Fireworks, parades and pageants are common at Fourth of July celebrations throughout the country, but nothing seemed as synonymous with the annual celebration in Tooele County as the Tooele Bit N Spur Rodeo.
After being held every year for 74 years, the 2020 rodeo was cancelled.
“This was going to be the 75th anniversary. We have put on this rodeo annually since 1945,” said Jim Harrell, rodeo chairman. “As far as we know, this rodeo was the longest continuous running rodeo in the state, until now. I felt very bad to have to cancel the rodeo. It is amazing that a world war didn’t prevent the rodeo from being held, but a virus could.”
Harrell chaired the rodeo for the past 19 years with the help of a multitude of volunteers.
“We had a great following of contestants and spectators. With this in mind, we tried to move it to the Labor Day weekend but could not get a favorable response from Tooele County, so we gave up,” Harrell said.
Cindy Elton, also a member of the rodeo committee, said the decision was heartbreaking.
“The Bit N Spur Rodeo Committee has worked hard over the past several years, reaching our goal of growing the Bit N Spur Rodeo into a major Tooele Valley Independence Day celebration,” she said.
Elton said data collected through online and at-the-gate ticket sales had shown rodeo spectators come from all over Utah and the United States, including foreign countries to attend the rodeo.
“For the past several years, the grandstands at the Deseret Peak Complex are near capacity for the July 3 performance and the 4th of July performance is always a sell-out; with shoulder-to-shoulder, standing room only, even with additional bleachers added,” she said.
“The deciding factor for the Bit N Spur Rodeo Committee to cancel was based on our first responsibility to the health and safety of our community, our volunteer members, rodeo contestants and fans.”
The 2020 rodeo was supposed to be the biggest and best rodeo ever sponsored by the Tooele Bit N Spur Club.
“It was our 75th consecutive year of producing this all volunteer two-day event. Planning for our “3/4 of a Century” rodeo had been going on for several years,” Elton said.
“We had ordered commemorative merchandise; ball-caps and T-shirts. We were working with the Transcript Bulletin on our ads for The Rodeo News magazine, we had submitted our grant request to the Tooele County TRT (transient room tax) for advertising funding and had signed contracts with the stock contractor, announcers, and the barrel man. We received amazing support from our business community (rodeo sponsors) who, like the rodeo committee, were just as excited for the 2020 75th Annual Bit N Spur Rodeo,” Elton said.
“Our plans drastically changed; typically we contact our sponsors, vendors, and marketing companies around February and March to get them set up for the July rodeo. However, this year we were contacting them to send the bad news.”
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How did it make you feel to have to cancel the rodeo?
It was heartbreaking, one of the toughest decisions our Rodeo Committee had to face. The Committee was in agreement to postpone the July 3 & 4th Rodeo based on current health-risk levels and restrictions. We looked at other possible dates, further in the year and even thought about holding a 4th of July Rodeo on Labor Day weekend (less competition among pyrotechnics companies). Our Rodeo committee was divided in making the ultimate decision to cancel the Rodeo. We spent a lot of time researching websites and talking with our rodeo resources to find out what other Utah Rodeo's were doing. It was no surprise when we discovered most all were beginning to cancel and less than a handful had rescheduled. One Utah PRCA rodeo that rescheduled has reduced the number of spectators allowed for each performance from 3,500 to 760. The Tooele Bit n' Spur Rodeo is sanctioned Rocky Mountain Professional Rodeo Association (RMPRA). Some RMPRA rodeos are cancelled and others are expected to continue for the benefit of contestant participation, the number of spectators are also being limited.
The Bit n' Spur Rodeo Committee has worked hard over the past several years, reaching our goal of growing the Bit n' Spur Rodeo into a major Tooele Valley Independence Day celebration. Data collected through online and at-the-gate ticket sales have shown our Rodeo spectators come from all over Utah and the United States, including foreign countries. For the past several years, the grandstands at the Deseret Peak Complex are near capacity for the July 3rd performance and the 4th of July performance is always a sell-out; with shoulder-to-shoulder, standing room only, even with additional bleachers added. The deciding factor for the Bit n' Spur Rodeo Committee to cancel was based on our first responsibility to the health and safety of our community, our volunteer members, rodeo contestants and fans.
Had you already made plans for the rodeo?
