The cowboys’ dream came true and lives today.
“Organize it, build it and people will come.”
That was the philosophy and repeated comment by a group of eight Burlingame rodeo enthusiasts 45 years ago.
“That is just what they did, and this year we’re excited to be celebrating our 45th anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail Rodeo at Burlingame, the brainchild of those seven individuals,” said Pat Rusher, secretary of the Burlingame Saddle Club, sponsors of the annual Western action in the ranch oriented Osage County community, right on Highway 56, route of the original Santa Fe Trail.
“We’re pulling out all of the stakes for this year’s anniversary with performances Friday and Saturday nights, May 15 and 16, right at the original rodeo grounds, 820 South Rodeo Drive, but there’ve been constant improvements and changes in the facilities over the years,” Rusher said.
Original board members were Clarence Hellstrom, Paul Lang, Charles Peterson, Dean Prescott, Lyle Reeve, Norman Cowboy Richmond and Ben Stout.
Mrs. Reves, wife of Lyle who’s now in a care home, stated that they put up a “makeshift fence” and sponsored horse play days and horse shows on the football field, located south of the high school at that time, to raise funds. Clarence Hellstrom donated a box car that was used as a concession stand.
“Those cowboys 45 years ago had a dream. A dream to organize a saddle club in the city of Burlingame, Kansas, promoting equine activities and rodeo. Thanks to those who had that dream, their families and all of the others who’ve joined in, the dream is alive today,” Rusher said.
“But its taken lots of sponsors and the community support to continue all of this time,” she added.
One original director of the Burlingame Saddle Club remains active in leadership today. “Paul Lang was one of the founders of the saddle club, and appropriately the Burlingame Saddle Club Arena has been dedicated in his name,” Rusher said.
Theme for this year’s special anniversary rodeo celebration is an “Armed Forces Salute” in honor of all military serving for this country’s freedom. Most appropriately, The Pride and Glory Riders drill team will present their inspirational and colorful tribute as the opening ceremony for both evening performances.
“This group of cowgirls with their horses, music and special flag tributes to Ole Glory really bring tears to the spectators. They’re tears of joy, pride, for those who sacrificed their lives to make a difference,” Rusher said.
Additionally significant to the occasion, the Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard will lead the Burlingame Rodeo Days parade through Burlingame’s Main Street beginning at 10 o’clock, Saturday morning.
“The Army soldiers from Fort Riley in original U.S. Cavalry attire will present a Mounted Arms Demonstration immediately following the parade,” Rusher said.
Rodeo events set for the special anniversary rodeo performances are to include bareback bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, barrel racing, three divisions of calf roping, open, 40 and over and breakaway, along with bull riding.
This year’s rodeo will also again be again double sanctioned by the United Rodeo Association and the Missouri Rodeo Cowboys Association. “There are many of the best cowboys in the Midwest slated to see action here at Burlingame,” Rusher promised.
In repeat appearance, C.R. McKellips Rodeo Company at Raymore, Missouri, will be providing the rodeo livestock at Burlingame.
“Rodeo is all about entertainment and good livestock. We are privileged to offer both at our rodeos,” emphasized Chuck McKellips, who with his wife, Regan, and family operate the company.
Their rodeo ranch has more than 30 bucking bulls, about 100 horses including both bucking stock and those ridden by Chuck and the cowboys helping produces the shows, along with about 50 steers for team roping and bulldogging, and another 40 roping calves.
“We always have a number of broncs and bulls at the URA and MRCAs Finals,” McKellips noted.
“But, none of the productions would be possible without support of our family and personnel,” he said. “My dad; Buzz is still our fulltime livestock supervisor on the ranch. Our son, Charlie, is the voice of McKellips Rodeo. It takes a full crew to make every event a success.”
Rodeo clown and funnyman Bob Courtney, voted Rodeo Clown of the Year 16 times during a 39-year career, will come from Branson, Missouri, to entertain the crowds and help save bull riders from danger of the mean bucking bulls.
Courtney grew up in Independence, Kansas, and majored in technology education at Pittsburg State, but got into his line of work as a rodeo clown at the age of 16.
“I just kind of backed into it,” Courtney said. “I wanted to be a calf roper and another opportunity came up. The clown didn’t show up, so I started doing this, and I’ve been doing it for 39 years.
“I go all over the world. This is what I do for a living,” Courtney said.
Living the life of a traveling performer, Courtney estimates he does 120-150 shows every year. So, at that rate, in 39 years, he’s performed more than 5,000 shows.
Courtney also specializes in horse training, known at shows for his magic and comedy acts with a horse named “The Great Houdini.”
“I love doing the animal acts,” Courtney said. “I have trained horses, and I love training them, and I love performing with them. That’s what I love to do the most.”
Courtney found a new home in an area of the world known for entertainment. “I’m an entertainer,” he said. “I live in Branson, Missouri, the entertainment capital of the world, and that’s what we do for a living.”
Asked what separates him from other clowns, Courtney said, “My comedy acts. The comedy and the acts separate me.”
“We’re really excited about all of the special attractions planned by the Burlingame Saddle Club for our 45th annual Santa Fe Trail Rodeo, Friday and Saturday nights, and a full day of Rodeo Days activities all day Saturday, May 16, sponsored by the Burlingame Chamber of Commerce. See you here in Burlingame,” Rusher invited.