steer wrestling. Rod Kelly was the Nevada bronc riding champion.
The 1948 rodeo was a three-day affair with $15,000 in prize money, which organizers said was the most of any of the Fourth of July rodeos being held throughout the west. Stock contractor Harry Rowell brought his top bucking horse and bulls, includi9ng the famed bucking bull Spot, which had been featured on the cover of Life magazine. The announcer for the rodeo was Jim Jordan, who had worked such events as the world championships at Madison Square Gardens and the giant rodeos at Houston and Fort Worth. Providing entertainment was Monte Montana and his troupe, and trick riders Bernice Dorsey and Paul and Marie St. Croix. The rodeo queen was Jody Smith. An estimated 21,000 people attend the three-day event.
Gerald Roberts, the world all-around champion from Strong City, Kansas, took the all-around honors in Reno as well, edging Homer Pettigrew, who won the street wrestling and calf roping. Wag Blessing won the bull riding, Duncan Brown the bareback and Bill Ward the saddle bronc.
The inevitable injuries that come with being in the rodeo business limit the careers of most cowboys – roughstock riders in particular. Then there is Buster Ivory, a champion bronc rider from California whose career as a competitive cowboy spanned more than 30 years.
Ivory started competing in 1938 at the age of 15 and was still going strong throughout the 1960s, retiring after the 1968 season. The Reno Rodeo is a perfect illustration of his longevity in the sport. He was the all-around champion of the Reno Rodeo in 1945 and won the saddle bronc competition in 1947. Fifteen years later, in 1962, he again won the saddle bronc competition [and the championship saddle that went with it.
“It was a good rodeo,” he said in 1999. “I won a lot of money there. The casinos used to give a lot of money to the rodeo.”
Ivory’s success came despite suffering a broken neck at the Salinas Rodeo in 1948, after which doctors said he would probably never walk again. He was up and walking 90 days later.
Ivory knew every facet of the rodeo business, working with numerous stock contractors and rodeo committees over the years – including the Reno Rodeo with stock contractor Cotton Rosser. He was voted Rodeo Man of the Year in 1978 and is a member of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. He was also heavily involved in the early days of the National Finals Rodeo.
Buster served as livestock superintendent at the NFR for a record 26 consecutive years and was chute boss there for three years.
In 1999 he was selected as the recipient of the Ben Johnson Award and was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2001.
Until his passing in March of 2003, Buster and his wife June traveled to numerous rodeos, including the National Finals in Las Vegas, where they helped organize a cowboy reunion each year.
Both the Nevada State Journal and Reno Evening Gazette covered the rodeo as front-page news with banner headlines touting record crowds attending the event. “Record-smashing attendance – an overflow crowd which was thrilled by a berserk Brahma bull at the climax – yesterday launched the 1946 Reno Rodeo, back in all of its pre-war color and competition,” the Journal reported in its July 5 edition.
With travel restrictions once again lifted, the top cowboys in the country converged on Reno. Bud Linderman won the saddle bronc riding and the all-around championship. Wag Blessing took the bull riding title, and Homer Pettigrew captured the steer wrestling. Jack Spurling won the bareback, Joe Basset the calf roping and Eddie Schell and Pete Grubb the roping. Rod Kelly was the Nevada saddle bronc champion.
Another highlight of the 1946 rodeo was the return of women bronc riders, among them 16-year-old Pee Wee Burge. She not only competed in bronc riding but also performed trick riding for the crowd. “Little Pee Wee Burge, the girl bronc buster, drew a big ovation from fans as she stayed the full time aboard her mount,” the Journal reported.
The rodeo in 1946 was a huge success, setting the stage for even greater events to follow.
In the early days of the Reno Rodeo, Don Cooper, a buckaroo from Pershing County, was one such volunteer who was instrumental in the rodeo’s success.
“He wasn’t much of a man to boast about what he had done,” said longtime Nevada rancher Don Heitman, who knew Cooper in later years. “It was when I talked to other people, they all mentioned the fact that he helped start the Reno Rodeo.”
