Before there was the Cattle Call Rodeo, there was a Brawley native with a dream.
Al Smith, 94, is witty and charming, likely just as he was in his 20s as a U.S. Marine and California Border Patrol agent.
Smith was 28 years old and had just returned home from fighting in World War II, when he was appointed the task of creating the first Cattle Call Rodeo committee.
“I wanted Brawley to have a rodeo of their own,” Smith said.
Cattle Call staple David Foster describes Al Smith as a “legend” and “founding father” of the annual rodeo event that draws thousands.
In 1957 the first Cattle Call Rodeo kicked off on Brawley’s high school football field. A year later Smith assembled the original rodeo committee that included Louise Willey, Ed Rutherford, Dick Smith and himself, in the hopes of creating Brawley’s first rodeo arena.
He is now the remaining member of those four original committee members, but the pioneer spirit lives on in him, in his enthusiasm for the historical town event.
With no funding available from the city, Al Smith credits the committee and countless others for their donations and hard work in creating the arena.
“We had a lot of volunteers; we even had a donation jar and had little girls donating 10 cents to help us,” Smith said.
The arena was completed in 1958 for the second annual rodeo, with welding still taking place moments before the first steer set foot into the arena, Smith remembered.
The rodeo saw a gross sale of $10,000 that year.
After the arena’s completion Smith and the committee continued improving the annual rodeo show every year.
“We had a million things to do after that,” he said.
Smith worked with the committee each year until 2000, when he retired.
He still lives in Brawley and often looks back at his time spent on the committee and in the arena.
“We had a ball. It’s by far the prettiest arena I’ve ever seen,” Smith said.
Cattle Call’s theme this year is “Where Legends Begin” and is almost certainly where Al Smith became one in his own right.
Staff Writer Celeste Alvarez can be reached at 760-337-3442 or at firstname.lastname@example.org