history of the Livermore Rodeo would be complete without mentioning
that in 1918, World War I was still raging. The Red Cross was in dire
need of funds, so California cities and towns were assessed. Livermore's
quota was $1,200, which was quite a large amount at that time.
McGlinchey, president of the Livermore Stockmen's Protective
Association answered the challenge by proposing that a rodeo be held to
earn the money. He appointed a committee, consisting of Joseph
Concannon, Chairman, and James Gallagher, John Flynn, A. W. Ebright and
Charles Graham to help with planning the event. They would work with the
officers of the Stockmen's Protective Association including John J.
Callaghan, Peter Connolly, Patrick Connolly, H. T. Holly, M. C.
Mulqueeny, and Peter Moy.
portion of the James Anderson ranch, located near what is now 580 and
Portola Ave. off-ramp, was the logical choice for the location of the
rodeo, because there was a natural basin for holding stock and a rim
that served as elevated seating for spectators. A fence was constructed
around the basin to form the arena. Circus seats were leased. Cars were
allowed to park in the back of these seats and many people watched the
rodeo from their cars.
eye witness accounts, the Grand Entry was a most thrilling event. Two
horses posed at the top of the hill east of the arena. Christine Thiel
was on a white horse and carrying the American flag. James McGlinchey,
on a bay horse was carrying another flag. At a given signal, the horses
raced down the hill - the white horse in the lead. At the foot of the
hill, many other horses followed the first two into the arena forming a
colorful grand entry. Much of the stock came from local ranches, but
some was brought in from other areas. Due to the efforts of the
Livermore G. F. Madsen, proprietor of the Bell Theater, Universal
Studios filmed the event. The newsreel was shown throughout the country -
Livermore was on the map!
The success of the first rodeo
led to the formation of the Livermore Stockmen's Rodeo Association in
April 1919. The association selected 15 acres of the Callaghan vineyard
on Lizzie Street (now Livermore Avenue) and sold stock or script for $25
a share to purchase the land. Many local people, including ranchers and
business, bought shares; some redeemed later but many have kept them to
Construction of the center
section of the grandstand and some bleachers, which together held 2,400
seats, were completed for the second rodeo, which was held on July 3rd,
4th and 5th, 1919, an was described by the Livermore Herald as "the most
successful rodeo ever held in the west." In early years, the show was
always held on the 4th of July plus the weekend immediately following or
preceding the 4th - hence the show ran from two to five days.
For the first few years, there
was no Public Address System, so the announcing was done on horseback
with a megaphone. Those with the best vocal chords were "Foghorn" Murphy
and later Ike Latimer followed by Abe Lofton. From 1930-1965 with a P.
A. System and sometimes on horseback, came Livermore's own Bud Bentley.
Professional announcers were hired from then to now.
During the early years there
were many local riders. But even in those days, many top professional
riders and performers were attracted to the show. All were seen on movie
Those in charge worked hard
and gave generously to insure the success of the show and the
satisfaction of the spectators and the participants as well. John
McGlinchey would send two header wagons out to the Mourterot Ranch and
buy hay so that the many cowboys that stayed at his home would have feed
for their horses. His wife Elizabeth and her daughters fed all the
cowboys at the huge table in their kitchen.
The Spanish influence was
emphasized in these early rodeos. In fact, "old timers" still say
"Ro-day-oh" while others pronounce it as Ro-dee-oh. The show was well
advertised, and people dressed in either Spanish or western attire.
Trips to Oakland and San Francisco were planned. Groups would parade
down the streets in costume carrying signs announcing the date's of the
rodeo. They were accompanied by riders on horseback.
Once the Oakland Auditorium
was used as a hospitality house and "mini" rodeo museum. Rooms there
were decorated and staffed with people serving refreshments to all who
Rodeo time was "Big Time" in
Livermore; everyone was getting involved in some way. The local
merchants were glad to have the influx of people and dressed "western"
weeks preceding the show. There were decorations everywhere. Barnard
Mouterot remembers going out to the Ruby Hill Winery to cut palm fronds
to decorate the light poles on First Street. Banners were strung across
First and Second Streets, and on Lizzie Street out of the rodeo grounds.
