History of the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo
Historic Payson, Arizona Rodeo
The first Payson Rodeo took place on the third weekend of August in 1884 and was organized by “Arizona Charlie” Meadows and John Collins Chilson, both of whom moved to Rim Country from California. The rodeo took place at the intersection of Highway 87 and Old Main, which is now the site of the Sawmill Crossing. The Rodeo was a contest among neighbors with ranchers and cowboys gathering to see how their roping and riding abilities stacked up along with the speed of their horses stacked up.
Bronc riding, roping events, horse racing, and silver-dollar pitching comprised the first rodeo. Events like greased pig contests, cock-fights, sack- races, and foot races became part of the early rodeos. A “chicken pulling” contest was an unusual early event. A chicken was buried in the street with only it neck and head sticking out, The cowboy would ride his horse at a full gallop, lean down and pull the chicken from the dirt, and then return to receive a race time.
Early Bronc Rider
Early Bronc Riding
There were no bronc riding chutes available in the early days of Payson rodeo. The broncs were brought to the middle of the street and eared down by a couple of cowboys. Someone cinched a rig onto the horse’s back and the bronc rider (twister) climbed on. Bronc riding was not a timed event when rodeo first started in Payson. The twister rode the horse until the horse's head came up or the rider was thrown. Bronc riders generally brought their own broncs to the early Payson rodeos. Twister would then ride their own broncs as well as the other competitors broncs to keep things fair.
Early Bull Rider
During the Payson street rodeos of the early 1920s bronc riders began testing their skills bronc riding skills on the local Durham cattle. Payson rodeo did not have Brahma stock until 1950 when Rodeo stock contractors began bringing them to Payson. Cowboys used anything that could buck including cows, bareback horses, wild steers, bulls, and bareback horses. Some early cowboys attempted to put their saddles on bulls but this type of bronc riding was short lived because the saddles would turn on the loose-skinned bulls.
Horse Racing and the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo
Even before the beginning of the Payson rodeo, local cowboys raced their horses to see who had the fastest. When the rodeo celebrations began in 1884, horse racing became a big part of the early rodeos. The earliest rodeos had cow races but soon cowboys brought Thoroughbreds and horse races became premier events at the rodeo celebration.
Historic Main Street
The Rodeo Moves to Main Street
The first rodeo and early rodeos after that took place in the Midtown Meadow. Eventually the annual event was moved down to Main Street. The center of town became a rodeo grounds. Temporary corals and chutes were erected and the streets were lined with wagons and spectators.