Every year the small ranching community of Grover, Colorado comes together on Father's Day weekend to pay tribute to a rodeo icon described by his friend, the late Eddie Hannah as, "A Man's Man and A Cowboy's Cowboy". Today the Grover Community club, many members of which are Earl Anderson's friends and family, produce the "Biggest Little Rodeo in the West" in his honor.
"Biggest Little Rodeo in the West"
Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo
By Jack H. Gillette Greeley, Colo.
It's been called "The Biggest Little Rodeo in the West" for many years, and maybe it always has been, even with its humble beginnings.
The Grover Community Fair was held in the fall of the year. Along about 1921, they started having rodeos at the fair. The events were horse racing, which included spud races, stake races, relay races, musical basket races, and maybe others, along with bronc riding. Some of the early contestants in the bronc riding were Fred Nichols, Fritz Bollin, Phil Yoder, Sharkey Erwin, Ted Williams, Johnny Davis and Glen Snyder. Glen Snyder won first money which was $20 or $25 in the bronc riding in the years 1922 and 1923.
All of the bucking horses belonged to local residents,such as August Carston, Jim Nagel, Lee and Roy Barfoot, Walt Thompson, Clay Foster and probably others. A $15 purse was awarded to the one bringing in the best bucking horse.
In 1923, Walt Thompson took his flea-bit horse, Wildcat, to Grover to enter it in the bronc bucking contest. One of the riders was Fred Nichols who decided to try and ride this horse of Walt Thompson's. The horse was eared down and a sack put over its head. There were no chutes in those days, and the cowboys would hold the horse while Fred got in the saddle, then they would jump back quickly as they pulled the sack off the horse's head. Old Wildcat went to bucking real hard and high, Fred was unseated and went up in the air and came down flat on the ground. Wildcat kept bucking and jumped over the yard fence nearby and went running down the street of Grover. The cowboys on horseback caught him and brought him back. Walt Thompson won the prize for having the best bucking horse at the contest. Fred won a sore backside, John Thompson put on his first rodeo in Grover in 1926.
The rodeos were held at the present site, There was no fenced in arena, They just used the area from the water tower to the south fence. At one time the legs on the water tower were used as the corner posts for the dogging chutes. The bucking horses were mounted while snubbed up to a saddle horse. Among the hands there in 1926, were Bill Dolan, Burdette Rush, and Harry Noore. Burdette won both the bronc riding and the calf roping that year. He didn't win a dime the next year. But he did get his labor for helping with the rodeo.
Earl Anderson produced his first Grover show in the fall of 1929 He helped keep the rodeo going over the years. Occasionally, he even put his own money back into it to keep the ink black. During the depression years it was easy to get help. The men were assured of a good meal and a pass to the rodeo. Earl's wife, Mary, made sure his hands were well fed. She did the cooking herself. Earl's bucking stock was well known around the rodeo circuit, John Thompson, Jim McDowell, Glen Cowley, and Walt Thompson built the first chutes on the present site of the rodeo. They used whatever lumber they could find. It was all used railroad ties, bridge planks, and other lumber. Some of the bridge planks were four inches thick. During the years, if a board broke it was wired back together until the chutes were mostly held together with baling wire. In the past few years the old chutes were replaced with steel. Jack Anderson, Earl's son, said of the old chutes, "We just cut a couple of wires, and the whole thing fell down."
The arena was fenced with railroad tie posts and woven wire. There too, if a hole got punched in it by a calf or a horse it was wired back together with baling wire.
At one time Ben Wesner entered the bronc riding. The onlookers stood around inside the arena wire and in front of the chutes. The horse Ben was trying to ride bucked him off and he lit at Goldie Bollin's feet to her great amusement. She later apologized to Ben for laughing. (Ben Wesner wrote a recent article in The Fence Post.)
For some years, the Grover 4-H kids under the leadership of Glen Cowley manned the pop stands. Contrary to some thinking, those cowboy contestants weren't just a bunch of beer drinkers Between rides many of them would buy a soft drink to wash the arena dust out of their throats. Of course it was possible that the 4-H kids may have learned a new word or two from them, especially if one had just lost his wallet somewhere in the chutes and didn't know it until he went to pay for his cold drink. It was also the responsibility of the 4-H kids to go around the rodeo grounds and gather up all the empty bottles. There was a deposit on them.
There were summers, maybe it's still true today, when it would have to rain on at least one of the two days of the rodeo. It didn't only rain, it poured. The arena would become heavy with mud. But as soon as possible, the animals were again bucking out of the chutes, and some of the riders were almost buried in the mud.
The Saturday night dance has always been a part of the rodeo. It was first held on a wooden platform downtown. Later it was held above E. B. Franklin's store and also in the upstairs of the Thompson building. After the Parker Mercantile closed, that building became the community building. From then on the dances have been held there. The dances were always fun. The music was good and you could dance with your favorite girl or just hang around. Oh yes, there was some drinking and fighting too. One night, we walked out the front door of the building and found one teenager on top of another, pounding the loser's head into the concrete side walk. The crowd just let them fight it out. Finally they both walked away a little worse for wear.
The churches in the Grover and Hereford communities always welcome the contestants and visitors to their services. On Sunday morning there's also the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Cowboy Chapter Services in the arena. One year, Rev. Gertrude Horn, the Prairie Preacher, performed a wedding ceremony for a couple on horseback in the rodeo arena.
The Grover rodeo is unique to itself. A lot of various activities are packed into two days.
Bob Fraker's first ride at Grover in 1947. He was a rodeo contestant for over 37 years from Grover to south Texas to Calgary to Madison Square Garden. About Grover he said, "You've never been to a rodeo till you go to Grover. It's rodeo in the raw. You can mingle with the cowboys, reach in the pen and poke a bull in the ribs, and to to the dance, just raise your feet up and the crowd will carry you along." He also said, "The little rodeo always will be the backbone of the rodeo industry, and usually they are the most pleasing to the lovers of the sport. He likes the small rodeos because they allow the most individuality."
Randy White, Publisher, Western Horseman magazine, was a contestant at Grover. He said in an article, "I have a lot of great memories of the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo, even though I haven't been to it since 1978, the year I finally threw in the towel as a weekend warrior in the PRCA. I went to bull riding, and never won a dime.
"I didn't leave mad. The fact that I never won anything at Grover wasn't unusual, because I didn't win anything at most of the rodeos I entered. There have been legion of guys who donate entry fees, and I was one of them. I figured it was my job. Ask me today: "Whats your favorite rodeo?" The answer easy-it's Grover!"
Thanks to the many unnamed involved people that have worked through the years and those still involved today, the Earl Anderson Memorial Rodeo will again perform this year. It will be held June and 17 -18th. The parade will be at 11 :00 Saturday morning. The rodeo starts at 1 :30 followed by a barbecue in the park on Saturday. Then, of course, the dance on Saturday night. Many things have changed in the 70 years of that rodeo. Beth Bashor said with a hint of pride in voice, "We've built a new building and now we have flush toilets." If you've never been to the "Biggest Little Rodeo in the West," this year should be the time. Information in this article has been gleaned from the rodeo programs, a visit with Beth Bashor, and a visit with Joan and Jack Anderson, and a memory or two of my own.
Reprinted from June 14, 1993 Fence Post