Games People Play: A Souvenir Photo Album from the Los Angeles Rodeo, February 1913

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A previous post on this blog covered what is accounted to be the first professional rodeo held in greater Los Angeles and which took place in March 1912 on the Rancho Santa Anita long owned by Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who passed away a few years prior. The event was so successful that it was decided to hold a followup in February 1913, but this one was located at the newly completed Los Angeles Stadium, which also hosted such events as auto racing (a fairly new sport), and which was located on Hooper Avenue and 35th Street in south Los Angeles, where Jefferson High School was built several years later.

Whereas the featured artifact for the 1912 Rodeo post was a pamphlet with a program, tonight’s for the successor event is a souvenir photo booklet with of ten action shots taken by R.F. Sanford of Los Angeles. While the dates given on the paper cover indicate that the event was held from 8-16 February, there was a change, as happened the prior year, because of rain, so that there was a one-day delay.

Los Angeles Express, 1 February 1913.

Still, the rodeo was quite successful, drawing large crowds at the new venue and was declared to be a financial success with proceeds going to the Associated Charities of Los Angeles, founded during the great boom of the late 1880s and which included dozens of organizations from ethnic and religious assistance groups, orphanages, settlement houses, hospitals for children and others like the Barlow for those with respiratory problems, and many more.

Promotion was heavy in city’s newspapers and such pre-rodeo activities as a riding practice several days ahead of time, which attracted about a thousand onlookers, helped build enthusiasm. It was anticipated that there would be some five hundred competitors and the same number of animals for men’s and women’s events.

Express, 3 February 1913.

The Associated Charities was sure to advertise that there were to be “no dust, no dirt, seats for all and a good view of everything” with approximately 25,000 spaces available at the stadium and a large fire hose used to wet down the field at night and before each afternoon’s contests. Not that the men would care, apparently, but it was added that “we are going to see to it that the women who come out to see the Rodeo in new gowns don’t have them ruined by the dust, as is often the case at big outdoor shows.” With the rapidly growing use of the automobile, plenty of free parking was arranged on nearby streets with “officers to keep watch over them.”

A parade was to take place on Saturday morning the 8th before that afternoon’s opening events, but rain caused a postponement of the former until Monday, while the rodeo proper was delayed until Sunday. There was almost a human tragedy prior to the event when Rose Wigner, one of the main women competitors, was at her apartment at Grand Avenue and Washington Boulevard about a week ahead of the rodeo, when she was overcome with gas fumes from an open jet along the baseboard of the unit. Wigner was originally thought to be in critical conditions, but managed to recover and competed at the event.

Los Angeles Times, 7 February 1913.

Another advance bit of publicity came in the form of verse penned by E.A. Brininstool, previous mentioned here for his coverage of the 1927 demolition of the Arcadia Block, a venerable old commercial building constructed by Abel Stearns. His poem “At the Rodeo” featured five stanzas in Western lingo, but here are the last couple:

They’ve got a bunch o’ bronks, I hear

That knows the buckin’ game,

An’ you jest watch me when I steer

Plumb up agin’ the same!

At ridin’ bronks I am the boss,

They cain’t pile me, you know!

I’ll tackle any outlaw hawss

Down at the Rodeo!

I’m ready now to hit the road,

The ol’ hawss champs his bit,

An’ kind o’ acts as if he knowed

That me and him is “it.”

Yee-o-u-w! We’re off fer town, ol’ hawss!

Jest watch us win the dough!

Oh, you an’ me will be the boss

Down at the Rodeo!

Another promotional tool utilized by the Los Angeles Times was to have its widely known cartoonist, Edmund “Ted” Gale, whose work has been shown in this blog a couple of times, provide daily comedic strips about the rodeo, featuring the character “Mr. Titus Wad” [get it?]

Express, 10 February 1913.

