July 1, 2018

Will Rogers Visits the 1933 Frontier Days

The Courier's editor needed to pinch himself. ""Will Rogers of Claremore, OK--yes, indeed, THE Will Rogers, gum-chewing humorist whose quips go straight to the mark and have made many a personage in high places flinch--well, he's in town."

"Rogers, who flew to Phoenix (on the 3rd) and drove up yesterday morning (the 4th), spent the day at the grounds, squatting on his heels at the end of the arena for the most part and surrounded almost all the time by a group of contestants,...gals of the range, and young cow waddies: a big gang of admiring small boys."

It was hoped that Rogers might present the rodeo awards that night, or ride in the closing parade, but he had something else in mind for his surprise visit "to see the final events at the fairgrounds of Frontier Days."

Ad for the 1933 Frontier Days
"This morning the humorist was out at the fairgrounds rubbing elbows with the punchers and getting a bit of real honest arena dirt on his shoes and clothes and the smell of the range in his lungs...while watching the morning events," the paper said.

"This afternoon (he) could be singled out with a little eye squinting among the cowhands on a bleacher seat opposite the stands."

The icon's presence made some of the cowpunchers jittery. "Despite the fact that the contestants were just a bit excited...by the knowledge they were performing before Will Rogers...some of the boys put up pretty good shows," the paper reported.

The charming story of William Howard Taft's visit to Prescott, in October, 1909.

Eventually Rogers was coaxed to come to the judges' stand to say a few words over the loudspeakers. "Just met the Governor," the comic quipped, "and he's down back one of the corrals now handlin' a maternity case."

"I've been looking at the best ropin' anywhere. You might see better ridin' elsewhere but no better ropin'," Rogers announced to the enthusiastic crowd. "This is one of the best shows anybody can see anywhere."

In fact Will enjoyed the "ropin'" so much that he was willing to pay a tidy sum to see more. "Rogers offered $100 in cash (that's equivalent to $1900 today) for the three best times for 15 ropers in a special event late (in the) afternoon."

"Not to show that I have $100," Rogers explained, "but just because I want to see them rope and tie."

Twenty cowboys showed up to participate in the competition. It was treated and reported in the paper as an added special event to the rodeo and was quickly dubbed the Rogers' Award.

Unfortunately a number of the better ropers experienced "no ties" showing that they "suffered just a bit of stage fright with Will Rogers looking on." Still, the winner, Richard Merchant of Kirkland put on a great show and won the special event with a time of 14 and 7/16ths seconds--"the fastest time made on the Frontier arena this year," the paper noted. Merchant took home half of the $100 purse.

The true story of William F "Buffalo Bill" Cody's visit to Prescott, AZ late in 1911. Includes his visit to the Arizona Pioneers' Home and his investment in area mining.

Folks pleaded for Will to come help present the awards and join in the closing parade, but he "ducked out."

"The supposition is that he's enough in the spotlight (already) and is taking the opportunity to just be 'plain folks' while in Prescott."

Tourist Tip:
Enjoy the rodeo? There's none better (or older) than Prescott Frontier Days! It starts just prior to, and concludes on the 4th of July each year.

CLICK HERE For the latest Frontier Days information!

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Prescott Evening Courier, 7/4/1933; Pg. 1, Col. 2.
Prescott Evening Courier, 7/5/1933; Pg. 1, Col. 5. Cont'd Pg. 5, Col. 6.
Prescott Evening Courier, 7/4/1933; Pg. 1, Cols. 7-8.
IBID; Pg. 3, Cols. 2-3.

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