by Carolyn Newman
WALSENBURG — Rodeo time! Walsenburg’s big rodeo, the Jim Like rodeo, was named for a polio victim who became a championship rodeo cowboy
The area’s first big rodeo arrived in 1958 when professionals entered the Walsenburg contest approved by the Rodeo Cowboys Association. Winners gained points that led to national honors.
Bigger yet was the 1959 event, when a horseback wedding was celebrated after the grand entry. Henrietta Schmidt of Gardner and Eloy (Freckles) Bustos held their ceremony and then dashed out for rodeo events. Ronnie Schafer was a winner that year, but it was Jim Like who took first in bareback bronc riding and earned the title of All-Around Cowboy, and was the top money maker.
Sorry, but there are no photos of the beard-growing contests: best groomed, the longest, even a “tried hardest” beard.
The next year the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) took sponsorship in 1960 and capitalized on Like’s story – now it was the Jim Like Rodeo. A parade every afternoon of the two day event, with Dolores Martinez as queen, created interest.
A special buckle award went to Harry Capps, 83, for his role as a rodeo participant in the past. Attendance had increased to 1600, with 90 cowboys and 10 cowgirls entering events.
Sandra Ann Zanon, 14, ruled as queen in 1961, with Carol Lisac (Glorioso) as one attendant. Again – wedding on the rodeo grounds (which now is called Fiesta Park near the Huerfano County Community Center). The bridal couple was Jim Dale, who raised and trained quarter horses 30 miles southwest of Walsenburg, and Reta Smith of Garden City, KS.
Jim Like himself sponsored this year’s rodeo, with three days of parades and nightly rodeo. The queen and her attendants could pick up votes – every 50 cent purchase a customer made in town could count for a vote. And for every 50 cent admission to the Fox movie theatre.
Sadly, in 1962, Jim Like announced that he was leaving the county for Canon City and that put an end to Walsenburg’s rodeo. The $180,000 ranch where Like worked had been sold to the Lowrys. By then Like had collected 33 trophy buckles, eight saddles, and six bronze trophies.
Jim did live a long life, dying in 2000 in Canon City at 82. At the time of the Jim Like rodeos he was the only living cowboy to have a rodeo named after him.
The Morris rodeo photo is from the collection at the Huerfano County Heritage Center, courtesy of Gordon Kelley.
The History Detective is a service of the Huerfano County Historical Society firstname.lastname@example.org.