Let’s Talk Clovis: It’s time to Rodeo

1950 Clovis Rodeo. (Photo by Lee Sassano)

By Peg Bos, Clovis Museum

We begin to experience an anticipation of something historical and special happening in Clovis as the last week end of April approaches. This year is extra special since the Clovis Rodeo Association will celebrate 103 years of preserving the unique American cowboy way of life that is a precious part of our “Clovis Way of Life.”

Our rich heritage began in the 1860s with early cattle and sheep barons who settled in the foothill area of Big Dry Creek (now Academy, 12 miles north of Clovis on Tollhouse Road). Their code of ethics included loyalty to family, church and country. Cowboys were and remain skilled guardians of their stock, family and community.

We are sharing information that was published in the Clovis Festival and Horse Show official souvenir program on April 27-28, 1940. Their greetings: “Clovis, ‘The Friendly City,’ bids you welcome to its annual Festival and Horse Show.”

The program on Saturday the 27: ¼ mile Boy’s race, 5 buckers; ¾ mile free for all, 5 buckers; 3/8 mile maiden race; demonstration of thoroughbred jumpers owned by Victor McLaglen; ½ mile non winners 1940: and a single steer stop with a Montgomery-Ward saddle awarded for first prize.

Carl S. Merriman was Rodeo President, Travis Pendergrass was named Secretary and Dr. Clayton Pendergrass the Treasurer. Directors were Knox Blasingame, Henry Ambrosia, Harry Owens and Dr. J.R. Hoop.

On Saturday evening a Grand Ball dance was held at the Clovis High School Gym and an Old Timer dance at John Good’s Hall (northwest corner of 5th & Clovis Avenue).

Mayor Wayne Rall gave the official Rodeo greeting in 1951. The officers were Joe T. Moore, President, Perry Root, Vice President, Lew Fortune, Treasurer and former Clovis Police Chief Henry Rose the Secretary. A special guest of the event was Reno Browne, a motion picture and radio star of Hollywood.

Local cowboys that were listed in the bell calf roping: Jack Estill, Emmett Rigsbee, Jay Robinson, Ralph Underwood, Knox Blasingame, and John Jones.

Local team roping entrants: Mark Mouliot and Waymond Wagoner; Jim Ingmire and Harvey Moore; Bobby Qualls and Delbert Smith; Buster Smith and Bill Rohde; Gordon Baird and Lee Green; Jack Estill and Jay Robinson. Their descendants remain active in the Rodeo Association and our community.

The California Rangerettes, an all-girl precision riding group, was led by Captain and 1950 Rodeo Queen Sally Sample. The group was composed of girls from the ages of 9-18. The girls trained and owned their own horses that performed without signals.

A new roping arena was built to encourage young men to learn the art of steer roping. The Clovis Roping Club, which was formed five years earlier, operated the arena. Their membership numbered 80 at this time. Roping was held Sunday and Wednesday evenings each week and admission was free.

The 1953 program listed cowboy language that was specific to their sport: critter, a man, woman or beast with a nasty disposition; dog-fall, throwing a steer down so that he is flat on his side with all four feet out; pulling leather, holding onto the saddle while riding a critter; sun-fisher, a bucker that twists his body in the air so that the sunlight hits his belly; and maverick, an unbranded stray. A tenderfoot is one who does not understand “cowboy” talk.

We credit the 1914 Clovis Women’s Club for starting the spring festival and rodeo activities that included foot and bicycle races, parade, barbecue, street dance and a makeshift corral where cowboys could compete. Water fights, a “fat” man’s race, climbing a greased pole and chasing greased pigs were part of the community games.