The California Rodeo Salinas is thankful for all of all the dedicated rodeo directors, committee members, sponsors, contestants and rodeo fans who have worked and supported our great rodeo over the past 100 years. We look forward to new traditions as we move into the next Hundred Years of Rodeo in Salinas.
In 1911 the rodeo, known as the Wild West Show, was held at the Sherwood Race Track grounds. It was a week long event, thus the name, "Big Week". In 1912, playing host to 4,000 people, the rodeo featured mostly local cowboys and cowgirls riding bucking horses. It included visiting cowboys like Jesse Stahl, who was arguably the most famous African American cowboy of all time. Two years later the event became known as the California Rodeo. During this era the El Colmado del Rodeo night parade began.
Then came the roaring 20s and the California Rodeo found a permanent home at Sherwood Park. In 1924 a new grandstand of 8,000 seats, a ½ mile race track, barns and bucking chutes were constructed. A year later the California Rodeo was incorporated. The first Rodeo Queen was Bernice Donahue. At the end of this era the professional cowboys outnumbered the local cowboys. Attendance soared to record highs despite Black Thursday and the beginning of the depression.
With the 1930’s the California Rodeo hosted Hollywood stars with visits from Will Rogers and Gene Autry, who was shooting scenes for one of his movies. Professional cowboys started the Cowboy’s Turtle Association to improve the prize money and rodeo standards. Brahma bulls were used for the first time in the bull riding event. The Big Hat Bar-B-Q and the “Kiddie Kapers” Parade began. When the era ended, the daily horse parade had nearly 1,000 horses.
The 1940’s was marked by the attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II. Local cowgirl Lola Gali of San Benito County carried the American flag in the horse parade and Edith Happy made her first appearance as a trick rider, returning each year until 1962. In 1947, new events like wild cow milking, wild horse races, and trick riders were introduced on the track. The Cowboy Turtle Association changed its’ name to the RCA- Rodeo Cowboys Association.
As we hit the fabulous 50’s, the American flag changed to 50 stars signifying the addition of Alaska and Hawaii into statehood. The first National Finals Rodeo was held in Dallas, TX. Jim Rodriquez, Jr., 18 years old at the time, and Gene Rambo were the first local cowboys to win the Team Roping World Championship at the National Finals Rodeo. Celebrity guests to the Rodeo included Richard Boone, “Have Gun Will Travel”, and Clint Eastwood appeared as Rowdy Yates from the T.V. show “Rawhide”. Chuck Wagon Races provided more than their share of excitement on the track from 1953-1956.
The 60’s brought the debut of Cowgirl Barrel Racing and the first Pageant of Flags. Other celebrities visited our Rodeo with Clint Eastwood. Amanda Blake, who played “Miss Kitty” on the show, “Gun Smoke”, also came to the Rodeo. Miss Kitty donated a replica of the famous Long Branch Saloon from “Gun Smoke” to the Rodeo. Local cowboys, John Rodriquez won the All Around Cowboy Title in 1967 and his brother Jim Rodriquez Jr. won it in 1968.
The 1970’s evolved with the addition of the popular Wrangler Bull Fights. Other events that were initiated were the individual Calf Dressing and the Mare and Foal Race. An early tradition of driving steers down Main Street was revived during the daily parade. The well known clown, Wilbur Plaugher retired after many great years as the Rodeo’s clown. The Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) took over from the RCA in promoting the sport of Pro Rodeo.
In the early 1980’s the rodeo complex took on a new look with the addition of the Historical Museum, replacement of the bucking chutes and the construction of the Albert Hansen Pavilion. Other changes were the team penning moving to the track and the beginning of the Special Buckaroo Rodeo, also known as the Exceptional Rodeo. The National Finals Rodeo moved to its current home in Las Vegas. The last Colmo del Rodeo Parade was held in 1988.
As we approached the millennium, the 1990’s brought about a complete makeover for the California Rodeo. New grandstands were built, more than doubling the seating capacity. A new Long Branch Saloon on the south end of the arena was added. The Chuck Wagon races were brought back. The Professional Bull Riding (PBR) event was held for the first time on the Wednesday before the Rodeo. The PRCA announced a rule change eliminating locals from participating in Rodeo events if they didn’t hold a PRCA card.
Starting the new millennium in the 2000’s, the popularity of Professional Rodeo continues to grow and so did attendance. The California Rodeo was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. The replay screen was added to bring the action closer to the crowd and mixing technology with tradition. The popular Bull Crossing tent was born offering live music, a full bar, and a mechanical bull for after rodeo entertainment.