SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - Alligator Wrestlin' And Bareback Ridin'


Bareback Riders by W. H. Brown

By Bob Weaver 2004

Grantsville and Arnoldsburg use to draw huge crowds to circuses and carnivals, full-fledged shows. Summer events that came to Sunny Cal starting about 1900.

Grantsville's customary spot was what is now the old football field. Arnoldsburg used the nice bottom land near Speedy Mart and other outfits used the Molasses Festival site.

Joy Morgan Stevens told us about the annual coming of the Spahn Family Circus to Arnoldsburg, can you believe, a recollection from her childhood.

The Spahn's brought their three elephants and lots of horses down Sickle's Hill, walking them up the West Fork to the circus site with the animals grazing along the way, she recalled.

Cecil Sturms, a well-known Arnoldsburg man, said those with cornfields near the road had visits from elephant trunks.

Cecil said they had an alligator that would wrestle anyone who would take him on, the winner getting cash and prizes. Husky farm boys would prove their meddle by wrestling the varmint.

He remembered the alligator's mouth was tied, but one time it freed itself and took a plunge in the West Fork, which had deeper holes of water back then. The handlers managed to get the critter back to the tent.

Joy Morgan Stevens said the shows had horses with riders standing on their backs, a real thrill for kids of the time. Following the show the Lynch boys, Edgar and Delbert, went back to the farm and re-created the horse riding antics, standing on their horses and doing all the things they had seen.

Admission was 5 cents with "Babes in Arms Admitted Free." Joy said "My two oldest sisters, Imogene born in 1909 and Audena born in 1911, each paid nickels and carried my two brothers Bob (born in 1911) and Owen (born in 1917)." The ticket master told the girls to put those "big boys down on the ground, they're big enough to walk." They didn't, so they got in free.

Cecil Sturm said his friends got in free by taking the elephants to the creek to drink. The elephants, sometimes, laid down in the creek and refused to get out and the boys had to get their handlers.

Bob Knotts said that one year when the Spahn Family Circus left Calhoun, they headed toward Smithville and had a wreck on Smithville Hill which killed the father of Gertrude Little Propst of Mt. Zion.

Dozens of circuses and carnivals came and went for over 50 years, but by the late 1950s the attractions faded as favored entertainment, passed to the electrified box with a small screen.

Now, a carnival comes to the annual Wood Festival.