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Time Runs Out for the Texas Prison Rodeo

Detail from a 1964 Texas Prison Rodeo program.
Photo courtesy
Detail from a 1964 Texas Prison Rodeo program.

The home of the Texas Prison Rodeo is being demolished, according to the Associated Press.

While an event hasn’t been held on the Huntsville prison grounds since 1986, the rodeo has a rich history dating back decades.

The Handbook of Texas Online says once the rodeo was created in 1931, it was a near-instant success: “Within two years public attendance swelled from a handful of outsiders to almost 15,000, prompting prison officials to erect wooden stands and charge admission. The revenue raised covered costs and subsidized an education and recreation fund that provided perquisites from textbooks and dentures to Christmas turkeys.”

The rodeos weren’t limited to traditional events like roping and riding, either. The Texas Prison Museum website describes a contest called "Hard Money," where inmates were placed in the arena with a charging bull that held a sack of cash between its horns. The first one to bring the sack back to the judges won.

The prison rodeo continued to capture the public’s imagination long after its last contest. For many, a memorable glimpse of the rodeo came in the film Urban Cowboy, which was filmed in the Huntsville area.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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