Rooster Days is the oldest festival in Oklahoma…And just where is the old red rooster?
He has just about disappeared without a trace from the big spring celebration in Broken Arrow he gave his name to. But while missing, he will not be forgotten by the old timers who came to town on warm May Saturdays with their pickups and wagons full of crated roosters and fresh eggs to trade for supplies and to enjoy the Chamber of Commerce party.
Newcomers to Broken Arrow may be surprised to find that everything is about ready for Rooster Day the middle of May. That is, everything but the roosters. They are not much in evidence during the period of preparation as they are just as scarce during the celebration itself.
So why is “Rooster” in the festival title? You must go back to the spring of 1931, when there was a thriving poultry industry on the farms and acreage surrounding Broken Arrow. Secretary-Manager of the chamber at that time, for the salary of $35.00 a month was Leo S. Wortman, who also was vocational agriculture instructor at the high school. He came up with the idea of establishing a special day for farmers to bring to market their excess roosters. The roosters, you see, were messing up plans to establish an infertile egg market here.
Keep in mind, those were the days when farm families usually depended upon the flock to provide the groceries. Most local grocery stores (there were no supermarkets then), traded staple goods from their shelves, and sometimes even clothing and shoes, for fresh eggs.
Tracy Hunsecker and the late J.W. Walton saw possibilities in the special rooster-culling day. Jack Estes, office manager for the Hunsecker stores, was named the chairman of the first Rooster Day. Also on the committee was a newcomer, Paul F. Miller, who had recently moved to town to publish the Broken Arrow Ledger.
It was natural that Broken Arrow should take the lead in such a serious campaign to improve the farmers’ market for eggs. This community had been among the first to establish vocational agriculture in the high school curriculum in the 1920’s. There was two fine regionally known hatcheries located here, and there were two production houses, which bought cream, eggs, and live poultry.
O.L. Patterson, the owner of one produce house, found a market for the roosters if farmers could gather as many as two tons. He offered five cents a pound above the market price, which was then eight cents. To this premium, the chamber offered another two cents, to make a top price of 15 cents for this one day only.
On that first Rooster Day, about 5,000 pounds of roosters, more than two tons, were sold here. There were prizes for the best rooster, the biggest, noisiest, etc. A highlight of the day was a sound system, something almost unheard of then, which played music noisily all day. People gathered to visit and to enjoy each other’s company.
The following year Estes and Miller decided the community needed some special fun times, too. So they brought down Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys to originate their noon broadcast over KVOO from a Main Street grandstand. Sam Avery, wrestling impresario of the Old Coliseum in Tulsa, contracted to bring a wrestling match to a Main Street ring for $25.00. It was free to the spectators that evening.
Each year the celebration grew. Tons and tons of roosters were culled from flocks. Infertile eggs were bringing top prices for those depression days. Fertile eggs, you may not know, do not keep well, and in those days before rural electricity and refrigerators, keeping eggs fresh was a problem on many farms and in many in-town homes.
As the years progressed, however, Rooster Day mostly became a day to come to town and have fun. Local merchants brought in carnivals and built beautiful colorful floats and engaged top talent to entertain as a means of expressing appreciation to their customers for their patronage all year long.
Eventually, the chicken flocks began to die out. Horses have pretty well-supplanted fowl as the most frequently seen on ranches and acreage in the vicinity, and horses are the animals most frequently seen each Rooster Day on the streets of Broken Arrow, as a three-day rodeo and other equine events dominate the program. But while the cock is not crowing much on that big day-the name remains.
Each year the parade with all of the colorful floats, the queens, bands, clowns and horses, horses and more horses, make the 10:00 a.m. parade a big success. Not wanting to omit the big carnival with all types of rides and games, there are also the two stages with local entertainment with many western and gospel bands still singing over the loudspeaker making it a festive weekend. A young lady is crowned on Saturday evening in a Miss Chick Contest. Not forgetting the pioneers, a special dinner (by invitation only) is held for those who were born here 50 years ago, or have lived here for 50 years. Those eligibles from all over the United States attend this dinner and several have been from foreign countries.
With lots of food, “kiddie” areas and something for everyone, who will miss the Roosters?
The Rooster Days Festival is held in May each year.
Written By: Roberta Parker
1500 S Main Street
Broken Arrow, OK 74012