March 17, 2019

Tom Mix Helps Start the Northern Arizona Fair

In 1913, the Arizona State Legislature allowed for counties to use a certain amount of property tax dollars “for the support and furtherance of county fairs and exhibitions.” For the northern counties, it was felt that more money could be raised and result in a better fair if they could pool their resources and stage the event together. “This was agreed upon and the Northern Arizona Fair Association came into being (with) bylaws formally adopted on August 7.”

However, the prime mover in helping to bring the fair together was western silent movie star Tom Mix. Prescott was a second hometown for Mix who produced scores of films around the Granite Dells area. He was named “Program Chairman and through his efforts raised $6000 (over $150,000 today,) to put on the fair. He planned and staged a Wild West show using local cowboys” to help raise the money.

The effort turned out to be more popular and successful than the planners could have dreamed.

Five counties: Apache; Coconino; Mohave; Navajo; and Yavapai agreed to hold the fair in Prescott. It was decided to hold it the last days of October so that exhibits could be packed up and sent in time for the Arizona State Fair in Phoenix.

In addition to the promotional presence of Tom Mix, the Santa Fe Railroad displayed posters all over the state advertising the event with the special discounted fare of 15 cents round trip. Boosters of the event wore campaign-style badges that read “Come to Prescott and the Northern Arizona Fair October 27-28-29”

The true story of the first chautauqua ever held in Prescott, AZ in June, 1912. Also included is a brief description of the chautauqua movement.

All the promotional efforts proved extremely successful. “Prescott is largely in the hands of its neighbors,” the paper confessed. “Visitors reaching a total well into the four figures swept down upon the city during Sunday and Monday and from all indications the avalanche will continue until well beyond the noon hour tomorrow, the closing day of the first Northern Arizona Fair. They came, they saw, and have been conquered by Prescott’s pleasing hosts.”

Every hotel in the city was completely full. Many homeowners offered rooms for rent through a matching service by the Chamber of Commerce. Even Castle Hot Springs opened early to accommodate those visiting from out of town.

“Every train brought in huge loads of human freight. They came from everywhere,” the paper said. “Many of the hotel registers recorded (guests) from Douglas, Bisbee, Phoenix, Tucson, and El Paso. Apparently there seemed no cessation of the influx.”

Prescott Mayor Timmerhoff declared each of the three fair days to be half-holidays with businesses closing from 1 pm to sunset.

“Prescott streets never offered a scene of greater activity,” the paper exclaimed. “All of Monday morning the crowds kept surging back-and-forth, taking in the sights and patiently awaiting the auto parade and official opening of the fair in the afternoon. A feeling of being ‘at home’ was inspired by the courteous treatment accorded upon all sides.” 

Auto parties from all over the state arrived and soon “there was a ceaseless line of machines speeding through the thoroughfares.” Like the hotels, every garage was full to capacity and many of the cars arriving late were forced “to seek improvised quarters.”

A bus from St. Michael's brought 15 residents of the Arizona Pioneers’ Home to the fair. “Most of these spectators who immigrated to this section of the country over 25 years ago had a splendid opportunity to note the wonderful Growth of Arizona,” the paper reported. “The agricultural products, the remarkable horticultural exhibits, and mineral specimens of the most wonderful kind represented the pinnacle of attainment reached at the present day as compared to practically a memory of the desert covering the territory so many years ago.”

The story of the first successful attempt at making the Granite Dells, near Prescott, AZ, a recreational attraction.

Just as the fair was officially opened with Gov. Hunt on hand, an “aeroplane” flew over and circled the grounds twice before making a successful landing near the baseball diamond. Once, the plane buzzed close enough to the grandstand for them to hear the engine chugging. “Probably 75% of the people in the grandstand had never before seen in aeroplane in action,” the paper pointed out. “Consequently the exclamations of surprise were not only numerous but prolonged.”

There was hope for a Major League exhibition baseball game between the NY Giants and the Chicago White Sox, but scheduling prohibited this. Instead, a tournament of four northern Arizona towns was held in which Prescott won.

Tom Mix did not disappoint and put on a performance that “simply toyed with wild steers, made wild broncos practically eat out of his hand and performed almost every other impossible deed conceivable in horsemanship.” With his gasp-producing skill of mounting a fresh horse on the fly without touching the ground, Mix won all the relay race events.

Another undertaking that occurred at the fair was the circulation of petitions for a new (and present) Yavapai County Courthouse. Hundreds of people registered their approval for a new building.

Perhaps the most popular and unique event at the fair was the Better Baby Show. Local doctors judged the the youngsters based on an objective scoring system produced by the America Medical Association. Four classes were judged by age ranging from newborn to 24 months.

According to the book “Yavapai County Fairgrounds 72 Year History, 1913-1984” by Danny Freeman:  
   “The babies were shown in ‘rest rooms’ prepared by Lester Ruffner. On this occasion, as well as throughout the entire fair, they proved a very great convenience. All of the ladies commented that the rest room idea of Lester’s was a good one. (Rest room had a different meaning than it does today.)”
   “They were judged on physical condition, confirmation and mental development.”
   “The Better Baby Show continued to be a popular event every year from 1913 right on through 1932. No record of how many entries there were in 1913, but there were 75 in 1914 and 99 in 1928."
Unfortunately, during the various horse riding events, two men were injured—one seriously. One jockey fainted and slipped off his mount during a race and was dragged several feet, while a soldier in a tug-of-war on horseback event fell off his horse and was stepped upon several times. “When picked up, the imprints of the horse's hooves were found flat against his mouth, his ear, and his side. Unconscious, he was rushed to the Mercy Hospital where he was reported as resting easily,” the paper reported.

In the end, it was agreed that the first Northern Arizona Fair was an exceptional triumph. “It is a certainty that the fair boomers will organize as a permanent body and start plans for a second annual fair,” the paper declared. “‘Bigger and Better Than Ever’ has already been adopted as the slogan for next year's preparations.”

After changing the name to the Northern Arizona State Fair years later, the popular event continued until the Great Depression brought it to an end after 1932.

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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“Yavapai County Fairgrounds 72 Year History, 1913-1984” by Danny Freeman. © 1984, Yavapai County Fair Association; Classic Press, Prescott, AZ.

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