Grandpa Ela T. Swift was one of the cowboys in the group that hung out with Will Rogers when he came to visit Vinita, Ok. in 1934. He told them, “Have a rodeo in Vinita next year and I’ll come back.” But he and Wiley Post died that year in an airplane crash, and the rodeo was held as a memorial to the beloved “son” of Vinita who attended school here.
The Will Rogers Memorial Rodeo which is held each August holds many memories for us Vinitans. It is the finest rodeo in Oklahoma, maybe in the whole United States.
We always attended the Rodeo parade, guaranteed a front-row seat on the curb of Main Street, where the main feature was the Rodeo Queen, decked in her finest, with the rhinestone crown. Following her and the grand marshal of the parade was the rider-less horse, representing Will Rogers.
Horses, horses, and more horses, teams of horses and mules pulling wagons. Vinita High School and Junior High Bands, and bands from surrounding towns. The football boys and cheerleaders riding atop the fire engine. Tractors and semis with trailers filled with hay and 4-H kids. The sheriff’s and police chief’s cars. Vintage cars, old cars, and beautiful convertibles with people waving and throwing candy. And always the kids on bikes trailing along. Then horses and more horses.
I remember sitting out in our front yard in the heat hearing the voice of Clem McSpadden, the rodeo announcer, booming across the creek. The bright lights of the rodeo grounds lit up the sky clear over where we lived.
Our uncles and cousins from Wichita came in and took us to the rodeo, which always began with the Grand Entry. All the horses and riders from the parade and then some rode around the arena. We stood when the horse and rider presented the US flag and then with our hats in our hands, we listened to the song, Empty Saddles, sung by Vernie Glenn.
We sat in the bleachers—cheapest seats there. Cotton candy. Popcorn and weak fountain pop. Standing in line to go to the bathroom in a dirty little wooden building with no toilet paper.
Every town needs at least one very special yearly event to make memories.