Friday, February 10, 2012

Let's Go, Let's Show, Let's Rodeo!

Charles Burton Irwin was a blacksmith like his father before him, but longed for more. As fate would have it, he would get an opportunity to realize his dream when a fire burned his blacksmith shop to the ground. He moved his family to Cheyenne, Wy with nothing more than a letter of recommendation from a local businessman, a wife and a newborn son. It was enough to put him on a road to becoming one of the most influential cattlemen of his time and owner of the 10,000 acre Y6 Ranch. Irwin became a respected businessman and a friend to Kings, politicians, movie stars, cowboys and millionaires

He pioneered early American rodeo and western films, became a railroad agent for Union Pacific, owned and operated one of the greatest wild west shows in the west and, at the time of his death in 1934, was planning a run for the Wyoming state senate. His friend, Warren Richardson said, “If the right man ever writes the life of Charley Irwin, every page will tell of an adventure….”

This is one day in the life of  Charles Irwin and Irwin Bros. Wild West Show.
©2012 Shirley Morris All Rights Reserved.

Charley Irwin set the empty coffee cup on the wooden table in the large kitchen and walked down the long hallway to the living room. Rich, dark, wood planked walls warmed the room. Continuing to an enormous chair, generous enough for three average sized adults, he sat down, filling more than half the chair with his larger than average body.

Suddenly, the screen door opened as quickly as it slammed shut. An excited young girl, about thirteen rushed into the room, stopping abruptly when she saw Charley sitting there. “Hi, Uncle Charley!”

C B nodded, smiled back at Gladys, looking out the door to see if anyone else was with her.

Margaret Irwin, Champion Cowgirl 
“Hey, where’s your mother? She is riding into town with you girls today, isn’t she?” His baritone voice booming up the stairs, catching Gladys mid-stride. All the Irwin women would be riding the 40 mile trip from the Y6 to the city house in Cheyenne.

“Yes sir!” Her voice dropped off as she ran up the stairs and into Pauline’s room to the right of the landing. All four girls were talking at once, making it impossible to know what they were saying but the timber of their voices made it clear, excitement was in the air.

It wasn’t an unusual occurrence to hear that screen door open and slam shut and, more times than not, Gladys Irwin would be rushing through, ready to run upstairs to share some secret or important news with her cousins.

Irwin Cowgirls, Pauline, Joella, Gladys, Edith
Gladys was Bill and Margaret Irwin’s daughter. They lived on upper ranch and Bill saw to the daily duties of the Y6, the 10,000 acre ranch owned by Charles and Etta Irwin. Margaret was the first woman to win the Denver Post cup for the women’s relay at Cheyenne Frontier Days.

C B never intended to become and remain a cowboy his entire life. It had become his dream to be a cattleman with a large ranch. Once he had accomplished that, he became restless and in 1910, partnered with local businessman, Charles Hersig to form the Irwin Bros. Wild West Show.

At that time the difference between a rodeo and wild west show was miniscule and he had everything needed to make Irwin Bros. the best show ever - Cossacks, the most talented cowboys and cowgirls in the west, Indians, mean, unrideable broncs like Steamboat, and an entire family of rodeo champions!

C B waited impatiently for his son Floyd and stock manager, Clayton Danks to get their horses saddled. Finally, he saw Clayton coming from the barn. Charley didn’t wait for the cowboy to get up to the ranch  house, he bolted from his chair and in three large steps, bounded down the porch moving quickly toward his saddled horse.

Floyd was already mounted as Charley’s voice filled the vast Wyoming sky,

“Let’s go get ‘em boys!” 

Leading the cowboys, the agile giant charged off past the barn, heading east to Steamboat Rock. It was time to round up the wild one’s, the outlaws, this year’s cream of the crop and head them in to Cheyenne.

This year was special. President Taft would be the guest of honor.

They would ride into Cheyenne, straight down Eddy Street where the stockyard was, next to the barn and cookhouse. Across the street was the city residence of C B and Etta Irwin, 2712 Eddy Street.

Etta would start cooking before the men reached town and the aroma of Etta’s fried chicken and biscuits would usher them into the cookhouse. Her cooking was legendary. It didn’t matter if the show was at home or on the road, Etta cooked and it was most appreciated by all. The cookhouse boasted several tables, the Irwin family table and several others for the cowboys and anyone else who could use a meal. No one was ever turned away.

Cheyenne Frontier Days Street Parade
The show always started with a parade or quadrille to show off the many stars ready to thrill the crowds. The show roster read like a who’s who of cowboy stars, Frank Carter, Floyd and Charles Irwin Jr. (better known as Sharkey Irwin) Hugh Clark, Clayton Danks and Be Ho Gray.

Among the cowgirl stars were, Prairie Rose, Joella Irwin, called the best rider he had ever seen by Teddy Roosevelt, Pauline, Gladys and Frances Irwin and champion bronc riders Fannie Sperry Steel, Fox Hastings and Goldie St. Claire.

C B Irwin took the one and only, real life event, Cheyenne Frontier Days and made a show to tour the country and thrill audiences from coast to coast; Irwin Bros. Cheyenne Frontier Days Wild West Show. It was a time before cameras, television, sports programming and Irwin instinctively knew that people across the country would come in droves to see what was really happening out west. He was right and people came by the thousands to see the real deal in Cheyenne, Pendleton and Los Angeles after seeing his show. 

C B Irwin was a master showman, always starting the festivities off with his booming voice,

 “Let’s go! Let’s show! Let’s rodeo!”


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