Cooper was a friend of cattleman Bill Moffat, the first president of the Reno Rodeo Association, but more than that, Cooper was a cowboy through and through. He was noted as an exceptional rider, talented roper and a great judge of horseflesh.
“He was quite a hand on horseback,” Heitman said. “He was a very talented horse breaker and could do most anything with a horse. He was very handy with a lariat.”
Standing well over six feet, Cooper was a big man; however, that didn’t stop him from being an accomplished rider in horse races. In both the 1919 and 1920 Reno Rodeo’s he won the stake races.
He also helped provide stock for early rodeos. Rounding up wild mustangs in Pershing County and delivering them via train to Reno for use in the wild horse race and other bucking events.
Cooper was honored at the 1920 Reno Rodeo for having the best cowboy outfit on the grounds. He was especially known for elaborate tapaderos that covered his stirrups.
In 1974, Jack Utter was president of the Reno Rodeo Association, and he invited Cooper to a performance of the rodeo. Cooper was introduced to the audience, and his involvement in the first Reno Rodeo was mentioned. He humbly accepted the applause.
Cooper died August 11, 1978, in Walnut Creek, California, a few days short of his 85th birthday.
In 1944 the war was at its zenith, and no rodeo was held, but in 1945 directors decided to bring the event back for a four-day run. There was some criticism because the war was not over. Some were concerned the city would be too crowded, and there would be a lack of food. The concerns proved to be unfounded. Unrationed egg and poultry supplies provided enough for 80,000 meals, and buffalos slaughtered at Idlewild Park let the rodeo association announce it would be serving buffalo burgers.
Charles Sadleir was again the rodeo association president and Harry Rowell the stock contractor. Slim Pickens was the rodeo clown.
Long before he appeared in such movies as Dr. Strangelove and the Apple Dumplin’ Gang, Slim Pickens was a cowboy and bullfighter.
He appeared in rodeos from the age of 12 and was one of the top clowns on the professional rodeo circuit before entering films in 1950. He was the clown at the Reno Rodeo several times in the mid and late 1940s.
“I knew Slim real well,” said Hall of Fame rodeo star Gerald Roberts. He used to ride broncs and bulldog before he ever got into the movies. He worked for me when I put on a couple of shows.”
Roberts said Pickens was a fair bronc rider but really made his mark as a rodeo clown, where he was fighting bulls using a cape in the same way as the Mexican matadors. His rapport with the crowds was excellent. He was nicknamed “El Toreador.”
“He was exactly the same way in real life as he was in films,” Roberts said. “ He was always fun to be around, always had a joke to tell.”
Pickens, who died in 1983, returned to the Reno Rodeo from time to time after his Hollywood career was launched. He was the recipient of the Silver Spurs Award, presented to celebrities who have kept the western spirit alive, and was grand marshal of the Reno Rodeo parade.
World War II was in full swing in 1942 and Reno wanted to do its part to aid the war effort. The rodeo was moved from the Fourth of July to Labor Day, and proceeds from the event were earmarked for war relief. The rodeo was limited to amateur competitors, and the purse was $800. Jack Story, a nationally known announcer from Hollywood, was retained for the event.
The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe had a special role in 1942 as the Nevada State Journal reported in its September 5, 1942 edition:
“Pyramid Lake Indians participating in Reno’s War Relief Rodeo over the Labor Day weekend have a very special reason for wanting to aid the services – 22 of them are in the Army, Navy, Marines or Air Corps.”
“ Among the Indian casualties from the area so far are Karl Foley, missing in the Philippines and Ralph Sams, killed in a bomber crash. So the boys left behind at Pyramid will be giving their all to put on a show and help war relief.” A group of 45 Indians in full regalia led the grand entry for the parade. Tribal members also presented a pageant at the El Patio Ballroom and a pow wow at Wingfield Park.
Among the buckaroos competing were Glen Spoon, Walt Mason, George McGinnis, Harry Drackert, Wilbur Plaugher, Cliff Devine and Slim Pickens, who would go on to become a well-known Hollywood actor.
