Rodeo in Belton, Texas 1924-2011
The Fourth of July in Belton is a tradition that means shared memories and a little something different to nearly everybody. These traditions and memories include parades that broke down, Yettie Polk Park events that got rained out, and blistered skin from the July 4th sun.
But center stage in the Celebration is - and always has been - the rodeo.
The Belton July 4th rodeo became an official part of the Independence Day Celebration in 1924. Before then, July 4th was a day when people from miles around met in one place, and the young blades who wanted to prove something to themselves or somebody else roped a few goats and saddle-broke a bronco or two. This rodeo arena was at the top of "Penelope Street Hill," where Bell County now has Precinct One Road and Bridge Department barn. That area was just as rocky and hot and dry in 1924 as it is today.
Farmers who wanted horses broke to the saddle brought them in. Some farmer always had some calves he allowed the use of, out of the goodness of his heart, for roping.
Bulls came in the same category. Any cowhand who felt brave could volunteer to ride a bucking bull. That was before the days of raising bucking bulls for rodeo. In the early days, any range bull they could catch and get into the chute was the victim.
In 1926, the Belton Area Chamber of Commerce realized it had a gold mine in the rodeo and decided to buy its own stock.
In the early 1930s Belton rodeo became joined the Cowboys Turtle Association, which is now the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Belton had one of the first night rodeos in the southwest, which lasted until 1:30 a.m.
After the end of World War II, the Belton Area Chamber of Commerce voted to build a new rodeo arena in Confederate Park. Once the huge arena, wooden bleachers, stock pens and chutes were built, Belton began to draw the top professional cowboys.
The rodeo grew to the point that additional bleachers were stacked on with metal seats.
Night performances went to a minimum of three, usually four, and the show grew and grew and grew.
Now in the air-conditioned comfort of the Bell County Expo Center with sliding, padded seats and music, flags, color and fanfare, Belton's July 4 rodeos are still the center of attention.
Adapted from a history written by Berneta Peeples