FLORENCE-- Rodeo time in Florence is fast approaching. However, the Parada isn’t Florence’s only claim to rodeo fame.
Pinal County has been cattle-raising and ranching country since settlers came to the area. Rodeo is an outgrowth of cattle ranching, and in 1937, Florence arrived on the national rodeo scene.
A September 1937, the Florence Blade-Tribune reported that a train called the “World’s Championship Rodeo Special” left San Antonio, Texas, transporting the world’s largest rodeo herd to New York City for the Madison Square Gardens Rodeo. On board, as passengers, were Florence residents W.J. (Bill) Clemans, Mrs. Clemans and sons; and Mary Meyers. Bill Clemans was the executive secretary of the newly formed World Championship Rodeo Corporation.
The newspaper reported that Clemans’s brother, M.T. (Twain) Clemans, president of the corporation, was not able to attend. Also on the train form Florence were former bronc rider Harry Knight, the corporation’s assistant manager and Charles A. Whitlow who was saddler for the parade horses.
The Clemans brothers had come to Arizona in 1913. After World War I, the cattle company they formed became the largest in Pinal County with 128,000 acres of grazing lands. They also had landholdings in other parts of the state.
In the mid-1930s, the Clemans Brothers Cattle Company, later the Clemans Land and Cattle Company, furnished stock for World Championship Rodeos, notably ones at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and at Boston Gardens in Boston. These rodeos completed the rodeo schedule for the season which also included rodeos in Phoenix, Dallas and Houston.
Rodeo has a wide-ranging network. Everyone involved seems to know everyone else in cattle-raising and rodeo. Here is how the Clemans brothers became part of this important rodeo corporation. Colonel W.T. Johnson was the producer of the biggest rodeos in the United States and according to the cowboys the smallest purses to be won. Johnson did donate some profits to the New York City Children’s Milk Fund.
Incidentally, the Junior Parada in Florence, Arizona, has its roots in raising funds for that town’s children’s milk fund. The cowboys were not satisfied with the small purses and in 1936, secretly formed the Cowboys’ Turtle Association (because “they move so slow”). This organization later became the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association) we know today.
In the same year the cowboys refused to participate in the rodeo at Boston Gardens. The arena’s manager demanded that Johnson give ticket-buyers their money back, and that the rodeo producer give in to the cowboys’ demands. This was Johnson’s “last rodeo.” He sold his rodeo company “lock, stock, and barrel” to Everett Colburn, Bill Clemans, Twain Clemans, and Harry Knight.
The stock included 150 saddle horses, 150 bucking horses, 50 Brahma bulls, 100 head of bulldogging cattle, 90 calves, 50 wild cows, parade horses, 110 saddles, and various other equipment. Everett Colburn, who had been director and judge for Johnson, moved from Idaho and bought Johnson’s 14,000 acres in Dublin, Texas, called the Lightning C Ranch.
With the support of financial backers such as the Clemanses, Colburn bought the Johnson Rodeo. Later, entertainer, Gene Autry invested in the corporation, and his name appeared in later rodeo programs. The World Championship Rodeo Corporation’s stock was raised on large rodeo ranches in Florence, Oklahoma and Idaho. Headquarters remained in Dublin, Texas.
Just before the special train left for New York City, the corporation put on the Dublin Rodeo. This occurred in September as that is the month that the special train assembled and left Dublin for the rodeo in New York. In a press release, the Dublin Rodeo was touted as the “Best of them all. ... It has the best rodeo stock, the most equipment a new 9,000 seat arena, and the best cowboys in the nation!”
The cowboys wanted to ride the special train so they, along with specialty acts, contracted to do the Texas show. The aforementioned press release went on to say that the cowboys must be good because the animals are the worst. “This is why the cowboys say, ‘It’s the best of them all.’”
The World Championship Rodeo Corporation first produced rodeos in 1937 that had links to Florence. The Pinal County Historical Society Museum has a panoramic photograph of the Grand Entry at their first Madison Square Gardens Rodeo. In the audience was Florence native, teenager Dottie Branaman, later Borree.
The 1937 New York show opened October 6 and continued until October 24. The rodeo then went to Boston for the show which finally closed in November. Then the herd was returned to Texas for winter pasture.
In 1938, Amos Hawkins Sr., grandfather of the late Florence Town Council member Bill Hawkins and father of Amos Jr., traveled to Texas with the rest of the Florence contingent and their stock to board the special train. At the rodeo, Hawkins helped in the chutes but also participated as a bareback rider.
However in New York, Pete Grubb from Florence won Best All-Round in Bareback Riding that year. Amos Hawkins, Jr. says that the cowboys, stock, and officials were in New York City for a month. The 1939 winners at the Madison Square Gardens Rodeo are pictured in the 1940 program along with some of the officials. Arizonans shown are Paul Carney of Chandler who won first in bronc riding, Everett Bowman of Hillside who came in second in calf roping, as well as Harry Knight, assistant manager, and M. T. (Twain) Clemans, president of the World Championship Rodeo Corporation.
The 1940 program listed the events in the rodeo, their purses, and the standards for each event. Events and their first place purses were: Bareback Bronk (as it was spelled in those days) Riding $2273; Calf Roping $6965; Saddle Bronk Riding $7180; Wild Steer Wrestling $6965; Wild Steer Riding $3835; and Wild Horse Race $3835. A first place won “World Championship Title and Trophy, a symbolic saddle of ornately tooled leather as presented by the Madison Square Garden Corporation.”
The program gave as “Conditions for Prize Money Contests for the World Championship” for the Cowboys Wild Horse Race Event No. 15 the following: Purse: $3835. Entrance fee $15 each team added 25 day moneys (each performance) First, $35; second, $25; third, $15. No final moneys. For best bucking horse, each performance $25.
Rules: Three men constitute a team. Nine teams entered, nine horses in as many separate chutes, each horse equipped with leather halter and 12-foot rope rein. Chute gates open at signal whistle. Two team members must catch and hold each horse behind starting line, while third team member saddles and mounts, to ride across finish line at opposite end of arena.
The program lists Everett E. Colburn, Dublin, Texas, as managing director under the auspices of the Madison Square Garden Corporation. Familiar rodeo names who were with the corporation were renowned woman rodeo star, Tad Lucas, and former rodeo cowboy from Casa Grande, Earl Thode.
A World Championship Rodeo Corporation advertisement, possibly from a local yearbook, congratulates “Seniors.” A photograph of a bronc rider fills most of the page. Listed under the heading “Gene Autry and Associates” are “Gene Autry, W. J. Clemans, E. Ray Cowden, M. T. Clemans, Walter R. Bimson, and Everett Colburn, producers of the Madison Square Gardens Rodeo, New York City, New York.”
As time went on, the rodeo evolved. Cowgirl roles changed to be more performance than competition-oriented. Cowgirls (that’s what they were called) who participated in these rodeos during the early days competed in events much as the men did. However, later they usually performed as trick riders, and Tad Lucas was one of these.
Competitive events lost the center stage while professional actors and singers from the movies were more prominent. Entertainment eventually became more important than competition.
Florence was a big part of the rodeo scene during the 1930s and 1940s. The Clemanses were important in rodeo nationwide and here in Florence. Twain Clemans, an important part of the town’s Junior Parada, was rodeo announcer for the Parada for 30 years. With important contributions to championship rodeo as far east as Boston and to the Junior Parada, Florence’s roots in rodeo run deep and strong. The town can legitimately claim to be the “Cowboy Cradle of the Great Southwest.”