It’s Rodeo time in the Old Pueblo, the Fiesta De Los Vaqueros has been a Tucson tradition for over ninety years.

I was six years old when my family left Chicago and headed west. I grew up looking forward to the excitement of rodeo. The rodeo kicked off with the parade downtown on the third Thursday in February.  Downtown was a flurry of excitement making way for the longest non-mechanized parade in the country.   The vigilantes had the portable jail set up on Congress Street and unsuspecting passersby were locked in the jail for dress code violations.  If you weren’t wearing at least three articles of western clothing the vigilantes escorted you into the jail.  Paying up for charity or singing a western song would set you free.    

On parade day I was up early, hoping to catch a glimpse of the cowboys riding their horses or driving buggies down our dirt road into town.  I remember standing out by the mailbox waiting for them to come right down my street.  I was prepared for trouble wearing my double holster six guns.  I’d wave my cowboy hat, hoping they would stop so I could pet one of the  horses.         

I remember going to the parade with my childhood friend, Sandy.  We’d sit on the curb dressed in our finest cowboy regalia; Levis, held up with a plastic western belt, plaid shirt with ‘pearl’ snaps, cowboy boots and the ever present cowboy hat with the string under our chin.   

Sandy and I could hardly wait for the first clip-clop of the horses feet on the asphalt.    Oh, how we loved horses, they pranced and tossed their heads while their riders kept them on a tight rein.  So many horses; blacks, browns, chestnuts, buckskins. I loved the paints but my favorite was the palominos.  Trigger was a palomino and Roy Rogers was my favorite cowboy, so I loved palominos too.  

The cowboys wore silver and turquoise belt buckles, Stetson hats and, of course the classic cowboy boots.  Skilled ropers showed off their roping skills, twirling and tossing loops as they rode; then tipping their hats for applause, and the crowd obliged.

The rodeo queen and her court always had beautiful dresses spread out behind the saddle, making an elegant fan across the horses backside.  The traditional squaw dress was always worn during rodeo festivities.  Remember we are talking about the 1950’s , no one had been enlightened to realize referring to the garment as a squaw dress might be disrespectful to Native Americans.   This style dress with the accordion fan skirt adorned with many rows of rick rack was considered absolutely Arizona.  

I eventually outgrew the six guns but I still loved Rodeo week.  By the time I got to high school my motives were a little different.  This was a three day school week.  The only thing better than a short school week was the thrill of wearing jeans for those three days.  Yep, this is the 50’s folks, girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school except for Rodeo week.   

We proudly pulled on our Levis and wore our western shirts for the first day or two.   Of course being teenage renegades, we seldom stuck to the western wear.  By the third day we had the Levis rolled up like Debbie Reynolds and topped them with all sorts of shirts.  I remember wearing one of my dad’s old white dress shirts.  It was popular to embroider hearts and clever sayings on the shirts.  Not exactly western wear but we got away with it for the last day.  

Upholding the western tradition, I took my kids to sit on the curb at the Rodeo parade when they were little.   They wore cowboy boots and waved their hats while they waited for the first clip clop of the horses.   In today’s fast paced world waiting isn’t easy but some things are worth waiting for.  

So, dust off those boots, grab your hat, and take your kids or grandkids to the Rodeo Parade.



11 replies
  1. Lois Hendricks
    Lois Hendricks says:

    Love this, Carrie! Jim and I just went to our first rodeo in Kissimmee, FL this past Sunday. It was so much fun, but this memory sounds even better!

  2. Pat
    Pat says:

    Fascinating picture of your formative years. Usually when you write I think “yes, me too”. No rodeos in my past. Now I feel I missed something.

  3. Susie
    Susie says:

    hey Carrie, we just left the parade. We made it for most of it but it was pretty windy and pretty cold. The grandsons were ready to go get some hot cocoa. We really enjoyed it. It has been 20 plus years since I had sing the rodeo parade.

    • Glenn Gilmore
      Glenn Gilmore says:

      wow you bring back great memories, it seems our favorite curbs where on 6th street in front of the Owl drug store. And oh yes the boys enjoyed the girls in their shrunk to fit Levis !

    • Carrie Bonello
      Carrie Bonello says:

      Making memories with these little boys, way to go grandma! It was so neat when the parade was right downtown. I think this is about the coldest Rodeo parade on record.

  4. Cindy Lutz
    Cindy Lutz says:

    Been a very long time since I’ve been in attendance at the rodeo parade. I remember my sisters were in band so they were in the parade with their Amphi Band. It was fun sitting on the curb watching the parade go by. Thanks for your perspective on rodeo days in Tucson. Really enjoyed reading it.

  5. sandy lorenz
    sandy lorenz says:

    What wonderful childhood memories you have. I can picture you on the curb waiting for the parade to begin. What excitement, what fun! So glad the western tradition continues.


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