The rodeo earned $7,000 for war relief, with funds going to the Army, Navy, USO, Red Cross and other local charitable organizations. Ed Davis was named the all-around cowboy and was awarded a $25 war bond. Davis won the calf roping. Jack Richardson and Levi Frazier took top honors in the wild cow milking. Bill Ramsey won the saddle bronc, and Ray Ferreto won bareback.
The Nevada State Journal also noted the death of Will James, western artist, and writer who had designed the first-ever Reno Rodeo poster.
The 1943 rodeo was moved back to the Fourth of July. It was limited once again to amateur cowboys, who put on a strong show for the capacity crowd. The Nevada State Journal reported: The crowd, which was so large on Sunday that several customers were turned away at the gate, and which filled the stands so full that one of the bleachers collapsed, sat for three and a half hours and watched 57 amateur cowboys put on a first-class and spectacular performance.”
Gus Bartley of Reno, riding a horse named Denio, won the bronc riding. Fred Gansberg of Gardnerville won the cow riding competition, and Buck Bain of Las Vegas and Slim Gillian of Lovelock won the team roping. Joe Richardson of Reno was the calf roping champion.
No cowboy in the history Reno Rodeo ever dominated his events the Joe Richardson dominated in the 1940s.
Richardson, one of the greatest ropers to ever come out of Nevada, was both a great team roper and calf roper. He dominated the Nevada calf roping competition at the Reno Rodeo for years. He won the overall calf roping title in 1942 and also won the team roping title in 1941 with Levi Frazier of Pyramid Lake.
Born in Arkansas in 1897, Richardson moved with his parents to California in 1902. He grew up breaking horses and, during World War I, he served as a horseshoe instructor for the Army. When the war ended, he moved to Nevada. “I met him when he first came into this country,” said Dr. Edwin Cantlon of Reno. “I can’t remember the year, but I remember he was riding a bay horse and leading a gray horse with a pack saddle and all his belongings on him. He spent the night at my uncle and grandparent’s ranch outside of Wadsworth.”
Richardson went to work for the Ceresola Ranch for a short time and also worked at the Monte Cristo Ranch near Pyramid Lake. It was there he met his wife, Dorothy, a New Yorker who had come to Nevada to get a divorce. They were married in 1929 and acquired a small homestead property in Olinghouse Canyon near Wadsworth. A few years later they moved to a small ranch on Lakeside Drive in Reno.
During the 30’s and 40’s Richardson started showing his considerable horsemanship skills in the Reno Rodeo arena.
Throughout his years on the ranch, Richardson shared his love of roping and riding with others, especially youngsters.
“He taught Steve Walther and Jimmy Halley, Harrie Frost and a lot of kids how to ride and rope,” Cantlon said.
That wasn’t his only skill, among other things, he was an excellent musician,” Cantlon said. “He used to play the violin and was an all-around good character.”
After his wife died in 1956, Richardson moved to Arizona to be with his daughter, Roxy. He lived there until his death in 1973. The 1989 Reno Rodeo was dedicated in his memory.
Gerald Roberts won six championships at the Reno Rodeo between 1948 and 1951 – none of them in his favorite event.
“Saddle bronc riding was my favorite, but I rode all three,” said the 80-year-old from Abilene, KS. “I’d win in all three of them. I was kind of like the Ty Murray of my time. Roberts, a two-time world all-around champion and member of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, did particularly well at the Reno Rodeo, winning the all-around titles in 1948, 1959 and 1951. He also won the bull riding in 1949 and 1951 and the bareback in 1951. His six championships were the second most in the history of the Reno Rodeo, trailing only Casey Tibbs, who won nine.
“It was one of my favorite rodeos to go to, and I won a lot of money there,” Roberts said. “They had lots of good bucking horses back in those days. Harry Rowell was the stock contractor. He always had really good stock.”
Roberts cut back his rodeo schedule in the mid-50s for a career as a Hollywood stuntman. “I doubled for guys like Glenn Ford and Jack Lemon,” he said. “If I hadn’t fooled around with the movie, I would have won the all-around three or four more times. But I don’t regret it. It was a good experience for me.”
Roberts passed away on New Year’s Eve, 2004.