The Harris family first began producing rodeos in Woodstown-Pilesgrove, New Jersey back in 1929 when Howard Harris Sr. and his son Howard “Stoney” Harris Jr. put together a rodeo with the county fair in the small southern New Jersey community.
That first rodeo developed into a weekly stand-alone event which has now been held every Saturday night from Memorial Day to the end of September since 1955.
For the first time in that storied history, the Harris family, who still own and operate the Cowtown Rodeo series, was forced to miss a Saturday night performance last week on August 27. The approach of Hurricane Irene caused local officials to declare a state of emergency for Salem County, home of the Cowtown Rodeo, and the rodeo was canceled for the first time in 57 years.
“We were so sad to have to cancel the rodeo last weekend,” said Betsy Harris, wife of Howard Grant Harris, the original Howard Harris’ great grandson. “It was an odd feeling on Saturday night!”
The Harris family has run the rodeo from the beginning, and Grant and Betsy bought out the family business back in 1978. In addition to the weekly rodeo, Cowtown Rodeo also raises rodeo livestock on the home ranch near the Cowtown Arena where they keep around 500 head. In 1985 their bull Cowtown was named the PRCA’s Bull of the Year. Grant manages the daily operations and Betsy secretaries the rodeo.
When the storm finally made its way across southern New Jersey, it dumped nine inches of rain but packed little in the way of wind, probably what saved Cowtown from more extensive damage. The Harris’ suffered no power outages either.
“We were very lucky here at the home ranch and at our arena not to have had more damage,” says Harris of the hurricane which pummeled the East Coast over the weekend, killing several dozen people including one near Woodstown. “Some fence fixing and lots of water in places that it should not have been, but the animals and folks here are ok.”
Harris noted that daughter Kate, also an integral part of the family business, moved all livestock to higher ground on Friday in preparation for the hurricane’s arrival.
The Harris family is gearing up to resume “business-as-usual” come Saturday night with their Labor Day weekend rodeo. Each rodeo is sanctioned by the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA).
“Grant, Kate and I are looking forward to this Saturday night’s performance, and getting back to normal around here.”
Cowtown Rodeo resumes September 3. Tickets are $15 for adults with free parking. Gates open at 6 PM. Cowtown is the oldest weekly rodeo series in the United States and performances continue through September 24, 2011.