Many store fronts had rodeo
scenes painted on their windows and stores were decorated. It was a
colorful display. Weeks earlier, the men in town started growing beards
for the "Whiskerino Contest." High school students were an important
part of advertising. Photographers from the Oakland Tribune, San
Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner would take pictures of
the girls in western or Spanish garb. These pictures were used for
publicity purposes. Later the girls were ushers at the show. Their "pay"
was free admission. High school boys placed advertising posters along
the highways from Livermore to Stockton and to San Francisco, and on the
Dunbarton and Antioch bridges.
Rodeo Week was also "Carnival
Time" in Livermore. In the early years, the carnival was held on J and K
Streets as well as on Second Street. There were many booths. Vacant
lots and south of Second Street were used for rides. Later the carnival
moved north of First Street and south of Railroad Avenue. Street dances
were held at night on J Street between First and Second. On one
occasion, there was a dance at Sweeney Ballroom. Adding to the revelry,
the "Hoosegow" or jail on wheels would travel First Street daily looking
for anyone not wearing some form of western or Spanish attire. If
caught, a person was "locked up" for his "crime" by traveling Main
Street in the "Hoosegow." There was always a parade on the 4th of July
with many floats, marching units, bands, decorated automobiles and other
motorized or horse drawn attractions, plus of course, riders on
In addition to this "Big"
Parade, there was also a horse parade at 12 or 1 o'clock each day of the
show. The horses paraded east on First Street, turned south on Lizzie
Street (Livermore Ave.) and went out to the Rodeo grounds, where they
entered and took part in the Grand Entry. All of the participants
received free admission to the show.
May 1, 1921, marked the first
time that the rodeo grounds were used for a community event other than a
rodeo, when a May Day Fete was held for all the schools in the
Livermore-Amador Valley. A California Frontier Days Pageant was part of
the entertainment at the 1921 Livermore Rodeo. Other community events
followed through the years. For example, in the mid 1930's all of the
rural schools in South Alameda County gathered at the grounds for a
physical education "playday."
As the Rodeo proved to be a
financial success, land acquisitions and improvements continued. More
seating was erected and all grandstands were covered. More chutes and
holding pens were built. The barn of the 143rd Field Artillery, which
was located on what is now Pacific Avenue, was acquired. It is still
being used for community events. In 1948 the Association's holdings had
grown to 40.5 acres.
The well earned slogan
"World's Fastest Rodeo" was first used in 1935. Speed had always been an
important factor. There was a track around the arena where many events
were held. This included cowboy and cowgirl races, relay races where
cowboys or cowgirls changed horses at each station, and Pony Express
races, where saddles as well as horses were changed. There were Roman
races where one rider stood astride two horses with one foot on each
horse. In addition to the races, there was trick riding, trick and fancy
roping, steer decorating, stockhorse contests, hackamore class, silver
mounted competition, competition for best horse and working outfit.
Simultaneously, inside the arena there was saddle bronc riding, bull
riding, "double roping," "single roping," steer wrestling, amateur team
roping, steer decorating and wild cow milking.
Keeping with the original patriotic spirit of the first show, those held in the war years were used for Navy relief.
This history brought to you by
Kathryn Laughlin and Leona McGlinchey. Excerpt and photographs are from
the 1993 Livermore Rodeo program.
descriptions in order of appearance: John McGlinchey, "Father" of the
Livermore Rodeo - Photo courtesy of Kathryn Laughlin. Hugh Walker, T.W.
Norris, Glen Smallcomb, Ray Bernhart, and Mike Callahan - Photo courtesy
of Lois Walker. 1918 Parade's Horseless Carriage and City Cannon -
Photo courtesy of Madeline Henry. 1926 "Main Street" Fair - Photo
courtesy of Jerry Deck