Breakaway

A breakaway roping contestant snags her calf Saturday afternoon at the Florence Junior Parada.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article, written by the late A.W. Gressinger, appeared in the 1966 Centennial Edition of the Florence Reminder.

The Cowboy Cradle began to rock 54 years ago. The slogan “Cowboy Cradle of the Great Southwest” was not applied until five years after the first show. By show we mean the “Florence Junior Parada.” Both the show and the slogan stuck. Right from the start it was a case of “Stay with ’er Cowboy!” The Florence Junior Parada is a junior rodeo, a unique Southwest attraction that has been staged in Florence every year for the past 54 years, with increasing success.

How did the little show start? It started with the big-time show and the big-time show started with the West. In Arizona, when the surrender of Geronimo and the deportation of his band of Apaches in 1886 took place, cattlemen began to take a renewed interest in outlaying range land, which resulted in the Arizona cowboy coming into his own.

For a working field they had the whole wide open spaces. There were no fences then to keep the cattle within certain confines. Here and there, at best, there was only a drift fence. This necessitated far-flung roundups during branding and cattle shipping time, which were participated in by ranchers for miles around.

It was inevitable that such gatherings would conclude in an exhibition of skills, riding and roping contests. It was also inevitable that out of these range land contestants the professional show would be born. And what is of perhaps additional interest is the manner in which the professional show got its name.

A roundup in Spanish was known as a rodeo. Properly pronounced ro-da-o with the accent on the second syllable. It was this Spanish word that was borrowed. Riding and roping contests had been held in and around Florence ever since the beginning, but a professional show calling for paid admissions to see some of the world’s best ropers and riders was not presented until after World War I in 1919.

The Florence show stemmed from an organization which came to be known as “The Pinal Punchers Parada.” It was organized by a few cattlemen who made their headquarters in Florence. During the last years the Pinal Punchers Parada was being sponsored by the Florence Chamber of Commerce.

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By this time the West was beginning to suffer a rash of rodeos. Florence was headquarters for the World’s Championship Rodeo Corporation, showing annually at Madison Square Garden in New York, and the town had always been rodeo conscious.

The Parada grounds continued to be a scene of almost daily activity. Professionals and amateurs were using them for both practice and amusement. Each Sunday boys from town and surrounding cow ranches gathered on the fence rails, occasionally begging to be allowed to ride or rope some of the calves. A number of these boys showed such promise that professionals began to take interest in them.

Soon the little fellows found themselves in possession of the arena while the grown-ups looked on. About this time the Teachers Association was casting about for ways and means for raising money for under-nourished children. Charles A. Whitlow, a professional roper, was appealed to.

A junior rodeo had never been tried. The first audience was purely local, and most of it went with the expectation of being bored. The exhibition, however, was an amazing one. The first junior show took place in 1933. The second year the little show was sponsored by the American Legion Post No. 9. After that it was sponsored by the Florence Chamber of Commerce and was by that organization advertised as “The Florence Junior Parada.”

Boys and girls, ages 5 to 16, come from far and near to enter the contest. There are professional exhibitions, wild cow milking contests, barrel and relay races. Though the show today has many imitators, it is still recognized as the first and best of its kind.

Over the years many celebrities such as Gene Autry and Ken Curtis, Festus of television’s “Gunsmoke,” have contributed time and money to the show. The proceeds always go to youth organizations and youth charities.

Many of today’s champions had their start in the Florence arena. Thus their slogan “Cowboy Cradle of the Great Southwest” has had some meaning. In 1956 the Pinal County Sheriff’s Posse took over the obligation of staging the annual Florence Junior Parada. Since the Posse’s permanent organization in 1954 they have been entering rodeo contests with other sheriff’s posses in the state. The junior show, therefore was in keeping with their activities.

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