Entertainment Magazine: Tucson: Tucson Rodeo & Parade

History of Tucson's La Fiesta del los Vaqueros

Leighton Kramer conceived the idea of La Fiesta de los Vaqueros to draw visitors to Tucson during the mid-winter season. Kramer was a winter visitor himself, and president of the Arizona Polo Association.

Historic Tucson Rodeo

In 1924, Frederick Leighton Kramer, President of the Arizona Polo Association and later recognized as the Founder of the Tucson Rodeo and Rodeo Parade, gathered a group of local business men to discuss the possibility of having a Rodeo.

This group included C. James and Albert H. Condron, President and Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, respectively. Also Monte Mansfield, a local car dealer, M. H. Starkweather, Architect, "Jack" J.C. Kinny and Bud Parker, local and well respected cattlemen, were present at the meeting.

This was the inspiration and moving force that made it possible for the Tucson Rodeo and Tucson Rodeo Parade to take place on February 21, 1925.

In February 1925, Leighton Kramer, president of the Arizona Polo Association, paraded area cowboys, visiting trick riders, folk dancers and marching bands through downtown Tucson en route to a midtown polo field. There a long-planned, community-sponsored rodeo and Wild West show debuted to a full house.

The rodeo featured four events—steer wrestling, steer tying, calf roping, and saddle bronc riding. The purse was $6,650. Special events included a wild horse race, lady bronc rider Tad Lucas, and Jack Brown who bulldogged (wrestled) a steer from a Packard automobile.

In "Progressive Arizona - 1925", Kramer observed, "The City of Tucson excelled itself the day of its first Rodeo Parade called "La Fiesta de los Vaqueros". The first Parade was led by Major Nuestatter, Tucson's veteran Parade Leader, followed by the Band of the 25th Infantry from Nogales.

Next was the Platoon of the Reserve Officers Unit, Polo Players, cowboys and cowgirls, buggies, wagons, Indians and lastly the Band of the 10th U.S, Cavalry from Ft. Huachuca.

In 1925, Kramer and the Arizona Polo Association created La Fiesta de los Vaqueros and the Tucson Mid-Winter Rodeo and Parade. The event would give visitors a taste of cowboy range work and glamorize Tucson's Wild West notoriety. Kramer's idea continues to flourish, 74 years later, as an important community event.The first Tucson Rodeo was held at Kramer Field, now a neighborhood called Catalina Vista, east of Campbell between Grant and Elm Street.

It was preceded by a parade, with costumed entries including Lone Wolf, a Native American artist, in full regalia and flowing feathered headdress. Lone Wolf also provided the artwork for the first rodeo program. Local ranches were represented on horseback, mounted polo players wore their white helmets and bright silk shirts, and the 10th Cavalry and 25th Infantry bands from Fort Huachuca provided rousing music. The city leaders and the University declared February 21, 1925 a city holiday.

Tucson's first rodeo featured four events -- steer wrestling, steer tying, calf roping and saddle bronc riding. The purse was a fabulous $6,650 in prize monies.

Special events included a wild horse race, lady bronc rider Tad Lucas, and Jack Brown bulldogging a steer from a Packard automobile.

As a result of rapid growth, a larger La Fiesta de los Vaqueros moved to the abandoned municipal airport field at South 6th Avenue and Irvington Road.

The 1932 Tucson Rodeo opened the grounds, with seating for 3,000 and parking for 59 cars. An added event of the 1932 Rodeo was Jack Rabbit Roping. Wild jack rabbits were released in the arena and contestants attempted to rope them.

Due to sell-out crowds, the rodeo was extended to four days in 1948. The rodeo arena and grounds were continually enlarged; local hotels and dude ranches were booked solid during rodeo season.

The Tucson Rodeo has attracted many types of western entertainers. Old time trick riders Buff Brady and Dick Griffith amazed the crowds in the early days. Acclaimed trick roper Montie Montana appeared in a number of the performances from 1936 to 1974.

