This is the main source of discussion on this website for a very good reason, the Ada Firemen’s Rodeo is where my research begins. Here is some background on the rodeo itself and how it started. Just to note, the majority of my findings came from the book The Ada Rodeo – An Incredible Saga printed by the PAST Foundation, INC. I highly recommend this book if you want to look further into the history along with many people who competed in the rodeo and their stories. I also wrote a blog post about reviewing the book if you would like to check it out! Otherwise, let’s get started.
The Ada rodeo began in 1935. H. D. Binns, who was a bulldogger and calf roper originally from Coalgate, Oklahoma suggested a rodeo to be started to liven up the area during the dull August month. They began planning for the August 17th-18th days and within 3 weeks they had the first Ada Firemen’s Rodeo put together with a jackpot of $500 in prize money. The fire chief, Ed Haley, moved quickly to make sure they would be ready within the 3 week time frame. They brought in 10 Brahma Bulls from Texas, the kind that are bred to buck more intensely than typical bulls, along with other stock. The rodeo also included many other rodeo sports such as calf-roping, bulldogging, and even wild cow milking (something tells me this would have been a hoot to see). And for even more entertainment, they had a calf roping contest for businessmen too. Good on being inclusive, y’all. The event was well attended with around 38,000 people coming the two days. The events even included cowgirl bronc riders Grave and Vivian White from Ringwood, Oklahoma. There is a wonderful image of her in the Ada Rodeo book I wish I could include but alas, I do not have a scanner. After the success in numbers from this first rodeo, they decided to make it annual. They hadn’t gained any money, but they didn’t lose any either, and this would sure change when the rodeo would later become the largest outdoor rodeo in the world.
The timing of Ada’s rodeo was key since it was just after another big rodeo nearby, the Cheyenne Rodeo. Cowboys would come down to the Ada rodeo right afterward to continue competing. In 1937 they had paid admissions to distribute as prize money earning them $5,400 from 15,881 admission tickets as prize money. The Ada Evening News readily covered the event since it was becoming incredibly popular.
By 1940 the rodeo was being broadcasted nation wide by station KADA when they keyed in from 2:30 to 3:00 that day on 135 stations of the Mutual Network. For a time before TV, this was amazing for the community. The parade attendance was estimated to be around 7,000 people in downtown Ada with the marching bands from Ada High, East Central State College, Granite Reformatory Band, and other bands from nearby schools. Even the Kiowa Indians marched in their full regalia down main street.
In 1943, World War II caused complications with performing a rodeo of the scale they had been for the past 8 years, so instead of canceling they had a one-day “jackpot” rodeo sponsored by the Ada Round-up Club and the Junior Chamber of Commerce. This way the sponsors were able to “keep alive the spirit of the Ada Rodeo through the war duration without hindering the war effort in any way. We want the people of Ada to feel that this is their show, and it is up to all of us to keep the rodeo spirit alive so that when the war is over we can put on a bigger and better rodeo than ever before” (Ada Rodeo, Klepper, 10). Over 7,000 people attended the one day event, proving that people still loved their rodeo.
In 1945 Ada hosted a personal record breaking attendance of 50,000 people and continued to grow for the next few years. In 1947 the Ada Rodeo became the second largest outdoor rodeo in the world, soon passing its own record the very next year. This is also the year they beat the attendance and prizes of the Cheyenne rodeo, something that many considered impossible due to its popularity. These were some golden years for the rodeo.
In 1953 the rodeo was named Elks’ Charity Rodeo and all of the profits went to charity that year. In 1955, 11 of the nations best cowboys competed in their events with prize money equaling $13,350. Smiley Burnett participated in all of the performances and was named America’s star comic cowboy.
By 1958 the Ada Rodeo was ranked 5th in the United States with high attendance and prize money. This was also the year Euline Smith placed first in Women’s Barrel racing and the youngest participant, Janette Collier, was barely 6 years old.
In 1960 John Logsdon, a previous performer and rodeo clown, purchased part of the rodeo interest from Glendon Taylor. He met up with Jim Shoulders to produce the show but it ended up being a financial disaster. They decided to hold an open rodeo with no newspaper coverage of any events and there were suspicions that there had been pirated tickets printed in Ada since the paid admissions did not match the attendance records.
The rodeo was then purchased in 1961 by Ken Lance and two of his partners. They moved it the next year to the Pontotoc County Fair Grounds, then to the Ken Lance Sports Arena about 7 miles to the southeast side of Ada.
From here the information gets a bit iffy on how it now resides at the Agriplex in Ada and the consistency of years it occurred is uneven. But as of 2014, the Ada Firemen’s Rodeo started up again as a yearly event and is growing once more, just like in the good ole days. If you want to check up on its modern counterpart, please visit my blog posts on my trip to their 2016 rodeo parade!
Please do check out Ada Rodeo – An Incredible Saga if you are intersted in more. It was written by Ann Klepper and contains so much information on the details of participants and much more. Get inspired, go out there, and never stop learning!