It’s been said that “a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and the soul of its people”. There is no doubt the same thing can be said about the genesis of the culture of small towns. And nowhere is that culture that springs from the heart and soul of the people more apparent than during a county fair and rodeo.
Anyone who’s been to a fair and rodeo can call up the images. The lights shining down on the arena on a Friday night, the glow visible on the horizon even in town. The sound of the announcer’s voice coming over the PA and drifting through the air, the accent and cadence familiar year after year. The heavy clang of metal on metal as gates are pulled open, as thundering hooves land on dirt that’s already packed down and the distant roar rises from the crowd.
This annual event is a Western tradition that is truly an extension of the people who bring it to life year after year. These are people who value hard work, in others as well as themselves. They judge a man (or woman) not by the money that’s made or the fancy clothes that are worn or the big house that’s been purchased but by the effort that’s put into their labor and the pride they take in a job well done.
For the most part, these are men and women who are accustomed to being their own boss and working alone, and, in their most honest moments, they’ll admit to the danger in it. It’s one thing to get thrown from a horse when you’re in sight of the barn or have a good signal on your cell phone; it’s a totally different story when you’re all alone with no one to help you but…you.
So, when they get together, as they do every summer, it’s only natural that the events they enjoy are an extension of the rhythm of the work that fills their daily lives. Farmers will exhibit the finest produce they harvested that year. Women will display their most exquisite quilts and needlework. The “kids” will show the lamb or the goat or the pig or the calf or the chickens they’ve devoted months to raising, not allowing themselves to dwell too much on the inevitable sale that will come at the end of the things.
And the cowboys…the cowboys will show just how fast they can rope a cow on their own or—better yet—be part of a team that does that and more.
The fair and rodeo is the one time of year when people who are individuals, above all else, and scorn anyone who dares to boast or brag will, with no small amount of pleasure, join a team and show off their best moves on horseback.
It’s that way today, just like it’s been that way, all along.
The first Kiowa County Fair and Rodeo was held in 1910 (or maybe 1912, no one’s exactly sure). The town itself was less than 25 years old, and the fairgrounds would not be built for another decade or so.
It originally began as a Labor Day Celebration but gradually evolved into a 3-day fair rather than an actual festival. Over time, it was moved to the second week in September, and that’s where it’s been, for the most part, ever since.
During those early years, all events were held downtown. Space was limited—there weren’t that many buildings built yet—so exhibits were somewhat “meager” and jammed into any space available such as store buildings, the school house, tents—if tents were around. Maine Street was the location of all the concessions and was also the site for the race track. In those early days, foot races, sack races and barrel races were the main competitions as well as any other event that would gather enough people to participate and interest enough people to watch.
The ball diamond was down in Jackson’s pasture, not far from where Jackson’s Pond is now, and the annual ball game was no small part of the annual celebration.
In 1916, the first “Kiowa County Free Fair and Barbeque” was held, and there hasn’t been a single break in it since.
Five years later, the Board of County Commissioners acquired the land that is the site of the fairgrounds now. First off, a few small livestock pens were built. An exhibition building for agriculture products was added as was another building for “fancy work” and household displays. The present race track was laid out in that first year with the baseball diamond being in the middle where the arena is today.
However, the “crowning touch” was the construction of the grandstand, comprised totally of wood and capable of seating 300 people and providing an unobstructed view of both the race track and the baseball diamond. As the years passed, the crowds grew, and events were added. More buildings were built, including the Community Building, now known as the Legion Hall, constructed by the WPA, and, in the mid-1940s, the metal grandstands were constructed that are still used today.
Also added was the Kiowa County Community Building in the late 1980s. The Exhibit Hall used to be located under the grandstands, but since the addition of the community building, a more open space houses the exhibits. The community building is also the new space for the 4-H concession stand. In the past that concession stand was held out of the old Legion Hall. Another major addition to the fairgrounds came in the early 2000s when the open-air pavilion was built. These days the animals are housed there during the fair, and the stock sales and shows are held in the pavilion, as well. The pavilion has been an amazing addition to the fairgrounds and is often used for horse shows and competitions throughout the year.
