(As told by Bob Wesbrooks at July, 1979 Fair)
The memories of the Little World's Fair that is being shared with you this evening are taken from a letter written by Howard Collins and taken from a scrap book belonging to Carrie Johnson...and a few comments of my own.
The Fair grounds were owned by the Burden Gun Club in the early 1880's to about 1892. The city of Burden purchased the grounds for $400 from the gun club; and some of the taxpayers at that time thought it was a poor investment for the city, and openly condemned the council for the purchase. The gun club had already laid out a racetrack, a baseball diamond, and their shooting range in the south part of the tract. The grounds were used as far back as 1885 for Fourth of July celebrations, ball games, etc. The agreement with the gun club when the city bought the land was that the city was to plant trees and fence it and make other improvements, which were done very soon after the deal was made.
Horse races were held almost every Saturday when weather would permit, and often time's caravans of gypsy horse traders would locate there during the summer and match races with the local men. The local horses usually won the races when a few dollars were bet; but if the Gypsies could get the local boys to put up as much as a hundred dollars or more, they would bring out an old skinny horse that won the race, and sometimes the local sports would claim fraud and a fight was not unusual--as is often true even today.
In about 1892 Burden had a military company of about 30 young men in the Command of Capt. Richard Fitzgerald, a Civil War veteran. The guns and equipment were furnished by the State Adj. Dept. and they used the fair grounds for a parade ground.
This brings us up to the organization of the fair in 1893. Joe Henderson (our own Ralph Henderson's dad), Ed Reed. Dr. Tom Rude and J. F. Stodder were bragging on their horses and cattle in the drug store one Sunday morning. Joe Henderson suggested. "Let's have a fair." We have a place up there we can build some horse barns and pens and have one this year.
The next day handbills appeared on the street calling a meeting of all the people for the purpose of organizing a fair. R. F. Burden had been the president of the town company. They gave him the honor of being the first president of the Eastern Cowley County Fair Association. Ed Reed was elected secretary and manager; Joe Henderson, treasurer; and J. F. Stodder; Vice-president. A board of directors was made up of several farmers in the trade territory.
The first fair was financed by collections from the businessmen and a 25 cent charge for admission (children free) at the gate, as well as an entrance fee for race horse entries, and a fee paid by drink stands, doll racks, etc. After a few fairs were held, the Burden business men would underwrite the expense and the loss was prorated among them, and didn't have to pay more than three or four dollars each. Finally it paid its own way. It was not always easy to keep people interested in the fair. Sometimes a fair meeting would be called two or three times before they could get enough men together to get committees appointed to manage the fair. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
The old Floral Hall was built by donations from the businessmen with free labor doing the work. The stores put in $25 each, and the, material was furnished by the lumberyard at cost. The lumber cost about $250. This building served its purpose for many Years but was later torn down and the lumber used in new improvements.
Some of the outstanding fair attractions in the early days were Professor Killebrew and his balloon ascension and parachute leap; the first horseless carriage owned by H. T. Trice of Winfield and the first airplane. Camen's Military Band was a big attraction for several years ...Winfield's contribution to the fair. Cecil Cornish's Brahma bull who jumped a car and mule races were other attractions.
Johnnie Lee Wills, McAuliffe and Bob Wills, who brought his own horse with a $5,000 silver dress saddle and bridal, were big attractions. Bob Wills, Dick Alexander and Hank Triplett all roped a calf during that fair. Later attractions were Red Stegal, Reba McIntire and this year, Roy Clark's traveling band.
In years past, families would come to the fair and camp for their annual outing, some as far away at the Indian Territory or the Strip. Many had racehorses to enter in the races. In later years the Rodeo became a popular attraction, but was unknown when the first fairs were held.
These reminiscences may be of interest to some who only know vaguely about the early day struggles to get the fair and the fair grounds to the successful place they occupy today.
Material obtained from writings by Howard Collins with additions by Bob Wesbrooks and Dorothy Cannon.