When Sunday afternoon came, the field at the stadium was declared sufficient for events to begin and the Los Angeles Record estimated that 20,000 (the Los Angeles Express later reported there were 28,000, while the Times placed the attendance at 25,000, saying the gates were closed by 2 p.m.) spectators thronged the venue in cool 50-degree weather to the extent that it “delayed the start and prevented some of the features of the program from being staged.” These elements were to be added to the second day’s program. Events mentioned in press accounts included fancy trick riding, standing races, cowgirl relays, the bucking bronco contests for men and women, bucking bull contests for men, barrel and stake races, and the offering of a $100 prize to any man who could stay on a black bull named Sharkey for ten seconds.

As for the Monday morning parade, the Express reported that “the business streets of Los Angeles for an hour today were turned into trails and downtown resounded with the wild ‘Wah-whoop-ee’ and the ‘Yah-ee’ of the plains.” Mayor George Alexander, Chief of Police and future scandal-ridden mayor Charles E. Sebastian, and Associated Charities president Herman W. Frank, of the famous clothing store Harris and Frank, were at the head of the delegation of officials. The paper added that the procession:

afforded a study in contrasts between city life and the care free existence on the broad prairies and between modernity and the scenes of frontier days. An evil-eyed mustang on which sat a feathered and painted Indian reared back in apparent dismay at the sight of a high-powered automobile and then spun around like a top, its four feet covering the space that would be taken up by an ordinary dinner plate.

This juxtaposition between the modern urban world in the Angel City and life “on the broad prairies,” which could easily have been the great ranchos of mid-19th century Los Angeles County, such as the nearly 50,000-acre Rancho La Puente long owned William Workman and John Rowland, was not dissimilar to that between the growing city and the “sleepy pueblo.” Workman and Rowland likely would have taken umbrage at the use of the term “care free existence” for their ranching activities, particularly if there was a drought or a drop in the price of cattle and horses!

Los Angeles Record, 11 February 1913.

The parade began at Main and 9th streets, very near where Walter P. Temple and associates would, a decade later build a pair of commercial buildings, and proceeded along Main and Spring streets as well as Broadway before terminating at Broadway and First, just north of City Hall. From there, the Express noted, “the participating horsemen and horsewomen raced through the streets to the Stadium” for the afternoon’s competitions, for which a record crowd of observers was expected. Among the others mentioned as taking part in the parade were “Indians, Mexicans, [and] the Vaquero club,” the latter an organization of horse enthusiasts who liked to dress up in costume from the “care free existence” of the pre-American era.

On that Monday, the editorial page of the Express contained the observation that “every kid in town has the cowboy fever this week apropos of the Rodeo, and many a mother’s clothesline has been converted into a riata and life has become a burden to every dog and cat within throwing distance of Young America’s unerring loop.” As for the rain delay, the “we-told-you-so” came in the form of “we told yuh the next rain would come Rodeo week, all same last year. Must be the weather shark has a grievance against cowpunchers and their sports.”

Times, 17 February 1913.

Harry Carr, a very popular columnist with the Times for the first three decades of the 20th century, used his “From a Carr Window” column to talk about how a film actor (and writer) named Smythe Addison told him “I am going to ride that horse Cyclone” and that “I am going to put him into a moving-picture drama” in which the heroine would marry the first man who could tame the bucking bronco.

Carr accompanied the actor, denoted as the “conqueror of brute force by the Higher Thought” and who had no experience riding such animals, to the Stadium on the 13th. The columnist described how, as Addison settled in on the saddle, “there was a lightning impression of a horse in midair twisted up like a snake and a lovely picture of a pair of white fur pants describing a long, graceful flight across the sky. In the pants were Smythe Addison and the Higher Thought.”

Record, 18 February 1913.

Some local merchants got into the act, as well, and an example was the prominent department store, Hamburger’s, which later became May Company, with its advertisement in the Express on the 12th including “The Round Up.” This section read “The Rodeo is on! No doubt it has aroused in the heart of every full blooded boy and girl around Los Angeles a desire to imitate.” The store just so happened to be able, in its boys’ department, to be “prepared to supply you with all the picturesque costumes for the cowboys and girls and Indians.” It was just a dollar or a buck-and-a-half for “Indian suits” while chaps of imitation leather also fetched $1.50, while leather chaps with a gun and holster cost a dollar more, and goat skin chaps with “long shaggy hair” were three bucks.

