Tue, May 23|
"Bulls, Broncs, Beauties, and Boots: 90 Years of the Old Fort Days Rodeo"
Boyd Gallery Exhibit opening and program: Tuesday, May 23, 2023 @ 6:00 pm
Time & Location
May 23, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Fort Smith, 320 Rogers Ave, Fort Smith, AR 72901, USA
About the event
Bulls, Broncs, Beauties, and Boots: 90 Years of the Old Fort Days Rodeo
Exhibit opening and program: Tuesday, May 23, 2023 @ 6:00 pm
(Doors open at 5:30)
Fort Smith Museum of History
320 Rogers Avenue
Fort Smith, AR
Free admission—one night only! (5/23/23)
Drinks and appetizers will be served.
*Exhibit runs through July 29, 2023
Kicking off the 90th year of the Old Fort Days Rodeo, the Fort Smith Museum of History will present a re-creation of the popular 2002 Ready to Rodeo exhibit, updated to reflect new additions to the collection. The popular Ready to Rodeo exhibition was created in 2002 featuring artifacts and images that explore the history and people who contributed to the annual Old Fort Days Rodeo.
Charleston native Denny Flynn will speak on the history of the rodeo in Fort Smith as well as his experience as a champion bull rider. Induction into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2010 crowns a lifetime of achievement for Flynn, known as the most talented bull rider to never win a world title. Flynn qualified for the National Finals Rodeo ten times from 1974 through 1982 and set a record for the most bull riding average titles won. In 1979, his 98-point ride on Red Lightning was a record for twelve years and remains the second highest score in Pro Rodeo history. His 1974 92-point score on a bull named Ed Pavik held the record for fifteen years. Meet this rodeo legend and hear his story.
The first organized rodeo in Fort Smith was held in 1934 at what became Andrews Field. It was billed as the “Pawnee Bill Rodeo” and featured the real “Pawnee Bill”, Major Gordon W. Lillie from Pawnee, Oklahoma. “Bill” agreed to appear at the downtown parade and during the grand entry of every performance. The cost of entry to the rodeo was 65¢ and records show it was very well attended.
In 1934, R.K Rodgers became the first rodeo chairman, a role he would serve in for many years. Pawnee Bill made several appearances in those early years and helped grow the rodeo’s popularity. Another hot attraction in those early days was Cowgirl Bronc Riding, an event you won’t see in today’s modern rodeos.
In 1942, Bert Harper and R.K Rodgers led the effort to purchase land known as the OG&E Electric Park on Midland Boulevard in Fort Smith. In later years, this showground would become known as Kay Rodgers Park, named after the visionary chairman who helped start the rodeo.
During World War II, some rodeo committee members questioned whether to continue the rodeo. Others on the committee, as well as area government officials, felt that the show must go on…and go on it did. Even though there were a few setbacks, such as a mighty Arkansas River flood and a World War, the early forward-thinking committee had a grand vision for the Old Fort Days Rodeo.
For many years, the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce sponsored the contest for Rodeo Queen. Then, the winners were chosen for their ability to sell the most Chuck wagon tickets. The first queen, Margaret Carolan, was crowned in 1937. Many local ladies have fond memories of Rodeo Queen and Sweetheart contests. Rodeo royalty have become a legacy in their own right.
Although no longer performing at the Old Fort Days Rodeo, the Dandies hold their own place in OFD Rodeo history. Beginning in 1977, each evening during the Old Fort Days Rodeo, crowds cheered with pride at the appearance of the Dandies, young ladies skilled in horsemanship, leading the legendary Grand Entry. As ambassadors for the Old Fort Days Rodeo, the horsewomen were chosen for their riding skill, character and personality. A Quadrille performed each evening during the rodeo demonstrated the remarkable skill of the Dandies, acquired through rigorous training. Organized as a promotional group, the talented young ladies led the Grand Entry, posted the colors, performed the Quadrille, a square dance on horseback, and traveled throughout the year to appear at rodeos nationwide.
Today, the Old Fort Days Rodeo is one of the oldest in Arkansas and a premier event. From the construction of a first class arena in 1949 (Harper Stadium – named after the late Bert Harper), to the multi-million dollar expansion of the current rodeo and fairgrounds, the Old Fort Days Rodeo has carried on the pride and tradition that its founders envisioned for ninety years.
Cowboys, cowgirls from all over the world compete for one of the largest prize purses in Arkansas. Events include Saddle Bronc Riding, Bull Riding, Bareback Riding, Calf Roping, Barrel Racing and Steer Wrestling, Kid’s Mutton Busting and more! Beginning each year on Memorial Day, the legend of the Old Fort Days Rodeo lives and breathes new life into a cherished national pastime that will continue for many generations to come.