Games People Play: The 1912 Rodeo at Lucky Baldwin’s Rancho Santa Anita

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This weekend, the Homestead will have a booth at the Industry Hills Charity Pro Rodeo and it’s a chance both to promote the museum and its programs to people who live in our general community, as well as to showcase a bit of rodeo history with artifacts from the museum’s collection.

Rodeo Baldwin Santa Anita 1912 cover

One such item is a pamphlet promoting a rodeo held at the Rancho Santa Anita, in today’s Arcadia, in March 1912.  Billed as “The Great Southwestern Interstate Cowboy Contests,”, the scheduled nine-day event, which stretched to twelve because of rain, featured over forty events including trick riding, tug-of-war, rope spinning, fancy roping, bucking, steer wrestling and many other elements. Notably, roughly a quarter of the events were earmarked for women, including those in bucking, relay races, roping, trick riding, and pony racing.

A total of $10,000 was awarded in prize money with the maximum awarded to any single event for a first-place finisher being $200, $150 for second place, and $100 for third-place, though most purses were in the range of $20-50.

Rodeo Baldwin Santa Anita 1912 pp 3 6

A description of general conditions was provided, specifying that animals had to be “cowponies” and not race horses and providing details about horse entries; that stable space and hay was provided and assistance given to those transporting stock over a long distance; that no entrance fee was charged and no salary paid for any participant; and that “no unreasonable roughness or cruelty will be allowed in handling stock.”

Media coverage was considerable for the rodeo, with many articles appearing in such local papers as the Los Angeles Times, Santa Ana RegisterCovina Argus, and San Bernardino Sun.  The Times reported on 29 February (1912 was a leap year, obviously) that the general purse was “said to be the greatest amount of prize money ever offered at a western horsemanship contest.”  Advertisements promoted the fact that 500 horse riders were entered and there were some 300 horses in the event, featuring “every sport and contest known to the western range.”  Entrants came from Mexico, New Mexico and Arizona, in addition to California.

Los Angeles Times, 5 March 1912.

Moreover, the fact that paid employees of stock companies and animals trained to buck were banned from the event was said to enhance “the element of chance” in a competition, rather than an exhibition, in which “there will absolutely be no pre-arranging the results of each event.”

Contestants were only allowed the use of a halter and a rope in contesting with wild, untrained horses.  Animals allowed to enter were to be from local horse ranches and selected by a panel of judges.  Additionally, attention was paid to the women entrants, with three identified by name, including a pair from Los Angeles and another coming from Idaho.  The latter, Rose Henderson, was known nationally as “Prairie Rose.”  Not named was a woman “who may enter” who was known to be only female to master a wild horse while riding side-saddle.


Covina Argus, 9 March 1912.

The Covina Argus in its edition on the opening day, 9 March, observed that for wealthy stock owners, “the Rodeo is what the Olympic Games were to old Greece.”  The paper stated that entrants “are now picturesquely encamped on the historic Baldwin rancho awaiting the signal for the opening of the sports.”  It also noted that there was enough seating for 25,000 persons on any given day, during which the events were to take place over a 2 1/4 hour period.  Special fares were offered by train systems  west of Salt Lake City and Albuquerque and streetcar lines had special cars for local transport.

It was striking that in its 12 March edition, the Times reported a crowd of 5,000, only a fifth of capacity, for the previous day’s events.  The paper and others, however, did their best to entice attendees with daily reports of the programmed events and results.

Among individuals highlighted was Wiley Hill, who tamed a particularly wild horse, which was said to be tough enough to “unseat nine out of every ten professional riders in the Southwest.”  For women, “Mrs. E. C. Gordon of San Jose was the heroine” in riding bucking ponies.  It was said she “was given a wicked-looking animal, which required three men to hold while it was being saddled.”  Despite the energy of the horse and its bucking during which “the girl flopped around at a dangerous rate,” she was able to remain “sticking tight” across the field, when male riders stopped the horse for her dismount.

San Bernardino Sun, 22 March 1912.

Towards the end of the competitive events, the Times reported, on 21 March, of the qualifying heat of the two horse standing race which “was a half-mile, nerve-racking exhibition which warmed the heart.”  The favorite Ben Corbett finished second to Joseph Rickson and was quoted as saying, “Rickson made a beautiful ride.  I guess he deserved to win.  I did my best and the only other thing I can do is to beat Joe in the finals.”

Well, this weekend’s Industry Hills Charity Pro Rodeo will be different in many respects from the 1912 one, but one element will not.  Audiences will be thrilled and entertained by the cowboys and cowgirls competing, but there is one major change.  Trick motocross riders will be entertaining the crowds this weekend after the rodeo events are over and that was definitely not offered 105 years ago!


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