At some point, it’s unsure when, the ball game was replaced by more rodeo events until the ball game ceased to be part of the fair and rodeo, at all. But, since then, other competitions have sprung up and garnered their own enthusiasts.
So, what’s up for this year? See the Fair advertisement in this edition in order to have the best (and most complete) description of events, but what follows is a summary of the upcoming festivities. Keep in mind that there will be a whole lot of people in town for the Eads High School Alumni Reunion, as well. Their events are intermingled into the cloth of the Kiowa County Fair & Rodeo this year so if you can’t find something to do the second weekend in September—you’re just not trying.
The Kiowa County Fun Day is on Sunday, September 4 and it will kick off the fair with registration starting at 9:00 am and events beginning at 10:00 am. This is for the kids and its worth your time to get out to the fairgrounds and hoot and holler for the little tykes.
This year the Kiowa County Commissioners, in honor of the many alumni visitors who will be in attendance, is providing two barbeques at noon for attendees. On Friday it’s beef on the menu and on Saturday is the pork barbeque. As we all know, meat ain’t cheap so you’ll need to purchase a wristband each day (Friday & Saturday) in order to get the barbeque AND attend the CPRA rodeos that will be held each day. The barbeque begin at noon and the rodeo at 1:00 pm.
The Commissioners emphasize that it’s free to come into the fairgrounds this year and they won’t be collecting at the gates as they have in the past. But once you get in, locate the RED TICKET BOOTH where you can get your wristbands for the barbeque and rodeo—that’s each day (Friday and Saturday). The ticket booth will be set up in the main walkway just west of the grandstand on Friday and Saturday.
In addition, the FFA and 4-H kids will be hard at it with multiple animal shows on tap throughout the week. The Poultry and Rabbit Shows will be on Wednesday at 1:00 pm. The Goat Show begins on Wednesday at 6:00 pm. On Thursday, the Swine Show starts at 9:00 am, and the Beef Show gets under way at noon. Also, on Thursday, the Sheep Show will start at 2:00 pm and the Round Robin Show begins at 3:00 pm. Friday will feature the ever-popular Premium Junior Livestock Sale starting at 9:30 am.
And topping it off this year is a feature for the kids that includes a carnival like atmosphere located on the Legion Hall grounds—well you won’t miss the location because all you have to is find a ginormous blowup shark. That shark is the main feature of the county’s The Inflatable Experience play area. Wristbands for hours of play can be purchased at the carnival area. Hours for the carnival includes Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.
The parade, a staple of the Kiowa County Fair & Rodeo, is on Saturday morning starting at 10:00 am. Anyone who wants to join in the fun can line up along 14th Street by the courthouse. The parade will go north up Maine Street and then around to the Weisbrod Nursing Home on Luther Street. Businesses on Maine Street will be open before and after the parade including the museum and the Eads Senior Citizen’s Center where the Alumni Silent Auction will be available in order to place last-minute bids.
Finally, the beloved tradition of two mornings of Free Cowboy Breakfasts sponsored by the Eads Chamber of Commerce and located down on Maine Street in the GN-Bank vacant lot is being planned. The breakfasts will be held on Thursday and Friday mornings beginning bright and early at 6:00 am. The Kiowa County Museum, located on Maine Street, will be open during the mornings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
And one more event that has been enjoyed in years past is coming back to Maine Street on Saturday night in honor of the Alumni Reunion—the Meet on Maine event starts at 6:00 pm and goes until 10:00 pm. On the street you will find your favorite foods, music, beer or beverage, nostalgic movie, silent auction, cornhole tournament—and lots and lots of trips down Memory Lane with old (and young) friends alike.
There are some traditions that fall by the wayside, piece by piece, little by little until the traditions themselves are long gone and relegated only to the memories of those old enough to remember. That’s just the way of life, they say. But there are some traditions that must be maintained, for the traditions themselves are not just a way of life but part of life itself…its celebration and joy and gathering of the people from whom that life springs forth and is enjoyed day after day, year after year. And so it is with the Kiowa County Fair and Rodeo. Yeehaw!