Montie Montana's personal copy of the program book for the 22nd Annual Newhall-Saugus Rodeo, held April 24 and 25, 1948, at the Bonelli Ranch rodeo grounds in Saugus, Calif.
Montie and his troupe — which included comic actor Slim Pickens — demonstrated trick roping and trick riding at this rodeo. (Note that Montie did not yet live in the Santa Clarita Valley).
Program book is 16 pages, 25 cents, approx. 8½x10½ inches. This example is ex-Montie Montana (Butterfields 2000), ex-EarthHunt.
At the time, the 15,000-seat Bonelli Ranch arena doubled as a rodeo grounds and an auto racetrack. In fact, this program book advertises the upcoming "hot rods" event on May 2, 1948.
Program book includes biographies of Andy Jauregui, who served as arena director; and Sheriff Gene Biscailuz, who had relatives living in the Santa Clarita Valley. An advertisement for the
Circle J guest ranch appears on the back cover. (Today the old Circle J Ranch property is a housing tract.)
The future Saugus Speedway was built originally as a rodeo arena in 1927 by Roy Baker, brother of shoe magnate C.H. Baker.
Roy Baker purchased the 40-acre property east of Bouquet Junction in 1923 for the purpose of breeding and selling show and pleasure horses.
To that end he imported saddle brood mares from Kentucky and studded them with a pedigreed, chestnut-colored saddlebred stallion named Peavine McDonald (b. 1910),
which sired five pedigreed mares and four pedigreed colts between 1920 and 1936.
Baker advertised that he had 2,500 acres of grazing land and also offered training and boarding services for outside horses.
Probably to attract horse buyers to his ranch in faraway Saugus, Baker staged rodeos. Some references suggest he
built a 12,000-seat arena in 1924, but this is dubious. We do know he held a rodeo on the property on April 11, 1926. That December,
Baker and partner Bob Anderson started construction on a new stadium, complete with partially covered grandstand seating and a quarter-mile oval track.
When it opened May 1, 1927, it seated 18,000 fans, and thousands more had to be turned away for lack of room.
Over the next decade, ownership of the arena
would change hands three more times.
As with a majority of the American populace, Baker was hit hard financially by the Great Depression of 1929 and was forced
to sell the stadium to cowboy actor Hoot Gibson in 1930. Gibson continued to hold rodeos at the stadium and drew a Hollywood crowd
including famous actors such as William S. Hart, Harry Carey, Tom Mix, and John Wayne. He also used the stadium as a movie set
or leased it to other companies for film making.
But Gibson felt the effects of the Depression, as well. In September 1933 he appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom and pleaded poverty,
saying he had no assets with which to repay a $2,500 loan. He testified that he owned a one-third interest in Hoot Gibson Inc., which owned
the Saugus rodeo, and that it was in arrears.
In 1934, Gibson sold the stadium to Paul Hill, owner of the Western Livestock Stockyards, who continued to call it the Hoot Gibson Rodeo.
As with his predecessors, however, the stadium brought
Hill financial hardship when it was hit by the Great Flood of March 2, 1938. Heavy rains that year caused a river of water to flow down
Soledad Canyon and filled the ranch home and arena with mud and debris. As reported in the Los Angeles
Times, the "old buildings ... collapsed during the March floods" and the arena was built anew.
Nonetheless, Hill lost the ranch sometime after the April 1938 rodeo. According to Reynolds,
the property was repossessed by
the bank. In 1939, ownership passed to William Bonelli, and it was renamed Bonelli Stadium.
Bonelli, a professor of economics at Occidental College,
continued the annual rodeo tradition
for a number of years but introduced auto racing in 1939 on a more frequent schedule; ultimately auto racing became the primary draw and Bonelli
renamed the arena Saugus Speedway.
Occasional rodeos and circuses continued until at least the late 1960s, auto racing until 1995. The facility was sometimes used for
concerts before the grandstands were removed in 2012 (the originals had been replaced in 1955). The venue continues to host an outdoor swap meet.
About Montie Montana
Biography by Marliee Montana in Butterfields 2000:
Born Owen H. Mickel, Montie (June 10, 1910 - May 20, 1998) traveled with his dad, E.O. [Edgar Owen] Mickel, and mother [Mary Edna Harlan Mickel]. Billed as the Montana Cowboys, they did whip and rope acts and put on a slide show about the American West.
In 1929 while working the Buck Jones Wild West Show, the announcer could not remember his name, so he announced him as Montie from Montana, and as Montie tells us in his autobiography, "the crowd loved it and so did I." From then on he became known as Montie Montana.
As a star of silver screen, stage and rodeo arena, Montie entertained audiences around the world for more than 70 years. He rode in 60 consecutive Rose Parades and is famous for roping President Eisenhower in the 1953 Inaugural Parade. From 1945 to 1965 Montie thrilled over 8 million school children with his stagecoach and horse, Rex.
Montie was famous for riding his horses into equally famous places such as the top of the Empire State Building, the Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills, the Brown Palace in Denver, the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and top-level government offices across the country.
Though he received hundreds of awards and honors during his extraordinary lifetime, he remained a cowboy at heart. Montie was deeply grateful that he could make a living doing what he loved best — and it showed. He had the most wonderful laugh and was always smiling.
An avid collector of Western artifacts, he kept treasures from early on in his career and enjoyed them throughout his life. His legacy will live on with the stories captured in this autobiography where he tells us that he lived in a great era, from the horse and buggy to the space age.
Although he has ridden on ahead, I know that he's in tall cotton with other great Western heroes up there and that his horses are knee deep in green pastures and that he's still a cowboy, because he always said, "I must have been born a cowboy because I've never thought of being anything else."
Further reading: Read more about Montie Montana here.
LW2973: pdf of original program book purchased 2001 by Leon Worden from EarthHunt.