50 Years Of The Dixie National Rodeo In Mississippi

JACKSON, MS (AP) — The Dixie National Rodeo marks its golden anniversary this week in Mississippi with all the shine and sparkle of a rodeo queen's crown. Plus, all the sweet celebration of coconut cream and chocolate cakes that — like the cowboys and cowgirls — are all duded up for the occasion.

         With five decades in the rodeo arena, the Dixie National rides strong and long on tradition and reputation. Rope in all the ancillary events, cattle shows, horse shows — "the things that make it such a great Western event," rodeo announcer Mike Mathis said — and it's a not-to-be duplicated draw.

         The month long livestock show and rodeo attracts more than 100,000 visitors to the State Fairgrounds in Jackson, for an estimated annual economic impact of more than $20 million.

         Nearly 1,000 contestants enter to compete for a total prize purse of almost $250,000 in the rodeo.

         "That attracts the best cowboys in the world," said Mathis, pulling from more than 40 states, plus Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Mexico.

         Stace Smith's rodeo company, selected 11 times as the PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year, hand picks other stock contractors to bring livestock to Jackson from as far away as South Dakota, Michigan and Montana.

         "So you literally see the best of the best here," Mathis said. "This is the Wrangler National Finals, encapsulated, eight days out here in Mississippi."

         "This is fun. This is truly the life we live," Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith said, noting her family's Brookhaven stockyard and weekly live cattle auction. "So these aren't props. These are the real deal."

         As dusty as the daily business of cattle farming is, the rodeo show puts the spotlight on its thrilling side, where speed, skill and bravado rule.

         Hyde-Smith shared a memory of her first time at the rodeo without her parents along, sitting on the chutes with her pal, Sandy Luper Bond, a barrel racer.

         "You can't do that now," she said, laughing fondly at the story from her college days. "But back then you could."

         The rodeo a long-time love and family highlight that always comes on the heels of Christmas here.

         A history compiled for the anniversary marked the seeds that sprouted roots and branches that leafed out into the month long livestock focus and festive draw at the State Fairgrounds.

         The Dixie National Rodeo started Thursday. It runs through next Wednesday. The Dixie National Livestock Show continues through Feb. 24.

         Herman Massey, Percy Quinn, Robert Stockett and then-Agriculture Commissioner Si Corley created the Dixie National Rodeo and Livestock Show in 1965, spurred on by trips to livestock shows out West and the idea of an event that'd corral entertainment with economic impact.

         H.H. Annison, a Shreveport, Louisiana, livestock manager turned Mississippi Coliseum/fairgrounds manager, convinced Tommy Steiner of Austin to come put on the rodeo, sealing that first contract with a firm handshake. While the first couple events were tough, the rodeo broke even its third year and then took off to become one of the nation's largest.

         With no promotional budget early on, creativity reigned. In one early publicity stunt, a longhorn bull was turned loose on the fairgrounds, with a call to TV stations about the animal's escape and heading toward Capitol Street. Cameras arrived to catch cowboys' capture of the dangerous-looking bull.

         A Dixie National Parade joined the event its sixth year, and rodeo queen pageants joined the event in 1974.

         Rodeo clown Lecile Harris, a regular comedic face for rodeo fans here, shared an anecdote about the loops he'd run in the coliseum corridor to keep in shape, and the one morning he kept passing a girl on skates. They'd laugh and speak each round. Next time he saw her, it was on the rodeo stage. The roller skater was LeAnn Rimes.

         This year's country music entertainment includes Montgomery Gentry, Dan + Shay, Brothers Osborne, Ronnie Milsap, Jerrod Niemann, The Swon Brothers and David Nail.

         For the rodeo audience, passion and fashion mix — never more so than at a gala where hay bales, boots and rope convey the country aspect, but folks still liked to dress up.

         Hyde-Smith's own silver steer-head necklace and studded charcoal gray boots carried Western flair for an event that saw everything from blue jeans to crystal beading.

         Barbara Nelson of Ridgeland chuckled over her tan boots with winged hearts sporting peace signs. She'd told the saleswoman "That's a little wild," just to be urged, "Step out of your box!" She did, and later got a pair just like them for her daughter.

         Cindy McNair of Learned turned her chocolate brown boots in the light to make the sequins twinkle. "They wouldn't allow me in here with my working boots," she joked, after days of showing livestock. "They don't smell real good."

         Additional rodeo-related events include the Dixie National Parade, 10:30 a.m. Saturday starting on High Street at Jefferson to travel downtown, and the Dixie National Rodeo Dance, 10 p.m. Saturday at the Mississippi Trade Mart.

         – by AP/ Reporter Sherry Lucas with The Clarion-Ledger

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