With a resounding crash of martial music from two military bands, the muffled sounds of horse’s hooves, the colorful stream of cowboys, cowgirls and Indians, La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, Tucson’s first annual rodeo will open this morning when the parade starts on West Congress Street at 10:30 o’clock.
Contestants and visitors from all parts of the country are filling the city to capacity; and cars are arriving each hour, bringing people who are either taking part or wishing to see the rodeo at Santa Catalina Field. Under the charge of the parade committee, with Cleon Sellers, President of the Tucson Rotary Club as Chairman, the parade will be formed on West Congress Street near the El Paso and Southwestern Depot station.
The first Tucson Rodeo Parade was established to advertise and draw spectators to the rodeo to be held immediately following the parade. It featured two military bands, mounted cowboys, cowgirls, Native Americans, mounted police and the University of Arizona polo team. All cowboys participating in the rodeo were required to participate.
Local businessmen donated cash and merchandise prizes. The prize list included Most Typical Cowboy and Cowgirl, Prettiest Horse, Biggest Hat, Finest Saddle and Bridle, Most Comical Costume, Fattest and Skinniest Horse and Best Decorated Automobile. The first parade did not claim to be non-motorized as today’s event is.
The first rodeo and parade brought out the best in Tucson nightlife. Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Golden Bed” was playing at the Rialto Theater and at the Opera House, Thomas Meigan starred in “Tongues of Flame.”
The rodeo dance at the Santa Rita Hotel the night before was well attended by tourists, cowboys, cowgirls and local society members. Sleeping accommodations were scarce, and pleas went out to hotels and private homes to spare a bedroom. Taxi rides from downtown to the rodeo grounds were set at $.25 for a party of four.
Quite a beginning for what has become one of the world’s longest non-motorized parades.
Through the decades, the Tucson Rodeo Parade has become one of the finest and best-loved traditions in southern Arizona. The parade has become so established that most local school districts close classes for the Thursday and Friday of Rodeo week.
Generations of Tucsonans have ridden or marched in the annual parade, and some families wouldn’t think of missing the yearly festivities.
A consortium of local civic groups such as the Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions and Engineers Clubs organized the first two parades. Beginning in 1927, the American Legion Post #7, with the backing of the Chamber of Commerce, ran the parade through 1932, when the Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee was formed, mostly comprised of local businessmen and community leaders.
Through the years such recognizable names as Roy Drachman, J.C. Kinney, Paul Grimes, Pete Waggoner, Bill West, Bruce Knapp, George Chambers, Bill Breck, Bucky Steele, Bill O’Riley, Frank Roe and Alex Jacome have served on the Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee.
Today, the Parade Committee consists of 35 active members, with three associate members, and numerous advisory members who lend their past expertise to the group. The Committee tends to all aspects of planning for the parade from accepting applications to coordinating with the numerous City of Tucson departments that assist with the parade.
They also operate the Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum, located at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds. The museum houses many displays of western memorabilia and the Committee’s collection of more than 125 wagons, buggies, coaches and other horse-drawn equipment.
Many celebrities have graced the streets of Tucson in the Rodeo Parade through the years.
Old Tucson hosted many Westerns and movie stars such as Gary Cooper, Robert Taylor, William Boyd, Gene Autry, Janet Leigh, Jimmy Stewart, Rex Allen, Michael Landon, Lief Erickson, Cameron Mitchell, Debbie Reynolds and Tony Curtis, who all joined in the parade.
Tucson Rodeo Grand Marshals have included U.S. Ambassador Raul Castro, Governor Rose Mofford, Mayor Lew Murphy, UA basketball coach Lute Olson, actors Ben Johnson and Don Collier, rodeo performers Chuck Henson, Hadley Barrett, Charles Sampson, and Larry Mahan and The Sons of the Pioneers.
The parade took place in downtown Tucson until 1991 when, for safety reasons, the parade was shifted to the streets around the Tucson Rodeo Grounds. Better participant and spectator parking, wider streets, and less congestion created a safer, more spectator-friendly parade route.
The Tucson Rodeo Parade is truly a tradition in Tucson. It has become the largest single spectator event in Tucson, with average attendance reaching upwards of 150,000. Pretty amazing when you think that the population of Tucson in 1925 was roughly one-fifth that number.
Photo: Tucson Rodeo Parade in downtown Tucson, Arizona 1963. Photo by Bertram Zucker.