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Tucson's Fiesta de los Vaqueros Parade and Rodeo

Updated on November 4, 2011

Celebrating the Old West

Every year toward the end of February, the cowboy culture of the old west reasserts itself with a vengeance in Tucson. The Old Pueblo, as the locals fondly refer to Tucson, is proud of its past and takes advantage of every opportunity to celebrate its heritage and the Fiesta de los Vaqueros is one of these opportunities.

While the rodeo is a part of the cowboy culture of the American West, its roots go back to the early Spanish settlers in the New World. The Spanish introduced both horses and cattle to the New World and, as Spanish missionaries fanned out over what is now northern Mexico and southwestern United States to establish missions on the frontier, they brought with them cattle and established cattle raising as part of the agricultural activities of the missions.

                                            The Start of the Parade
The Start of the Parade
The Five Flags Over Tucson.  (Left to Right) American Flag, Arizona State Flag, Confederate Flag (we temporarily aligned with the Confederacy during the Civil War), Mexican Flag and Flag of Spanish Monarchs (far right in back)
The Five Flags Over Tucson. (Left to Right) American Flag, Arizona State Flag, Confederate Flag (we temporarily aligned with the Confederacy during the Civil War), Mexican Flag and Flag of Spanish Monarchs (far right in back)
Indian float from neighboring Tohono O’Odahm Nation which borders Tucson on the west.
Indian float from neighboring Tohono O’Odahm Nation which borders Tucson on the west.
Before there were planes, trains or cars there was the Stage Coach.
Before there were planes, trains or cars there was the Stage Coach.
Honoring the Spanish Conquistadores who accompanied the first missionaries and established Tucson as part of New Spain's first line of defense against feared attack by England (from Canada) and Russia (from Alaska)
Honoring the Spanish Conquistadores who accompanied the first missionaries and established Tucson as part of New Spain's first line of defense against feared attack by England (from Canada) and Russia (from Alaska)
An Old Fashioned Horse Drawn Fire Truck
An Old Fashioned Horse Drawn Fire Truck
                                                 Horse Drawn Hearse
Horse Drawn Hearse

The Roots of the Rodeo Tradition go Back to Spanish Colonial Times

The word rodeo  comes from the Spanish word rodear which means to surround and surround is exactly what cowboys have always done when it comes time to round up the cattle for branding or slaughter. In addition to cattle and horses, the Spanish also brought their traditions of horsemanship, roping and bull fighting to the New World.

In New Spain (what is now Mexico and southwestern United States) the men who tended cows at the missions and, later, on ranches, were known as vaqueros (from the Spanish word vaca or cow). When vaqueros got together in their free time they would often show off their skills in contests with roping cows, breaking horses, bull riding, etc.

With the acquisition of Texas and, following the end of the Mexican War, California, Arizona and New Mexico, the rodeo tradition was introduced to Americans. As the West became more settled, cowboys continued to get together to show off their skills. In time, they began doing it in town with townspeople joining the audience. Soon, entrepreneurs like William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and others began organizing wild west shows to entertain audiences in the eastern part of the country and, eventually, Europe, and rodeo events were included in these shows. When rising logistical costs put an end to these grandiose traveling shows, the rodeo portion survived and became a recognized sporting event.

Tucson's annual Fiesta de los Vaqueros parade heralds the start of Tucson's week long rodeo which is the first rodeo of the North American rodeo season each year.

In addition to being the start of the first rodeo of the season, the Fiesta de los Vaqueros parade is also the longest non-mechanized parade in the nation. There are no motorized vehicles (unless you count the Sanitation Department vehicles which bring up the end of the parade as they clean up the emissions left behind by the oat powered horses) in this parade as all of the marchers and floats either march or are transported by horses or mules.

The Fiesta de los Vaqueros parade has been held annually since 1925 and is the work of an all volunteer committee which plans and coordinates the participating organizations and individuals who march or ride in the parade.

Frederick Leighton Kramer is credited with both having the idea for the parade and rodeo as well as organizing the first parade and rodeo in 1925. Kramer was an avid horseman and president of the Arizona Polo Association. The few published references to him on the Internet all describe him as one who wintered in Tucson implying that he was one of the winter visitors that Tucson is noted for having. However, in addition to being the President of the Arizona Polo Association, he also owned a 160 acre tract of land in what is now a somewhat exclusive residential area in central Tucson, known as Catalina Vista. When Kramer purchased that land in the early part of the 20th century it contained a single large home with the city's only private swimming pool. He paid $25,000 for the home and acreage and, as part of the deal, got the broker, Roy Long, to agree to live in the home for the next year while Kramer and his wife toured Europe. Also, the rodeo that accompanied the 1925 parade was held at a place known as Kramer Field. I suspect that Kramer was either a wealthy investor who choose to spend much of the year living in Tucson or a California businessman with business interests in Tucson.

Regardless of who he was, Kramer felt that a mid-winter parade and rodeo would be a boon for the local tourist industry and, thanks to Kramer's foresight, it has been a big tourist draw from 1925 to the present. In fact, in the years immediately following 1925 the city often did not have enough hotel rooms to accommodate all of the visitors it drew.

The first parade in 1925 consisted of numerous mounted cowboys and cowgirls from local ranches, mounted Indians from local reservations, two military bands from nearby Ft. Huachucha, mounted polo players, mounted police and a riding group from the University of Arizona. Local schools and the University of Arizona declared a holiday for their students on the day of the parade (a practice that is still followed today by K-12 schools and Pima Community College but not the University of Arizona).

Prize money for that first rodeo in 1925 was $6,650 (it is over $20,000 today). Finally, in addition to fun loving tourists, the 1925 parade, which took place while Prohibition was still in force and the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages was illegal, also attracted U.S. Treasury agents who, along with local police, raided 15 stills, confiscated 200 gallons of alcohol and arrested 40 people for violating the Volstead Act.

Honoring the 19th Century "Buffalo Soldiers", former slaves who joined the Army after the Civil War and played a role in the American settlement of the  Southwest.
Honoring the 19th Century "Buffalo Soldiers", former slaves who joined the Army after the Civil War and played a role in the American settlement of the Southwest.
Stagecoach from Old Tucson - which is a movie studio and tourist attraction to the west of Tucson and NOT the old section of Tucson.
Stagecoach from Old Tucson - which is a movie studio and tourist attraction to the west of Tucson and NOT the old section of Tucson.
                                                A Rodeo Clown
A Rodeo Clown
               Right Behind the Last Horse is the Clean-up Crew
Right Behind the Last Horse is the Clean-up Crew

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    • jseven profile image

      jseven 

      7 years ago from Michigan

      What a great hub about this beautiful parade and culture. I love to learn new things and now I know where the word "rodeo" came from. :) I linked this to my parade hub.

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