Bakersfield Rodeo

“A Bakersfield Home Coming Week!” the front page of The Bakersfield Californian announced on the morning of Oct. 2, 1913.

The brainchild of Harry W. Thomas and coordinated by Charles A. Barlow and the Merchants Association, thousands of invitations were sent out to all past and current residents of Bakersfield. The week would consist of events that were sure to please all those who attended. The organizers had no doubt that “no man or woman or child ever resided in Bakersfield or Kern County long who have not a desire to return to visit old scenes and renew old acquaintances among the hest people on earth.”

For the next decade, homecoming week would be a yearly event that was much anticipated.

The first homecoming week occurred during the second to the last week of April 1914. Some of the planned festivities included a parade, a carnival and horse races, but the most anticipated event was the Bakersfield Rodeo. The locals weren’t the only ones excited about the rodeo; it also attracted people from all of the “big show centers of the West.” Rodeo boss T.J. Griffin took the reins in organizing the rodeo and announced that contestants from near and far were ready to join the various events, including three contestants from Cheyenne, Montana.

Additionally, Griffin announced that he planned to film the events in Bakersfield to use in an exhibit to be advertised the world over for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Even better, the city was to receive a 30 percent royalty on the film’s gross receipts.

To kick off the event, a grand Cowboys’ Ball was held at the Armory Hall on the evening of April 23, 1914. The featured guest of honor was “Skeeter Bill” Robbins, the 6-foot-6-inch cowboy poet and world-renowned bronco “twisters,” bull riders, bulldogger and fancy ropers.

The Californian reported April 24, 1914, that the rodeo was “thick and fast, leaving nothing to be desired” and praised Griffin for really knowing how to put on a good show.

The cowboys, including “ Slim “ Holder, “Tex” Crockett, “Curley” Fletcher and “Happy” Willie Sowder, were not the rodeo’s only skilled riders. Many cowgirls showed off their equally adept skills.

One cowgirl in particular, who would become a star attraction of the rodeo circuit, was Dorothy Morrell.

It was during the 1914 Bakersfield Rodeo that she got her start. According to the Aug. 30, 1916, Californian, Morrell received her first lessons in horseback riding from a local cowman. She came to Bakersfield to shoot a big motion picture that portrayed the rodeo with “a romance running through the reels.” Instead of continuing her film career, her love for the rodeo continued as she went on to become the Women’s World Champion Bucking Horse Rider at the Cheyenne rodeo later that same year.

Homecoming week started a new tradition for Bakersfield that lasted for a couple of years, but as the United States entered WWI, the city and nation’s attention turned toward Europe. The one lasting tradition from that week in 1914 was the Bakersfield Rodeo.

Although the name has changed through the years, the rodeo continues to hold the same thrills and feats of Western skills for fans as it did over 100 years ago. 

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