By Dennis J Ottley, past chairman -1963

THE HISTORY OF COWBOY DAYS, INC. has been taken from interviews, newspaper clippings, letters and various event programs over the years.  Because of the success of the annual event, Cowboy Days has become Evanston’s biggest and most famous and renowned annual event, and had always been held during the Labor Day weekend.  

COWBOY DAYS first became an annual event in 1936. According to interviews in 1959 and 1961 with Dr. J. H. Holland and Robert (Bob) Rowley by, June Painter Fearn and her daughter, Sharon Fearn Rufi, it was said that the entire idea first belonged to Mr. Tom Painter, a local and well-known and well-liked rancher and stock producer throughout the area.  His idea was to bring to the folks a ranching heritage celebration. 

A year or two prior to 1936 Mr. Painter approached Mr. Robert (Bob) Rowley, a locomotive engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad, to talk to him about his idea of a possible local rodeo event.  Apparently, Mr. Rowley liked the idea.  So, the two started immediately to get the ball rolling.  It was a “dream come true” for Mr. Painter, and the beginning of an annual event to not only bring to the public a portion of the wild, wild  west and the life of the American cowboy,  plus a weekend of family fun and entertainment for all.   

By 1934 they took the idea to Dr. J. H. Holland, who was Mayor of Evanston at that time.  Dr. Holland agreed with them that it was a great idea and stated that it would help the town tremendously, especially if it was held during the Labor Day weekend every year.  It would help economically and socially due to Labor Day being the last holiday of the year before the harsh winters set in. 

After Labor Day and the start of school, traffic on U.S. Highway 30S slowed down to almost nothing which was bad not only for the ranchers, but even worse for the local businesses that depended on tourist travelers for survival.  The winters seemed long, and many times through the season the highways would be closed, sometimes in all directions because of the heavy snow storms and severe blizzards that hindered the area at that time. 

Mr. Painter and Mr. Rowley attended many rodeos around the country talking to committees and stock producers to learn the ins and outs of promoting a rodeo in Evanston.  Feeling they were ready to get the program going they proceeded with forming a committee.     

The first committee was formed with Mr. Joseph I. Williams as chairman in 1936.  Mr. Painter put up a lot of front end money to help the committee get the event going along with donations from many others.  Dr. J. H. Holland was chairman of the event for the next three years in 1937, 38 and 39.

At the time it was decided that members of the first committee would be taken from various unions, organizations and other walks-of-life from the community.  Some of the first members, in addition to Mr. Painter, Mr. Rowley, Dr. Holland and Mr. Williams, were Fred Coles, Alex Fife, Cliff Durrant, Ock (Oscar) Fearn, Roy E. Bryan, Bernard Gram and Milton Homer,  most of them taking their turn at being chairman at some time.

The committee decided to have a young girl represent Evanston Cowboy Days each year as rodeo queen.  The first queen for 1936 was a young 16 year old local girl named Miss Margaret Johnson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gust Johnson.    Each year a young girl from the area would be voted in as Queen of Cowboy Days, plus one or two attendants to the queen would be named.  This would be  Cowboy Days royalty.

It was said that they would never have gotten the rodeo off the ground if it hadn’t been for Tom Painter.  The country was just coming out of the so called “Great Depression” and the period of “Prohibition”, which was during a time when a lot of the stockmen and businesses became financially broke.  The first year was tough going, but in a few years the event got so popular that Mr. Painter came up with the slogan for the event as the “Biggest Little Rodeo in the World”, a slogan that has remained with the rodeo to this day.  Although, the first year was tough going for the committee, in a few years the Cowboy Days got so popular and well known that the committee decided that it was time to incorporate the event.  So in 1939 they elected to go ahead with the corporation.  They incorporated the program under the title of “Cowboys Days, Inc.”.

From the beginning in 1936, the Cowboy Days program has been held every year with the exception of 1943, 1944 and 1945, the years of World War II.  After the war a new committee was formed, and they immediately went to work planning for the 1946 event with Bob Cousins as chairman.       

It seemed like every year the Cowboy Days committee would be threatened with rain or snow, but the only year the weekend was 100% rained out was in 1965 when Clarence Bateman was chairman.  It was a bad year for everyone; the committee, the stock producer and the entire community.  However, with Swanny Kirby agreeing to give the committee a price break off the cost of producing the show that year, plus contributions from numerous businesses throughout the community, the committee was financially able to continue plans for the year of 1966,  which turned out to be a successful year.

Cowboy Days got so much publicity and got so well-known over the years that in 1949 the event was voted as the Fifth Best Cowboy Show in North America.  Many famous and well-known cowboys and cowgirls have participated.  Records have been set and many of the participants and rodeo stock have qualified for the National Finals Rodeo held in Las Vegas each year.    

Evanston Cowboy Days is sanctioned and recognized by the P.R.C.A, (Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association).  All points and scores obtained by participants are counted toward their chances of making it to the national finals.

This year will be the 79th anniversary of Evanston Cowboy Days. It will be held during the Labor Day weekend, as always, on September 5, 6 and 7. Stock contractor will once again be the Bar T Rodeo, Inc., a stock producer out of Utah that is owned and operated by the Kirby family. Swanny Kirby, deceased, the original owner of Bar I Rodeo, Inc. first produced stock for Cowboy Days in the late 1950s.  The Bar I has been the stock producer ever since with the exception of 1962.  They have always brought in great stock and have always put on a great show.  A number of their stock has qualified for the National Finals over the years.

The committee once again welcomes you to join them in a weekend of “THE BIGGEST LITTLE RODEO IN THE WORLD” designed for family fun with non-stop entertainment, a grand and colorful parade, wild and woolly rodeos with professional cowboys and cowgirls, comical and fearless clowns (bull fighters) and specialty acts.