Crowds were far lighter, as would be expected on a work day, on Monday, with the Record recording attendance of about 5 to 6,000 persons. Amid its discussion of the bucking broncos and the fact that all but one rider were quickly tossed off and the fact that some in the crowd jeered a cowboy who backed out of trying to ride “Whirlwind,” said to be a famous bronc, wsa the report that “three representatives of the Humane Society were present Monday and will be at the Stadium every day of the meet to see that no cruelty is inflicted upon the animals.”

Easily the strangest of the Rodeo week bits of news came in Tuesday’s Express which ran a story titled “Rodeo Cowboys May Fight Mexicans.” There was major turmoil going on in Mexico with the overthrow and assassination of President Francisco Madero and Vice-President José María Pino Suárez during what was known as the Ten Tragic Days, lasting from 9-19 February. This article reported that a millionaire from Salinas, Frank Griffin, who was a judge at the rodeo “has offered to equip a company of cowboys to go to Mexico if intervention by the United States is decided on.” He was quoted as saying

I am serious about this, I have the boys who will go—more than 100 of them, all crackerjack riders and expert gunmen. We would outfit right here in Los Angeles and go anywhere we are needed. I am ready to put up the money to furnish a company of the boys riding at the Rodeo with full equipment—horses, uniforms, guns and everything else.

Complicating the matter, beyond Griffin’s bizarre offer, was that the United States was soon to transition from the presidency of Republican William Howard Taft to that of Democrat Woodrow Wilson. When Victoriano Huerta, who took the reins of government, refused to call for elections the following year, Wilson sent American forces to occupy Veracruz, while Huerta’s federal army failed to subdue opposition forces and he resigned later in 1914. The idea of rodeo cowboys as mercenaries, however, was a truly strange development during the rodeo!

Speaking of American national politics, an Express cartoonist came up with “National Rodeo Stunts” with a cowboy denoted as “Special Privilege” atop the Grand Old Party’s elephant and remarking “This Un Ain’t Got No Spirit Left—How’s Your’n Behavin’?” while “Private Interests” straddled a little bucking Democratic Party donkey and responded with “I Reckon He Thinks He’s Throwed Me.”

As the rodeo came to a close on Monday the 17th, Al Waddell of the Times reported on the day’s events, concluded with a barbeque in the middle of the Stadium for the contestants. The winner of the women’s championship by taking the relay race for the ninth time was Tillie Baldwin, a legend among female rodeo athletes in those days. Other women of note were Hazel Panting Hoxie, Rose Wigner (who’d survived the accidental gassing in her apartment), and “Prairie Rose” Henderson.

Though not captioned, the photo at the top is of one of the female participants.

Among the men were mentioned Johnny Baldwin, who was often said to be Tille’s husband, although she took his last name when changing her name from Anna Winger, Dick “Doc” Stanley, Johnny Agee, Hugh Clark and Jack Hoxie, who was Hazel’s spouse and who went to be a popular Western film star after leaving the rodeo circuit later in 1913. The winner of the championship was Baldwin, by virtue of having the best times during the nine relay races, while Stanley’s brother Jayson was in second before a mishap ended his day and “Doc” came in behind the champion, who, however, was criticized for a profane rant of an unstated nature.

After the barbeque ended the day’s events, participants and other invited guests decamped to the Lyceum Theatre, built by a rare woman real estate developer Juana Neal and located on Spring Street south of 2nd, where Dick Ferris, organizer of the 1910 Dominguez Air Meet, entertained with his band and where motion pictures were shown of the famous Pendleton, Oregon rodeo.

In the mid-1980s, decades later after this charity rodeo was a smashing success in Edwardian-era Los Angeles, the Industry Hills Charity Pro Rodeo was launched to raise money for causes in the eastern San Gabriel Valley, such as the Delhaven Community Center and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Youth Activities League. While the Industry Hills rodeo was, of course, canceled last year, the hope is that it will return this fall.

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