Richard Connor: The rodeo moves on but the coliseum’s magic remains

Rainbow Buffalo” – and boots to match. 

For many of us it was not our first rodeo and it was not our last. It’s just that this was our last rodeo in the Will Rogers Coliseum.

Saturday night the curtain fell after 76 years of rodeos.

Many of us have been wistful but hopeful. We will miss the coliseum – its sounds, its sights, its intimacy. We’ll even miss the smell – an old and musty fragrance that awakened our senses as emphatically as watching a great bucking horse or bull. We anxiously await the new Dickies Arena and have high hopes for the next chapter of our rodeo.

The past may be prelude but it’s a past worth remembering.

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One of my friends in the Grand Entry has been riding in one event or another at Will Rogers since she was two. Saturday night was her last there. She saw Roy Rogers at the arena. Her daughters have ridden there, and lately her granddaughters have been on the rail slapping hands as the Grand Entry riders pass by.

When I moved to Fort Worth in the mid-1980s, my two oldest children were teenagers. We watched many a rodeo together and one, when she moved permanently to New York City, came back so that her children could experience our rodeo.

My youngest child was born here and grew up around the rodeo. Many of my thoughts over the past few weeks have been about her. I share them because I suspect many folks have similar memories.

Over at the John Justin Arena, I was surprised to see a Quarter Horse lead line class. From way above, the riders looked like peanuts wearing cowboy hats and enveloped in large saddles on big horses.

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That was my daughter Meredith when she was 4 years old. She won a blue ribbon.

A preschool friend wanted to attend the rodeo with her and the classmate’s mother arranged it. We sat high up, almost in the coliseum rafters, one Saturday afternoon. While my daughter intently watched the rodeo, the little boy sat staring not at the rodeo but at her – for the entire show. Toward the end he put his arm around her. She was horrified. It was a scene I can still replay in my mind, even 14 years later.

I walked all around the show grounds this past week, looking at the walls displaying the various art contest entries that bring the works of Texas school children to the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo.

There is artwork a person would purchase and be proud to frame and hang in an office or home. Truly remarkable talents on display.

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My mind flashed back to my then 5-year old and her work entitled “Rainbow Buffalo.” She finished second in her age group. Her painting is pictured here on this page. I always thought the judges did not believe a child her age could produce such a wonderful, creative piece or she would have placed first.

That painting has held a place of prominence in every house of mine since that show.

My friend, the late John Pearce, was a boot designer at Justin and an incredible creative talent. Fun to be around, too. He and I worked the calf scramble together. Among other things, he brought sartorial class to the rodeo. He understood style and color.

“I want a print of “Rainbow Buffalo” to frame,” he would say, and I was flattered.

The art contest provided an important insight about Meredith. The day after the luncheon awards I showed her the coverage of the event in the Sunday Star-Telegram. She could read at that point.

She was stunned to see the name of the first-place winner in her category.

“I thought I won,” she said with alarm. She frowned, pouted, and then said she would win the next year.

I realized that I had a competitive child on my hands. That sense of wanting to win stays with her today as she nears 19 years old and is a devoted athlete.

Over the years at Will Rogers we have learned a lot about the West and its heritage, and about ourselves and our friends and families.

New knowledge, new fun, and new memories begin next year. But as the lights went down at Will Rogers Coliseum we were able to bask in the beauty of the past.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at