Well the first week in December means Stetson hats show up in Vegas for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s conference and prequel to the Wrangler Finals Rodeo. Pat and I have been to Vegas several times before for this meeting and went with several fellow board members from the Rodeo of the Ozarks this year.
I had been to the rodeo itself many times before so I watched the first performance at South Point Hotel on the screen. Let me tell you something, if you can ever go, find some tickets and go to at least one performance in Thomas and Mack Auditorium, the shrine for the Finals on the University of Nevada’s campus. The electricity and excitement of the crowd really is heart warming.
A cab driver told us, and they knew all about Vegas, that they are building or are going to build an arena on the Strip to host the rodeo as part of the new deal after Florida originally out bid them. It’s been 30 years since Las Vegas stole the rodeo away from Oklahoma City. They tried hosting the NFR in Los Angeles and Dallas but no one came. In early 1970s a great man in rodeo proposed they take it to Oklahoma City. The other night I re-watched C J Coop, the rodeo movie made in 1971. They showed scenes from that performance. It was not a sellout, which was obvious for a man who can count empty seats at a rodeo but then State Senator Clem McSpadden and his partner Stanley Draper at the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce went to work. They and the rodeo announcers sold folks on going to the gate buster of them all, the National Finals Rodeo.
We took a busload from Springdale and went for years. Vegas must have seen the sold-out crowd in Oklahoma City and put up the high bid. It is hard to believe but it has been out there for 30 years now. They almost lost it to Florida but better heads prevailed out there. They are scrambling to keep up with the stiff competition from other states that allow gaming.
A great cowboy had a saying in an interview I had with him. It was about the change in the rodeo cowboys’ lives after the National Finals went skyward. He said, “Clem McSpadden made golfers out of us guys, we were bums before that.”
I knew what he meant. In 1976, roper and steer wrestler, Tom Ferguson was the first cowboy to make $100,000. Great athletes made that much in events at Vegas this past month. Many folks can recall when Clem announced at Springdale. He served his state in the State Senate and was even elected to Congress. But he told me he hated Washington D.C., so badly he came home after that one term. Ran for Governor and lost. But take nothing away from the nephew of Will Rogers; he was a leader for the sport of rodeo and its advancements.
I thought it was so nice to see Harry Vold, long time stock contractor who you saw for years ride out on his black horse at Ft Smith’s Old Fort Day’s rodeo, open the show that first night. It was the 30th anniversary of the PRCA being in Vegas. I spoke to Harry afterwards and I asked him how old he was? “I’m 90 years old,” he said.
Well to all the old devils, hats off, the kids are doing fine in the big pen in Las Vegas. Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year, Dusty Richards


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