Rodeo, it’s big in Texas and bigger in Vegas, often taking on a life of its own for those who follow its circuit. What many living in Central Texas today do not realize is that the heartbeat of rodeo used to resound from inside the city limits of Dublin, Texas. In fact, right behind what is today’s Dublin Dairy Queen, once performed some of the biggest names in the world, while the cheers of the spectators who watched rose to the skies on a fevered pitch. Hard to believe? Well, read on, and I’ll give you the nutshell version of how it all came to be.
In the 1930s, the words rodeo and Colonel W.T. Johnson were synonymous, with Johnson controlling literally everything about rodeo, including the size of the prizes that were awarded all they way to the World Championship Rodeo at Madison Square Garden.
Eventually, the cowboys had enough and in the mid 1930s they went on strike, forcing Johnson to meet their demands. He did, but he also put the rodeo company up for sale. According to Carolyn Harbin, President of the Dublin Rodeo Heritage Museum, a group of investors led by Everett Colborn were quick to purchase in 1937. The price? $150,000, not much by today’s standards, but in a country still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression, quite a chunk of change.
Of course, the men needed quite a sizeable spread to host livestock and equipment and as luck would have it, the land they found spread across parts of Erath, Hamilton, and Comanche counties! The men called it the Lightning C, which became the largest ranch dedicated to rodeo in the world. The Colborns and their two daughters, Rosemary and Carolyn lived on the ranch.
Obviously, the stock had to be shipped to the various rodeos, and the nearest railhead was in nearby Dublin, Texas, where Dublin citizens watched each year as all of that stock and equipment headed out for parts unknown, leaving Dublin behind. It did not take long for Dublin to realize that it was missing out on an opportunity, and a group of men led by Clarence Leatherwood were quick to visit with Colborn about the possibility of holding a rodeo in Dublin before the stock shipped out.
It is virtually impossible for any of us who did not live through the 1930s to understand what all of this meant for the town of Dublin, Texas and the citizens who lived there. The excitement, the ring of hammers as men went to work to build an arena and pens, the crowds who swarmed into Dublin, and the coins that fell into the various pockets in a small town filled with people still trying to put the ravages of a depression behind them for good.
The rest…well, it’s history, as they say.
In April of 1940, the Dublin Rodeo, Colborn’s “World Championship Rodeo” was born; however, it was not held in that area behind today’s Dairy Queen. That would come later. The rodeo and the Lightning C gained all kinds of publicity, eventually becoming famous world wide.
Of course, the fact that movie star “the singing cowboy,” Gene Autry, joined with the group in 1942 certainly didn’t hurt the rodeos popularity. When Autry enlisted in WWII, Roy Rogers became the featured entertainer, and the crowds continued to be thrilled with all that was rodeo.
Finally, in 1945, the rodeo was moved from the city park into what was called the Colborn bowl, a 9,000 seat arena, located just behind today’s Dairy Queen in Dublin, and is popularity continued to explode. By 1946, the title World Championship Rodeo was changed to Pre-Madison Square Garden’s World Championship Rodeo. Dublin also held the first sanctioned cutting in 1946 as well.
To understand the economic impact that the rodeo had on the town of Dublin, Texas, think of moving the entire town of Brownwood into Dublin…and then moving it into Dublin again. If I’m right about Brownwood’s population, even moving the town twice still would not equal the 47,000 people who attended the 1947 Pre-Madison Square Garden’s World Championship Rodeo in Dublin, Texas!
In fact, it would be after the close of the Dublin Rodeo each year that the stock would board the train and head for New York and Madison Square Garden. And if that doesn’t amaze a Central Texan, he just can’t be amazed.
The end of an era for the town of Dublin came in 1959 when Colborn sold the rodeo and as we all know, Vegas is today the home of World Champion Rodeos….but once…a long time ago…it was the town of Dublin, Texas, years before Garth Brooks was born…“Well it’s bulls and blood, it’s dust and mud
It’s the roar of a Sunday crowd, it’s the white in his knuckles
The gold in the buckle he’ll win the next go ’round
It’s boots and chaps, it’s cowboy hats
It’s spurs and latigo, it’s the ropes and the reins
And the joy and the pain and they call the thing rodeo.” xxx
*To obtain the documentary, From Dublin to Madison Square Garden, containing actual footage, interviews, etc. contact the firstname.lastname@example.org.
Better yet, stop in to see all the photographs, clothing worn by the contestants, watch the various videos, get Carolyn to tell you all about rodeo of days gone by in Dublin, and purchase your video documentary while you are there. I personally can highly recommend it!