The State Of Rodeo After World War I
Before World War I began, rodeo was mostly a unorganized heap of competitions and events. World Championship Rodeos were held in various venues independent of each other. As a result, world champions were often declared after winning one rodeo (casting the industry as a whole into a state of questionable repute). After World War I, the industry had stagnated. Attendance at events had slowed and though annual competitions were held at Madison Square Garden, it wasn't enough to attract the masses. Due to circumstances at the time, World War I had a profound effect on the state of rodeo. If something hadn't been done quickly, it might have died out altogether.
William T. Johnson's Midas Touch
In the 1920's, Col. William T. Johnson took over the Madison Square Garden Rodeo. He changed the industry by promoting shorter, indoor events throughout the eastern states. Plus, Johnson strove to add a new level of professionalism into the sport. Before his arrival, rodeo was mostly comprised of performers who participated as a part-time endeavor. Johnson made it possible for the best riders to earn a living in the sport. Even as the Depression began to destroy the societal landscape throughout America, Johnson's rodeo company allowed cowboys to earn a substantial wage. By the early 1930's every rodeo event organized by Johnson set records for attendance.
2 Events That Shaped Rodeo
1929 marked a turning point for professional rodeo. During that year, a well-known cowgirl named Bonnie McCarroll died from injuries sustained during a bronc riding event. Simultaneously, the Rodeo Association of America (RAA) was formed to further organize the industry. McCarroll's untimely demise was the catalyst that led many rodeo companies to eliminate women's events. Plus, there was a ripple effect that impacted the state of professional rodeo. McCarroll's death prompted the RAA to focus their attention entirely on male events. Many rodeo experts suggest that had it not been for the death of Bonnie McCarroll, the state of modern rodeo would be completely different today.
Gene Autry Takes Over Rodeo
In 1940, Gene Autry made his appearance at the Madison Square Garden Rodeo. While cowgirls rode around him, Autry sang "Home On The Range." He was an instant hit and that year marked the beginning of an annual tradition. Before long, Autry created his own rodeo company. He quickly gained control of many key rodeo events including those held at Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden and other high-profile locations. After assuming control of Madison Square Garden, Autry eliminated female bronc riding, a huge attraction at the venue since the early 1920's. This move led to most cowgirl rodeo events slowly disappearing from the industry. Autry's position at the top of the industry was so influential that many promoters found it all but impossible to draw crowds without having a headlining western singer.
Taking Modern Rodeo Into World War II
Gene Autry's influence helped sustain professional rodeo during the period leading up to and through World War II. Always a savvy, patriotic businessman, all of his events and shows promoted nationalistic themes that resonated deeply within American citizens. As the United States found itself immersed in a frightening Second World War, Autry kept rodeo alive by the sheer force of his patriotism and promotion.