Let’s Talk Clovis: ‘Clovis Rodeo Memories’

Elaine Bell rides in a float during the 1962 Clovis Rodeo Parade. (Clovis Museum)

By Elaine Bell & Peg Bos, Clovis Museum

Elaine Bell is the granddaughter of Maude Kirkpatrick Bell, who was born in Clovis on April 19, 1895. Her grandfather Frank Bell was born on Aug. 14, 1886 at Big Sandy (Auberry). Maude and Frank were married on June 14, 1919.

Frank and his partner Walter Stevenson would use the lumber from the Fresno Flume and Mill when it was dismantled to build Clovis Lumber Company on the southeast corner of Third and Clovis avenues. Their business was destroyed by fire in 1939 and they rebuilt north of Third and Hughes.

“I remember: U.S. Flags and rodeo banners are going up on the telephone posts down Clovis Avenue and Pollasky. Everyone who has horses are riding them into town to get them use to the streets, cars, people and noise of the city. There would be a parade with high school bands, cowboys shooting rifles in the air and big floats with pretty girls from all over the nearby Valley towns. There would be clowns and stagecoaches and the sheriff’s mounted patrol [unit] and little girls with batons marching in groups and families on horseback. OH! How excited I am!

In those days (50’s and 60’s), our whole extended family would gather in Clovis for a family reunion. [We] parked our cars along the parade route on Second Street between Pollasky and Clovis avenues the night before the parade. It was the halfway point of the parade.

Clovis Lumber Company had a box of eight seats almost at the center of the grandstand so we got to see everything that was going on up close. The grand entry in those days was so big! Anyone on horseback could be part of the grand entry.

I was a city kid that always wanted to be a country kid.

My favorite clown of all, Wilbur Plaugher, came into the arena with big, baggy Levis, a black and white striped shirt and red suspenders. His pants were all stuffed and he could hardly walk!

The announcer would tease Wilbur and pretty soon a baby donkey would come out of his pants, then his border collie dog, a monkey that rode on his dog’s back and a tiny Chihuahua that he said was a “Texas Flea.”  They would do all kinds of tricks.

Wilbur would help keep the bull riders safe. When a rider was bucked off he would distract the bulls by teasing them, hitting them in the butt with a broom and even run and jump over their heads. Wilbur and the bulls were my favorites!

Many years have passed now and I have been blessed many times over. When I as a freshman at Clovis High, I was asked to ride the Clovis Chamber of Commerce float. The float had an antique car in the center and an arch that declared the 50th anniversary of Clovis (incorporated 1912).

Ray Beaver and I took the float all over the Valley parades. We were at the grand opening celebration (1961) of the Lemoore Naval Air Station. What an honor that was!

I was asked to ride the float again in my sophomore year. A black stallion was rearing up in the middle of the float and I stood beside him. I wore a deep purple pair of Western pants, a floral shirt and a beautiful purple felt hat. The outfit was provided by Slim Beaver who owned a saddle and Western wear store on Clovis Avenue. Slim’s son Ray drove the float. We were off to all the parades around the Valley again.

The next year I tried out for Letter Girl and made the team. I proudly marched in front of our Clovis High Band wearing the letter “O” for two years. We marched in Long Beach and the Chinese New Year’s parade in San Francisco where firecrackers were going off at our feet and getting pinched on our bottoms by the men along the parade route (that was a little scary). It was a five mile parade but we had a great time.

I graduated in 1964 from Clovis High School (third of four generations).

Several years out of high school I was married with children of my own. We moved east of Clovis (McCall Avenue) and raised our two children in the country. I did get my own horse, an Appaloosa named Patches who was my pride and joy. Dreams do come true. Clovis was truly a “Way of Life” and the memories are priceless!

To this day (67 years later), I still have an interest in Box No. 3 at the Clovis Rodeo.”

Elaine and her family are part of our rich heritage.