Tradition Runs Deep

How the Dream Began: 77 years of Tradition

World War II was at its height… people were working hard and around the clock. Entertainment and relief from the unrelenting headlines were needed. Why not have a rodeo? Why not have it on the Fourth of July? Springdale had always been a patriotic town and the city park was always gaily decorated. With the town celebrating with elaborate picnics and parades, races, fiddler contests and lot of fun. With the war almost over, there was even more cause to celebrate and a rodeo was just that.

The Rodeo of the Ozarks had its beginning as an idea in 1945 by two Oklahoman construction workers who moonlighted as rodeo promoters - The idea was that Springdale needed an event in the summertime. Paul Bond and T.W. “Bill” Kelley took this idea to their boss Walter Watkins of Welch’s Grape Juice Company. This idea made its way to Thurman “Shorty” Parsons and Dempsey Letsch, who owned the Farmer’s Livestock Sales Barn on east Emma Avenue.

They needed the support of community sponsors. The Clarence E. Beely Post of the American Legion and the Chamber of Commerce stepped forward and rented the area behind the sale barn for $50. With the leadership of Parsons and Letsch, the Rodeo of the Ozarks was now a reality with the dates set for July 1st, 3rd and 4th

Members of the Springdale Riding Club caravanned across Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma promoting the 1945 Rodeo. P.W. “Doc” Boone and his Skunk Hollow Hillbilly Band played their bluegrass music and performed a comedy skit during each stop along the trail.

When the Spring of 1946 rolled around, the town was ready to host another rodeo. Improvements were a necessity for the upcoming rodeo which had now been named “Rodeo of the Ozarks.” They built new permanent bleachers which were much sturdier and lights were installed for nighttime performances. The dates were set for July 2nd, 3rd and 4th. The Legion constructed box seats and the Chamber of Commerce provided financial support for advertising and prizes, even if they were afraid to take that risk financially.

Now, back to Shorty Parsons, again. He agreed to be producer and promoter and take the gain or loss. Everyone went to work. Shorty borrowed $29,000 to finance a permanent grandstand for 5,500 people and it was ready for the rodeo. Don Hoyt, the Chamber Secretary, invited Governor Ben Laney. There was $42,500 raised by subscription for prizes for the parade. Prize money for the rodeo was set at $2,000. Bryan Work and Bob Sharp oversaw the ticket sales. They did such a good job that their sales were not exceeded until 1962 – 16 years later! There were 8,000 people at the parade containing over 600 horses. Performances were sold out! It made money!

A year later, Bob Sharp was President of the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber wanted to see a permanent rodeo organization. Bob contacted Shorty who said that he would sell the grounds and the arena to the city if they came up with a plan. Sharp appointed 16 men to study the problem. This group selected a four-man committee of Bob Sharp, Chairman, Luther Johnson, Howard Ewalt and Fay Stafford. The result – the Springdale Benevolent Amusement Association organized in February 1947.

To get it going they sold “stock” to companies and individuals for $25 per share. The charter members elected Harvey Jones as President the first year. He contributed time and money. The 1947 show was again a huge success.

In 1948, Ed Maestri was manager of the Chamber of Commerce. He recruited new people and created renewed interest. John Tyson was elected President. Again the Rodeo of the Ozarks was tops. It looked like a permanent affair.

By 1950, they came back to the father of the show, who had been working on it every year, and asked him to be President. Shorty agreed. He served as President of the Rodeo of the Ozarks until his death in 1988. The Association borrowed $32,000 to complete seats around the arena. The prize money was increased and the show continued to grow.

Now, 77 years later, on the same site the Rodeo of the Ozarks will be presented again. There are differences, though. From small wooden bleachers and hand rigged bucking chutes made out of oak timber cut just days before, to steel holding pens and specially designed chutes, steel under-framed bleachers seating of nearly 9,000 and parking for hundreds of cars.

Other things are the same. There is still the feel of patriotism for country and people; of a native in-born pride in accomplishment of the city and area.

  • Wagon Train
  • John Shaddox Wagon Train For almost 40 years, participants have been making the 100 mile Trek by wagon train just to continue tradition and attend the rodeo!