Bud Kennedy

A cowgirl put on the first indoor rodeo in the world. But she doesn’t get credit

Rodeo historians say Lucille Mulhall’s 1917 “Round-Up” in Fort Worth was really the first indoor rodeo.
Rodeo historians say Lucille Mulhall’s 1917 “Round-Up” in Fort Worth was really the first indoor rodeo.

I hate to break it to everyone celebrating the 100th anniversary of the World’s Original Indoor Rodeo.

But I think we’re a year late. And we’re overlooking a woman.

From what I can tell — and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City agrees — the first indoor rodeo was definitely in Fort Worth.

But it was in 1917, not 1918.

And it was organized by an Oklahoma cowgirl: Lucille Mulhall.

During the Stock Show that year, Mulhall presented what the Star-Telegram called a “week of frontier sports” in what is now Cowtown Coliseum on the old Stock Show grounds in the Stockyards.

More than 50 cowboys and cowgirls signed contracts and competed for prizes in events such as roping and bronc busting, settling what our newspaper called “the championship riding contests of the Southwest.”

No, it wasn’t called a rodeo. It was Lucille Mulhall’s Round-Up.

“It was a competition, for prize money, under a roof — as far as we’re concerned, that was the first indoor rodeo,” said Richard Rattenbury, curator emeritus at the cowboy museum and author of “Arena Legacy: The Heritage of American Rodeo.”

He told the Wichita Eagle that, too. (The Eagle claimed the first indoor rodeo was that city’s Frontier Days Contest in January 1918, two months before Fort Worth’s.)

Author Mary Lou LeCompte of “Cowgirls of the Rodeo” also calls Mulhall’s 1917 event the first indoor rodeo.

Contestants included bulldogger Bill Pickett and bronc rider “Booger Red” Privett. Legendary rodeo announcer “Foghorn” Clancy called the action.

Stock Show historian Clay Reynolds of the University of Texas at Dallas wrote by email that the current rodeo’s claim to its 1918 origin is based on “nomenclature”: “The Mulhall performance wasn’t called a ‘rodeo.’ ”

In other words, what we now call the ‘World’s Original Indoor Rodeo’ is really just the first to use that name.

I can think of two other reasons Mulhall, a trick roper, might not get more credit:

In Rattenbury’s words, “Women were basically pushed out of both rodeos and rodeo history.”

And a later marriage to Stock Show pioneer and Texas rancher Tom Burnett didn’t work out.

The 1917 Star-Telegram covered the Round-Up as a contest: “Best Cowboys and Cowgirls of Three Nations to Compete” and “Rider Sticks Without Saddle for 5 Minutes.” (Oklahoman Red Sublett “took home the money.”)

The next year, the Stock Show added an expanded cowboys’ competition called by the Spanish name.

This is another point where show lore diverges from fact.

Stock Show history has always claimed directors here were the first to name the sport “rodeo.”

They were not. The name actually had been used for years at outdoor events in California.

We just never used the word in Texas until 1918.

But we had darn sure seen our first rodeo.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy.