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It's Roundup Time

July 2, 2003

Almanac Transcript

It's Roundup time this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

Today Dewey, Oklahoma sits quietly enjoying its role as a small town in the northeastern part of the state. If you drove through Dewey today you might find it hard to believe that for almost 20 years, the community was known around the world for its annual roundup. "The Dewey Roundup," as it was called, occurred every year for three days over the 4th of July holiday.

The event was foremost a contest of cowboy skills with prize money given to the winners, but other things happened as well. Airplane demonstrations were given everyday. Car and horse races, boxing matches, and Wild West shows filled the arena north of town. The Roundup began as a reunion for town founder Jake Bartles and his friends from the Civil War. It soon, however, turned into much more than that. After the first Roundup in 1908 Jake's son Joe made the event an annual affair, and so the tradition began.

So many people flooded into Dewey beginning in late June that special railroad tracks were built just to handle the traffic. Lodging was so impossible to find that people camped out in the yards of nearby houses or strung hammocks between building columns.

Every year the Roundup promised something special for those attending. Bulldogging from an airplane occurred in 1915, while in 1919 all of the prize money was issued in the form of solid gold coins minted especially for the event. Legend has it that the Dewey Roundup was the inspiration for the now famous Calgary Stampede and that a train car of Roundup officials from Dewey traveled to Canada to oversee the creation of that event.

The Roundup was an unofficial measure of one's skill as a cowboy. If you did well at Dewey then you knew that you were one of the best in the country. Ropers, riders and bulldoggers made their way to Dewey each year from almost every state in the union putting their skills, reputations, and sometimes careers to the test. Western movie stars were discovered and hired at the Roundup, and many a ranch hand got his first job based on his performance there. The Roundup is a piece of cowboy history, and many people from Dewey still remember the chaotic three days occurring every July. The Great Depression of 1929 put a stop to the Roundup, and the collapse of the mammoth grandstands in the 1930s signaled the end of any hope for a revival. It was in this week of 1908 that the first Dewey Roundup took place, starting a tradition and creating memories that would live on for decades.

Wrapping up the Roundup this week on the Almanac.

I am Steven Knoche Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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