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And Now You Know: Orange Rodeo moves to new home

Mike Louviere, And Now you Know

In 1954, the Orange Jaycees announced that they would be moving their annual rodeo to a new arena. They had purchased a 20-acre tract of land from Mr. and Mrs. H. J. Lutcher Stark and would be investing $20,000 in building a new arena.

The arena would be built two miles west of the Port Arthur Highway (State Highway 87) on the Orangefield Road (Farm to Market Road 105). The arena would be built by the M.H. Winkler Manufacturing Company of Lake Charles. 

The horseshoe-shaped arena would have a seating capacity of 5,312 seats, 2,000 more seats than the current arena on Highway 90.

Construction would be completed in time for the 16th annual rodeo in September.

In making the announcement, Jaycee president Bob Dear said, “It has been done with the firm conviction that the people of Orange will support this program as they have so generously supported every Jaycee overtaking in the past. It is our desire that the other segments of Orange will make use of the facilities we have to offer for prospects they might undertake.”

Lawrence Winfree and his Winfree Rodeo Company would be the rodeo producer. Winfree would be able to drive his stock across the pasture between his ranch and the new arena.

Two new events would be added: Wild Cow Milking and Wild Bronc Saddling. 

In time, the cutting horse event would be added.

Sid Calliavet, Jr. and Henry Bland would be the co-chairmen of the rodeo committee. 

They would be assisted by Tommy Sorrels, Pete Ochoa, and Douglas DeLaney.

Calliavet said the committee had been hard at work in preparing for the annual fall rodeo.

“We’re trying to make this rodeo the Cheyenne of the Gulf Coast,” said Calliavet. At that time the Cheyenne Rodeo was one of the world’s largest in contestants, attendance, and prize money.

The annual Orange Jaycee Southwest Championship Rodeo was a much-anticipated event in Orange in the 1950s and 60s. 

The opening of the rodeo would start with a parade through downtown Orange. The Orange Sheriff’s Posse Drill Team would lead dressed in their Orange shirts. Every high school band in the area would participate, each civic organization in Orange County would be represented and the naval base would send a unit of marching sailors.

Edgar Brown, Jr. would be one of the popular parade entries. Brown would be mounted on one of his horses on his silver-trimmed parade saddle and have saddlebags filled with candy that he would toss to the crowd. At various points along the parade route, he would have men stationed with bags of candy to refill his saddlebags.

The Jaycees would book entertainment for the rodeo. 

One year the star of the popular TV series Wanted Dead or Alive, Steve McQueen, was the star attraction. 

Jimmy C. Newman appeared the year his song “Alligator Man” was topping the charts. Newman appeared in a bright yellow suit with green alligators on the pants legs, sleeves, and back of the coat. 

Before he was the Six Million Dollar Man, Lee Majors was on the TV show Big Valley and appeared in Orange with co-star John Smith.

For years, the three-day rodeo was a sold-out event. Things began to change, attendance dropped off, and the Jaycees reluctantly ceased production of the show.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Posse had taken over the arena on Highway 90. They closed it and moved into the Jaycee arena. Over the years as attendance dropped and seating was removed until today the seating capacity is probably less than 500.

Several years ago, the Posse repaired and restored the arena. It is still occasionally used for small events.

“And now you know.”