One of the main attractions to Woodland Park, besides its natural air conditioning, is the beauty of the area.
THE FIRST RODEO
The very first rodeo here was put on in 1916 by the newly formed Woodland Park Rodeo Association. Irenes father, L.T. Spielman, was the president of the association. He and his brother, George, organized it along with Tom Foster, Ed Turner, John and Hunter Carroll, Maurice Anthony, and Al Sudholdt.
The first rodeos were held in a field across South Street from where the city hall is today. If you looked north up West Street from Midland, you could see the rodeo grounds. You could also see inside the rodeo grounds through cracks in the fence.
The early Rodeo Association dissolved in the 1930’s because the land they were using became too valuable to the town, and too much money was also needed for licensing. The grounds were sold to the town for practically nothing.
SADDLE CLUB FORMATION
For two years in the late 1930’s, unorganized rodeos were held on land east of Woodland Park belonging to Mr. Crowley. In 1947 some business owners in Woodland Park decided to advertise Woodland Park in the Colorado Springs Rodeo Parade. They built a log cabin on a flat bed truck, surrounded by pine trees and pretty girls. The sign on the float read, “Come to Woodland Park. Air Conditioned by Nature:” Because of the interest generated in the little log cabin, chances were sold after the parade, and the raffle raised seventy dollars.
The Woodland Park advertisers held a meeting to decide what to do with the money and after discussing several options, decided to form a Saddle Club and produce rodeos. All eleven persons present at the meeting were made Directors in the organization. They were: Ira and Georgiabelle Hollingsworth, Ed and Anna Bean, Bob and Ethel White, George Klumph and his sister, Catherine, Tom and Edith Atwell, and Walter Maximoff. Ed Bean was chosen the first president, and Edith Atwell became secretary/treasurer, a position she held for ten years.
Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler offered some ground north of town, part of the original Paint Pony Ranch. According to Bert Bergstrom Jr., the first rodeo there had no fence – cars were parked in a circle to ring the rodeo grounds. After the performance, the secretary locked the gate receipts in the trunk of her car, and only after returning home, she remembered the winners had not received their prize money. She had to rush back to the rodeo grounds to pay off the winners.
Mrs. Atwell stated much later that with “finagling and credit” they finally accumulated enough lumber for chutes and wire fencing for the arena. However, even with these improvements, a Brahma bull jumped the fence and left one of the women spectators in hysterics.
After watching a Paint Pony rodeo in 1947, Bert Bergstrom, Sr. commented, “The dust was two feet deep, and there weren’t any fences. That, I knew, was enough to prevent its success:” Bert, therefore, asked Tom Kelly, the Saddle Club president at the time, if the five acres that the arena is today was big enough for rodeo grounds. When Tom replied that it surely was, Bert went to work. He spoke to Ira James, a Woodland Park drugstore owner, who owned the land, and asked how much he wanted for it. Bert laughingly remembered James as a “foxy devil;” who asked $7,000. Bert gave him $1,000 cash on the spot, and they drew up the papers the next day.
Next, Bert went to see Alf Coulson, a county commissioner, about getting the county to level the land. At first Coulson wasn’t sure, but Bert convinced him it would be great for the kids so Coulson agreed. Workers and equipment from the Victor, Cripple Creek and Divide road districts leveled the land in two weekends.
GROWING THE RODEO
The first rodeo at the new location had its problems. It rained for five days before the event, and the first cowboy to hit the ground slid half way down the arena. Everyone involved became covered with mud. There were fifty contestants then, compared with about 250 and $12,000 in prize money in 1989.
There was always an event for the youngsters at the rodeos. They rode calves, and everyone who tried, whether he stayed on or not, received a silver dollar.
The first rodeo celebration at the new grounds included the picking of a rodeo queen. The first queen was Evelyn Workman (now Ball). She was elected by a “penny vote.” Each vote cost one penny. This raised between $1,000 and $1,500 a year for the Saddle Club. One year Clara Bergstrom and Leoh Rogers had no safe place for all the money overnight, so they hid it in the Rogers’ deep freeze.
The second queen was Katy Brown, and the third year her sister, John Ann was elected. In John Ann’s reign, the festivities lasted two days, and the western parade was two miles long. The queen and her aides were thrilled to be entertained at the Broadmoor Hotel by movie actor Gordon MacRae. That same year a busload of about forty convalescent soldiers from Camp Carson were invited to the rodeo.
BUILDING THE GROUNDS
The “Woodland Park View” ran the following article August 5. 1949. “A new beautiful Woodland Park rodeo grounds is to be erected opposite the city’s thoroughfare at the foot of famous Pikes Peak with most scenic surroundings. The Woodland Park Senior Saddle Club announced this week at their special meeting Monday night, the ten-year lease of the property south of Midland Avenue and adjoining the Midland Terminal right-of-way. The land is owned by Bert Bergstrom, who leased the area to the Saddle Club for the new rodeo grounds location. “The Saddle club, after having presented a successful Woodland Days Rodeo last month, plans to start construction on the new grounds this fall and winter and complete the plans for next summer’s rodeo, which will be even more eventful than this year’s.”
During the building of this new facility, many people donated their services to achieve its success. Leoma Kelly said when her husband, Tom, and the others built the rodeo grounds, they went into the woods and cut lodge poles for the fence posts. Bill Rogers helped to haul dirt and level the arena. Glen Johnston remembered hard work and fun building the rodeo grounds. Chet Koons hooked up the electricity for the grounds. He also worked with the boy scouts who had the concession for selling pop at the performances. Mert Cummins built some of the fences on the rodeo grounds.
In 1948 Bergstrom donated the land to the Saddle Club, and it became the home of the Ute Trail Stampede.
IMPROVING THE GROUNDS
1952 saw the beginnings of a bigger and better grandstand. In 1953 new benches were added to seat 2,000. In 1954 the 2,500 seat capacity stadium was ready, complete with a roof at a total cost of $30,000. A concession booth and public facilities were also added. In an article by the Gazette Telegraph in July 1954, Bill Rogers, president of the Saddle Club, said the grounds had also been improved to include a racetrack. Rogers prophesied that the 1954 affair would be a “rough and tumble rodeo.” He said it would attract top cowboys from all the western states. The Stampede was to feature the trick riding and roping of Jean and Buck Bowhan of Coffeeville, Kansas. Events would pay a purse of $1,000 plus entry fees. Rogers promised bull riding, calf roping, bulldogging, saddle and bareback bronc busting and, of course, rodeo clowns.
SADDLE CLUB CLUBHOUSE
In 1963 the Saddle Club clubhouse was built for $28,000. The Club had grown to 500 members who all owned horses. They held organized rides with weenie roasts, and often rode in other area parades to advertise the Ute Trail Stampede. Vince Gordon was on the Saddle Club Board of Directors. He organized a band which played every Saturday night at the Saddle Club. Matt, Vince’s son, was the drummer. The Saturday evening dances grew from a small attendance to sometimes as many as two hundred. Vince played the steel guitar, lead guitar and accordion.