Steer riding

A steer rider hangs on at the 2017 Florence Junior Parada.

Disappointment prevailed at the first “Pinal Punchers’ Parada” in November of 1919, as bad weather rolled in causing the postponement of Friday’s events to Saturday and Saturday’s contests to Sunday. A rainstorm on Thursday soaked the grounds and a snowstorm accompanied by cold weather (undoubtedly a major surprise) was blamed for slow times in the contests and low attendance.

Inclement weather would be a recurring theme throughout the history of the event though it appears that most years saw decent weather. Funds collected at this initial Parada were significantly below projections, mostly due to the bad weather. In order to make up for this shortfall, officials held a miniature Parada on the grounds behind the high school on December 7th. Events included a bucking contest, goat roping, horse racing, a bed race, reined horse contest, flag picking, and trick riding and roping. Adults were charged 50 cents and the cost for children was 25 cents.

Of interest to Junior Parada fans is the name of one of the contestants in the calf tying competition. He was none other than Charlie Whitlow who, in later years, would play an important role in the Parada we know today. Undoubtedly, his experiences with the Pinal Punchers’ Parada would help him in organizing later Junior Paradas.

By 1920, it became obvious that the Pinal County Cattle Growers Association was going to do its best to make the Parada an annual event. An article in the November 20, 1920, issue of the Arizona Blade-Tribune stated that “... it is the ambition of this organization to make these Paradas an annual feature henceforth.” A promise of $2,000 in prize money was offered to contestants.

A new location for the Parada had been found and the event was moved from the high school to the grounds of the Florence Country Club, 1½ miles east of town off the Florence-Kelvin Highway. The lure of three nights of music and dancing with “lots of jazz to keep the spirits of the merrymakers in proper tune” heralded the upcoming rodeo.

The 1920 event appears to have been more successful than the first with officials claiming about 1,000 paid admissions. The Parada, in one form or another, was now here to stay.

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Non-cowboy events

Over the years, a number of non-cowboy demonstrations and events were included in the Punchers’ Parada festivities in order to add variety and, undoubtedly, attract more visitors. In 1921, the Wilsons (Ellie and Jimmie) appeared to demonstrate the art of calf catching from a red Indian motorcycle.

The year, 1921, also saw the inclusion of a baseball game between Florence and “a good team from the Salt River Valley.” Still other years were witness to carnivals as in 1923 when the Snapp Brothers came to town with their “Big Exposition Show” which included a ferris wheel, ponies, motorcycle races, “auto races in the big bowl,” and two brass bands. In 1925, a carnival (there was no mention of the company’s name) was set up “down on the street.”

With the airplane being a relatively new invention, it was a novel sight at our early Paradas. The first mention of an airplane at the Parada occurs in a 1922 article in the Arizona Blade-Tribune. It stated that Mr. C.W. Mayse was scheduled to perform exhibition stunts over the Parada grounds and that “Mr. Mayse is an artist in doing aerial stunts, such as tailspinning, and looping the loop” and that “these stunts will be seen in Florence for the first time.” Mayse also offered any interested parties rides in his airplane at $7.50 for two passengers.

Again, in 1925, an “air circus” was included to amaze the Parada attendees. The first Ford Tri-motor airplane to visit the Florence event came in 1928 when the Scenic Airways Corporation sent one of its planes to the Parada loaded with visitors. By 1929, even more visitors were arriving by air. The Standard Airlines Company offered to their Phoenix-bound passengers from the west a special deal. Any passenger who wanted to attend the Parada would be flown to Florence from Phoenix — free of charge!

Dances were always a part of Parada and bands were brought in from such locations as Phoenix, Salt Lake City (the Harmony Four), California (the Rainbow Seven), and Tucson (Wildcat Harmony Vendor). As many as three nightly dances were often held at various locations around town including the Isis Theater, the Michea-Arballo Warehouse on the corner of 11th and Willow streets, and the Florence Commercial Building (now the Florence Market).

In 1925, a radio station broadcast live from the dances. This is also the year that the Rainbow Seven appeared. The Rainbow Seven had a professional reputation as their music had been given air time by various radio stations. They were referred to, in an ad that appeared in the November 21, 1925, issue of the Arizona Blade-Tribune, as “America’s greatest symphonic syncopators.”

