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Nearly a century of history: Tucson Rodeo Parade

Posted: 2:55 PM, Feb 21, 2022
Updated: 2022-02-21 16:55:09-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The Tucson Rodeo has been a February tradition in the Old Pueblo since 1925, but just before the rodeo began 97 years ago there was the Tucson Rodeo Parade.

"When we first began in 1925, the very first parade had the participants of the rodeo in the parade, also," said Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum Chairman Stan Marin.

The first Tucson Rodeo in February of 1925 started off with a parade of local cowboys.

Local Cowboys taking part in the first Tucson Rodeo Parade in 1925

About 300 people participated, making their way to a mid-town polo field for the three-day rodeo. This was all the brainchild of Leighton Kramer, president of the Arizona Polo Association.

Pat: "Has it changed much?"

Stan: "It has. Well, if you take a look at the arena it's fenced in now. The very first rodeo was held at Kramer Field, which is right where University Medical Center is. To form the arena they actually took their cars and parked them side by side so that the bulls wouldn't go running and the livestock wouldn't go running away."

1925 Tucson Rodeo held at the polo grounds

Today, the rodeo and the accompanying parade are much more organized, but the tradition of "La Fiesta de los Vaqueros" remains the same. It translates to "Celebration of the Cowboys."

"The committee really has a lot of pride to put it on, to keep this tradition going," Martin said.

That tradition is in the hands of a 38 member committee, which oversees every aspect of the parade.

"The wagon rentals, there's also a shop in maintenance that takes care of the greasing of the wheels," Martin explained. "We've got ticket sales, we've got grandstand committee to setup the grandstands along Irvington. Like I said, there's 18 sub-committees it takes that to make it roll. Then there's also about 300 volunteers that come in on parade day to make it all happen."

Martin says it wouldn't happen without the support of those volunteers. They keep the largest non-motorized parade in the country rolling.

Pat: "That's so unique, the non-motorized. That's part of the tradition you're trying to carry on."

Stan: "Right, and we're not only non-motorized we try to keep it historic, too."

Part of that history—are the colorful costumes and well decorated wagons and buggies.

Martin is in charge of the Rodeo Parade Museum, which is busy leading up to the parade as organizations get their non-motorized floats ready.

There are about 150 wagons and buggies in the parade, many of which are on display the rest of the year at the museum.

Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum

Also part of the parade tradition; school-age children in Tucson get two days off every February for the parade and rodeo.

"Tucson's probably the only place in the United States that kids get out of school for those two days," Martin told KGUN 9. "Although sometimes we catch a little flack for having a parade on a Thursday, but it's tradition. It's a Tucson Tradition. We hope that we continue to get support from the city and businesses and everybody else."

Another tradition is the Tucson Rodeo Parade Grand Marshall. Longtime KGUN 9 anchor Guy Atchley was the Grand Marshall in 2019, after his retirement.

Stan Martin said the first rodeo parade in 1925 actually did have automobiles in it because they were new at the time.

The parade eventually phased them out making for the non-motorized parade we enjoy today.

The parade is set for February 24, after last year's parade and rodeo were canceled.

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Pat Parris is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. He is a graduate of Sabino High School where he was the 1982 high school state track champion in the 800 meters. While in high school and college, he worked part-time in the KGUN 9 newsroom. His father, Jack Parris, is a former general manager of the station. Share your story ideas and important issues with Pat by emailing pat.parris@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.