In 1965, Leon Adams exhibited "Roman trick riding from the days of Ben Hur on performing Brahma bulls. And Willcox, Arizona native Rex Allen was featured in 1956 and 1957.

In 1954, The Tucson Rodeo served as a backdrop for the movie, "Arena." The 1994 rodeo was featured in scenes for "8 Seconds" starring Luke Perry.

And you can see portions of the 1996 rodeo in the current Showtime movie "Ruby Jean and Joe" starring Tom Selleck. The rodeo was broadcast coast-to-coast in 1962 on ABC's "Wide World of Sports," and was seen in 1993, 1995 and 1997 on ESPN. The 1998 Tucson Rodeo was featured on ESPN as well.

Today, the Tucson Rodeo is a five-day event and is one of the top professional rodeo events in North America, with prize monies exceeding $200,000.

Leighton Kramer's vision of creating an event to attract more tourists to Tucson has certainly been realized. But the residents of Tucson adopted La Fiesta de los Vaqueros as an honored tradition from the very beginning.

Area schools still close on Thursday and Friday of Rodeo week, local citizens are thrown in the hoosegow (in fun of course) for not observing western dress, businesses advertise rodeo specials and over 250 organizations participate in the Rodeo Parade, now viewed by over 200,000 spectators.

La Fiesta de los Vaqueros is planned and operated by the Tucson Rodeo Committee and the Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee, both non-profit, volunteer corporations committed to preserving the western tradition and heritage of Tucson.

La Fiesta de los Vaqueros was devised to attract winter visitors to the many guest ranches and scenic haciendas that dotted the desert region. Celebrating the heritage and contributions of the cowboy and Mexican vaquero proved to be a theme as popular today and it was nine decades ago.

While many of Tucson’s winter visitors have since relocated to this metro area of about one million residents, the community continues to tout La Fiesta de los Vaqueros as a favorite tradition; one that continues to attract visitors from all over the world. Schools close on Thursday and Friday of rodeo week so local families can enjoy the festive parade and rodeo; visitors come to experience the area’s Old West traditions, including this championship rodeo staged outdoors under desert skies.

Historic Tucson Rodeo

Archives of Rodeo Photography

Excerpt from the Tucson Rodeo's first program, 1925:

"To the Contestants and Spectators:

Not so many years ago the first Pony Express came to a sudden halt on our Main Street, carrying civilization southwestward. Not so many years ago, the first railroad train whistled in. Gone is the Past. The hitching post has been removed. A new civilization has put steel and concrete and built a mighty city where only yesterday horses grazed within the memory of living men.

The pioneer Spirit lives. Heroic memories never die. The Old Frontier will be revived -- at Tucson ...We are proud to offer this attraction to the people of America -- both contestants and spectators -- as a glorious reminder of yesterday."

Leighton Kramer, Chairman
Tucson Annual Rodeo Committee.

Headline in the Arizona Daily Star in 1925 reads:

"Cowboys are asked
not to shoot up the town"

Tucson in 1925 was a frontier town: The first Tucson Rodeo was held in the middle of Prohibition. With so many visitors expected, decisions were made to clean up the town.

Arizona State Prohibition Director Frank Pool led a force of federal officials to town two weeks prior to the rodeo. The Arizona Daily Star reported that 25 stills were captured and an estimated 3000 gallons of moonshine destroyed. T-bone steaks sold for .27¢ a pound. A Stetson hat cost $8. Prizes at the 1925 Rodeo Parade included a 750-lb. block of ice, 100 lbs. of potatoes and a "Big Cactusî" ham.

Photo above: Photo: Louise L. Serpa, X9 Ranch, Vail AZ. Historic Rodeo photos courtesy of Tucson Rodeo, 1991.

Tucson Rodeo Parade & Museum

Author: Paul L Grimes. Published by Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee (January 1, 1991)

Stories, memories, tales since 1925.

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