People love to be entertained so it is not surprising that humor became a big part of the early Paradas. Curley Morrison and Tex Brook would clown for the spectators between events and Pinky Gist made at least three appearances with his trained mules and, in the second appearance, brought with him his trained wild hog.

Champions compete

By 1923, officials were already welcoming visitors from around the United States and specifically cited California and Massachusetts as examples. Not only was the Parada attracting national attention from attendees but from cowboys as well with letters of inquiry arriving from New Mexico, Texas, and Northern Arizona.

State Fair champions often took part including Arthur Beloat who had set a record in calf tying. World champions entered in the 1926 event included Mike Stewart, Hugo Strickland, Bob Crosby, Norman Cowan, Jack Kercher, and Paddy Ryan. In 1929, Everett Bowman, who had won the World Series championship for all-around cowboy, was expected to participate.

Weather often postponed events, but in 1923 it was something else entirely. This year the cattle stampeded off into the desert, delaying the events until the four-legged fugitives could be rounded up from the desert east of town. The original Pinal Punchers’ Parada ran for 12 years (up until 1930) — well, sort of.

Actually, no Parada was held in 1924. “Business conditions” and difficulty in acquiring “properly conditioned cattle” were specifically mentioned in the October 31, 1925 issue of the Arizona Blade-Tribune as the reasons for the absence of a Parada the previous year. Officials continued to number the rodeos as if nothing had happened and declared the 1925 event the “seventh annual effort” though it was actually the sixth.

The most serious accident happened in 1926 when a horse named “Bolshevik” somersaulted over rider Orville Fisher of Haines, Oregon, breaking Fisher’s cheekbones and jaw. The parents of the 24-year-old were notified of the accident by telegram about two hours after it occurred. The Fishers drove from Oregon to Florence to retrieve their son. Concerned Florence residents kept the Fishers appraised of their son’s condition throughout their trip via telegraphs. Orville was expected to recover from his injuries.

Enduring tradition

A staple of our present Junior Parada is “Dress-up Week” where anyone caught without cowboy or cowgirl attire is “jailed” and “fined.” This tradition also dates back to the Punchers’ Parada and was first initiated in 1926. An article entitled “Days of Old West to be Reincarnated” in the November 20, 1926, issue of the Arizona Blade-Tribune made a point to let the public know that both genders were expected to participate.

“This pre-Parada dress-up week is not limited to the masculine element of the population. Florence ladies have always been noted for their spirit in supporting the Parada and from all indications they will be well in evidence in the coming dress-up week.” No one was immune from the law as Mayor B.F. Thum and Sheriff Walter E. Laveen discovered in 1926 when they “fell victims to violations of the law.” For their lack of proper attire, they were “severely reprimanded for the example they had set” and “were compelled to donate liberally to the Fine Fund.”

According to headlines in the Arizona Blade-Tribune, the 1930 Pinal Punchers’ Parada was to be something special: “Most Successful Parada In All History Anticipated.” This year saw Charlie Whitlow as the arena announcer, and the appearance of the Texaco loudspeaker truck that would travel around the county, as well as the state, promoting the rodeo.

The 1929 Parada closed with a cash balance of $600 and local businesses were asked to pledge to make up any expenditures that exceeded this amount. Prize money totaling $2,500 was offered and numerous requests for information were pouring in. Apparently, more than requests poured in as heavy rains on Thanksgiving night and Friday morning postponed the competitions.

End of an era

The rains must have had a very serious impact on the 1930 Parada as this was a topic of concern discussed at a Parada Planning Committee meeting held the next year on October 20th. Though no figures were given in the newspaper articles, the Parada apparently lost a significant amount of money as no further Pinal Punchers’ Paradas were planned for Florence.

The United States had also recently plunged into the Depression, which too certainly contributed to the cancellation of the Parada. The era of the Pinal Punchers’ Parada, that had begun after the First World War and lasted into the Depression had finally come to an end. Over the years, thousands of cowboys and spectators had journeyed to Florence to take part in the uniquely western atmosphere and hospitality of a small town and took home with them memories that would last a lifetime.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

(1) comment

Dean Tullis

Good job, Craig, for researching & writing the article.

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