Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hailey preserves rodeo heritage

Memorabilia collected to fill interpretive center exhibit

Express Staff Writer

Ralph Harris and Florence Blanchard show some of the rodeo memorabilia they have already collected. Harris is holding a photo of his father, Charles A. Harris, at the rodeo in 1947, as well as a program from the Wood River Roundup in 1949. Blanchard is holding a 1954 photo of the Richfield Riding Club, which used to travel to Hailey to compete. Photo by Willy Cook

Rodeo has played an important role in the history of Hailey, beginning with the first Sawtooth Rangers riding club rodeo in 1947. City officials plan to preserve and celebrate Hailey's rodeo heritage with a permanent exhibit at an interpretive center gallery planned for the new rodeo arena taking shape at the south end of town.

So, if you have an old pair of chaps, a rodeo trophy or an old story to tell, the city may want to hear from you.

Research historian Florence Blanchard has been conducting interviews with rodeo old-timers and tracking down photographs, artifacts, stories and home movies from Hailey's early rodeo days.

The city plans to create a permanent exhibit at the 780-square-foot interpretive center that will remind visitors and locals alike that rodeo has long been a part of Wood River Valley culture.

Blanchard's work is being conducted under a $2,500 grant from the Idaho State Historical Society's Community Grant Program. Hailey is matching the grant amount with an additional $2,500. Three additional grant applications could provide funding for the acquisition of artifacts and memorabilia for the exhibit.

Blanchard said rodeo memorabilia doesn't have to be antique to be important for the collection.

"Even the 1980s are a part of history now," she said.

Artist and Sun Valley ski instructor Ralph Harris has supplied Blanchard and Hailey Historic Preservation Commission member Rob Lonning with about 200 photographs from his family's collection, illustrating the early days of the Hailey rodeo. He also has original rodeo programs and brochures from the 1940s.

"Rodeo was huge in Hailey," said Harris, who trained for a drill team from 10 years of age, riding in cavalry maneuvers at half-time events around southern Idaho.

He also rode around southern Idaho with loudspeakers on top of his father's car to advertise the rodeo.

"My job was hanging up posters," he said "It was great fun."

Harris said there were a lot more cowboys back in the old days, with locals involved in "rough stock" events such as saddle bronc, bareback and bull riding.

"It's a great idea to preserve this history," he said. "It will give another venue for the area to bring people in and study the rodeo arena and the history of Hailey in general."


Blanchard said she was excited about one recent find in particular, a hand-tooled belt belonging to 1967 Hailey rodeo queen Karma Bingham.

Bingham, who lives in Carey, was starting a fire recently at her home and saw a newsprint advertisement calling for rodeo memorabilia. She called Blanchard and told her about the belt.

"It was too wide to fit through my belt loops, so I don't think it's ever been worn," Bingham said. "If they want it, they're welcome to it. It's in perfect, pristine condition."

Bingham recalls having tea with the rodeo judges 44 years ago when she was a young woman. She was assessed along with the other contestants for poise and personality and then run through horsemanship drills, including a sliding stop. Bingham lived in Hailey at the time and didn't own a horse. She had to borrow one, and every day after school for a month she put it through the contest drill.

"I worked at the Arctic Circle restaurant in Hailey, and the boss was mad because I had to take time off to ride in the Fourth of July parade," she said. "After the parade, I went right back to work."

Bingham said preserving Hailey's rodeo heritage is important for the younger generation.

"The rodeo was a good tradition then and it's a good tradition today," she said. "It's important that the new generation knows what happened. Going to the rodeo was a real family event."

Bingham said she also won a turquoise ring and some ropes, which she no longer has.

At 61, she and her husband, Hal Bingahm, a retired schoolteacher, have just seen the last of their 12 children graduate from high school.

"And every one of them knows how to ride," she said.

Blanchard said the rodeo grounds were the site of a horse racing track beginning in 1903, and of the Blaine County Fair in 1914 when the first airplane landed in Hailey.

"That was a pretty big thrill, considering that Hailey got its first car in 1904," she said.

Blanchard and the city of will be identifying potential materials for the interpretive center gallery exhibit until April 30.

For more information or to contact the city with a possible memorabilia donation, call Tracy Anderson at 788-4221 or Florence Blanchard at 788-4450.

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