McAlester Prison Rodeo
Oklahoma City architect Todd Crowl was quarterbacking the McAlester High Buffalo football team around the time of the 1973 McAlester Prison Riot. He retains vivid childhood memories of watching Big Mac’s famed Prison Rodeo, whose 70-year ride ended several years ago.
Prison rodeos were fun, because of the prison population taking part in the rodeo, and some of the games and activities that would be politically incorrect to do today. One example was “Money the Hard Way.” They put a $100 bill on the horn of a bull. Then they turned the prisoners loose in the arena on the prison rodeo grounds.
Money the Hard Way was a fan favorite. No one forced the prisoners to participate, it was just whoever wanted to go in. There would be at least a hundred guys. Among the prisoners, it was a macho thing. If you stayed in the stands, you were considered a sissy.
There were some bold guys that would actually go straight for the bull and try to get the money off of him. There were guys getting bulled and horned. They would just kind of scrape them off. Just like fans go to an auto race to see a car crash, folks went to a prison rodeo to see a prisoner get gored by a bull!
Fortunately, bulls aren’t multitaskers, they focus on one person, so they would set their sights on one guy and charge him. They would either bull him, or the guy would jump up onto the six-foot wall to get out of the way.
One time, right in front of me, a bull had his sights on one prisoner who was against the wall. The bull charged, and the guy shifted to the right, then to the left. The bull hit the wall full force, missed the guy, shook the entire concrete structure, and stepped backwards, dazed.
Then it was like a colony of ants swarming him. It looked like dozens of guys jumping on this unconscious bull, to get the hundred dollar bill before he came around. It was the highlight of the rodeo.
The rodeos would always announce the warden, and you would hear this low-level boo from over in the prison section. The prisoners were also spectators and they had a band, and they rode bulls and broncs. The prison rodeo queen was a girl from McAlester. That was a big honor in rodeo circles. Of course, when she rode her horse by the prisoners, they would all whistle.
The stands were kind of like an OU-Texas game with its line of demarcation between the crimson and the burnt orange. Only a little chain link fence separated the prisoners and the public. There was no barbed wire or guards.
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
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