Treasures of the Valley

The Montrose Rodeo of 1947 – Part 1

Last week I covered the 1945 Montrose Rodeo that had promised to be a yearly event. It did continue in 1946, ’47 and ’48. But let’s focus only on the 1947 rodeo, which turned out to be the grandest of the four.

Year to year, each rodeo was somewhat the same, save for the location. The location in 1945 was Onandarka Ranch (today’s Oakmont Woods off of La Crescenta Avenue). In 1946 it moved to a big vacant lot in the 2900 block of Honolulu Avenue. It was back at Onandarka in 1947 and in 1948 moved to Mountain Oaks at the bottom of New York Avenue.

In 1945 and ’46, the big event, auxiliary to the rodeo itself, was a dance held at the American Legion Hall the night before the rodeo. But for 1947, a huge parade and a beauty contest were added to the mix. The “Queen of the Rodeo” was to be selected by popular vote with ballot boxes placed in Montrose businesses. The winner would be crowned by film star Dennis Morgan at the Rodeo Dance following the big parade on the Saturday before the Sunday rodeo. Besides the honor of being the queen, prizes included $200, a trophy, a throne made out of a cut-up beer barrel, a large toy wagon and a cowgirl doll.

But the big parade seems to have been slated to be the main event, perhaps bigger than the rodeo itself. Several celebrities would be involved. Former child-star (now adult) Jackie Cooper was recruited as the grand marshal. Cooper had a lifetime career in entertainment but was best known for his roles in “The Champ,” “Treasure Island” and as Ensign Pulver in “Mr. Roberts.”

Another dignitary was La Cañada resident Dennis Morgan. Morgan was a huge star at that point, best known for “Christmas in Connecticut” and “God is My Co-Pilot.” He also served as honorary mayor of Crescenta-Cañada. Glenn Strange was yet another star to lead the parade. Strange was a perennial “bad guy” in B-westerns in the 1930s and ’40s. But when Boris Karloff stepped away from his Frankenstein role, Glenn Strange took his place for such greats as “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”

Just like the Montrose Christmas Parade, the Montrose Rodeo Parade entries included pretty much everyone who wanted to march in the parade, and many prizes were to be handed out for best cowboy costumes, best decorated horse, best wagon, etc. Among the participants were troops of Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts, equestrian teams from all over, decorated wagons and a stagecoach, and a huge entry of young riders from the Onandarka Stables. Riding with the Onandarka Riders was cowboy film star Charles Starrett who played the ”Durango Kid” in B-westerns. The Montrose Sheriff Mounted Posse was featured along with sheriff mounted posses from other cities. Marching bands included the Glendale High Marching Band and the Crescenta-Cañada Community Band.

And just to add a strange note to the parade, a blimp was slated to do low fly-overs along the parade route, dumping hundreds of balloons out that would (hopefully) drift down to the kids watching the parade.

And speaking of strange notes to the festivities, here’s a doozy. In the late ’40s, Glendale was making motions to annex Montrose (it succeeded in 1952) and there was considerable pushback from some locals. Escalating those tensions, some Glendale group unadvisedly put up a huge sign on the edge of the Montrose shopping area saying “Shop Glendale.” A group of the rowdier Montrose merchants (and rodeo promoters) responded by hanging a Glendale shopper (in effigy) from the tall sign, and posing for a front-page photo in the local newspaper. It really was a disturbing image and a few residents complained that the dark-faced dummy hanging by the noose had undertones of a racial lynching.

The newspaper defended the merchants involved under the headline “Racial Charges Hurled As Locals Hang Horse Thief.” The article went to call the display a “practical demonstration of the old west’s only sure cure for horse stealing.” Wow, inappropriate!

Next week, the “Wiskerino” beard-growing contest and, of course, the rodeo itself.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical
Society of the Crescenta Valley
and loves local history.
Reach him at