Under the supervision of the Rodeo Association of America, the Cow Capital Roundup came to Kissimmee and attracted over 35,000 spectators to the ten day event. Opening on February 12, 1940, two busloads of North Carolina Mayors, the Governor of Florida, State dignitaries and tourists from across the United States came to witness the event.
Almost overnight a stadium capable of seating 8,000, a judges stand, race track, chutes and corrals, costing $25,000 were erected in North Kissimmee, near the Kissimmee Livestock Market which had been built in 1938. Three thousand dollars alone went into lighting; prize money was expected to exceed $8,000.
Roaming the streets of Kissimmee by day were world famous cowboys and at night they sat around campfires on the rodeo grounds. Championship contestants and performers who had appeared in Madison Square Gardens were lined up to appear at the rodeo. Leading the line-up was Mildred Mix, daughter of former screen actor Tom Mix. Mildred dazzled the crowds with her talents using a lariat and six-shooter while astride her horse. Other well-known performers included trick rider and roper Paul Bond, Bill Keen with his Roman and Liberty jumping horses, Peggy Murray and Gypsy, her black riding horse, and Mary Parks, known as the “Rodeo Queen” in cowgirls bronc riding.
And the first Cow Capital Roundup wasn’t without its own “Queen” or rather Empress. Miss Patsy Johnston was chosen in a contest held at the Community House by the Kissimmee Lions Club. Her duties entailed not only riding in parades on her horse Tony but also appearing in the grand entry at each performance. Dignitaries were presented ten-gallon hats and colored handkerchiefs by the reigning Empress of the Cow Capital Rodeo.
That same year a Fourth of July Cattleman’s Field Day and Summer Roundup was held in the stadium with promotional help from the Chamber of Commerce while local civic groups set up concession booths. Rube Lamont was one of the featured performers for the July event. 1941 saw the formation of the Silver Spurs Riding Club and Quadrille; then the first Silver Spurs Rodeo was held in 1944. Cattle and cowmen had always been a large part of Osceola County history but with the rodeo, the slogan “Cow Capital of Florida” was born.
Sources: “Kissimmee Valley Gazette” January, February and June 1940 issues
Photos: “Kissimmee Valley Gazette” February 1940 issues; Michael D. Bast postcard collection