Yes. 2020 was supposed to be our biggest and best Rodeo as it was our 75th consecutive year of producing this all volunteer 2-day event. Planning for our "3/4 of a Century" Rodeo had been going on for several years. We had ordered commemorative merchandise; ball-caps and T-shirts. We were working with the Transcript Bulletin on our ads for The Rodeo News magazine, we had submitted our grant request to the Tooele County TRT for advertising funding and had signed contracts with the Stock Contractor, announcers, and the barrel man. We received amazing support from our business community (Rodeo sponsors) who, like the Rodeo Committee, were just as excited for the 2020 75th Annual Bit n' Spur Rodeo. Our plans drastically changed; typically we contact our sponsors, vendors, and marketing companies around February and March to get them set up for the July Rodeo. However, this year we were contacting them to send the bad news.
Have members of the Bit N Spur Club been meeting lately for any other activities?
Since January, the Club's Board of Directors has been meeting each month. However, starting in March, members began practicing social distancing by limiting less than 10 meeting attendees inside the Bit n' Spur Clubhouse and others learned how to use Zoom or WebEx to call in. Technology has been a life-line for our Rodeo Committee and the Bit n' Spur Directors and members.
We had to make the difficult decision to cancel our Youth Riding Club activities this year due to the pandemic. With over 60 young riders, ranging in age from 5 - 15, it would have been impossible for our Junior leaders and handlers to safely keep kids and horses 6 feet apart. This decision has been particularly difficult for our kids and parents; For the past 5 years The Bit n' Spur Youth riders have won the High-Point Club award from competing with other clubs in the USWRCA District 1 Youth show, typically held the first weekend in June.
The Club is planning on continuing its summer Team Penning Series, held every Tuesday and Thursday nights at the Bit n' Spur Rodeo Grounds. We are also looking at holding Team Sorting sessions. Both activities are non-competitive, designed for riders of all ages and abilities. Team penning is a fund raiser for the Club. The cost is $15 per rider ($45 for a team of 3). If health restrictions/limits are reduced, the Club is hoping to hold a year-end "Rodeo/Horse Show" for our Youth members. Possibly in August. More to come on that.
Do you know how many 4th of July rodeos have been held in the past?
74 Rodeo's - ever since 1945. The first was held at Legionnaires park in Settlement Canyon. Every Rodeo the Bit n' Spur has produced was accomplished by volunteer members. There was a great article several years ago (I think Emma Penrod was the photographer) but it had a lot of history about the Bit n' Spur and the Rodeo. After Settlement, the Rodeo moved to what is now called the "Bit n' Spur Rodeo Grounds" (property owned by the White's that was donated to Tooele City) It was July 1999 that the Bit n' Spur moved the Rodeo to the Tooele County Deseret Peak Complex. We have never missed a 4th of July Holiday Rodeo until now.
I suppose most rodeos in Utah for Cowboy Christmas are cancelled?
This must be a bummer for cowboys and cowgirls. All but 2 PRCA rodeos are cancelled. (Day's of 47 Cowboy Games, Oakley Rodeo, West Jordan's Western Stampede, to name just a few) So far, most of the RMPRA Rodeo's have not cancelled. However, those that are scheduled during the first 2 weeks in July (Cowboy Christmas) will likely cancel or reschedule with limited number of spectators. There are controlling factors, similar to what other event sponsors are going through, such as the health department restrictions/limits on social gatherings. Not only does this affect the Rodeo contestants financially, but also contributes to an economic loss for the business communities within the locale. Providing PPE to spectators and contestants would be too costly and there is no assurance the person sitting next to you will wear a mask.
Visit this website to see how many PRCA Rodeos were scheduled for 2020 (Utah and nationwide) which are now cancelled.
This website also has resources listed for Rodeo's to recover financial losses and other issues related to COVID-19.
Any other information the public might find interesting about the 4th of July rodeo?
Our Rodeo Committee, Club members and volunteers are proud to be part of this historic and patriotic event that is enjoyed by so many of our residents and out-of-County guests. In order to put this rodeo on, we rely heavily on business sponsorships, ticket sales, and TRT funds for advertising. The Bit n' Spur Rodeo is very unique; unlike other Rodeos in Utah and elsewhere throughout the country, we do not receive any financial support from the general funds of the cities of Grantsville or Tooele or from Tooele County. TRT grant money use is limited to only advertising costs. Our Rodeo Committee and Marketing partners have been extremely successful in utilizing various types of advertising and social media. Success is gauged by the number of spectators and contestants, resulting in another successful production of Tooele Valley's Biggest and Oldest Rodeo. Our Motto: We are the West - Live it!