The rodeo is coming back to the Caraway Independence Day celebration after a seven year absence.
Bernard Berry, Caraway Lions Club secretary, and long-time advocate of the rodeo contributes its return to the joint efforts of the City of Caraway, Lions Club, Caraway Arena Association, and City Park Commission.
"Every organization in the town has pitched in to make this year's sixtieth Fourth of July celebration the best ever," Berry said. "We call it a community rodeo because every group in the community has made a contribution to its return, with financial donations as well as physical effort. Merett Emery has taken on the leadership role for the rodeo, and is working day and night to make sure everything goes off without a hitch."
"People have been wanting the rodeo back ever since it stopped in 1999," Emery said. "Caraway had become famous for having that rodeo, and area residents had come to expect it. Finally, we decided this was going to be the year, and the city was behind us. It has taken a group effort to pull this off, and it will be worth it. We try not to think about the possibility of rain, because after all we live in a farming community and they need all the rain they can get. We just plan to work around whatever obstacles come our way, and make the best of it. We are feeling real positive."
The 1999 rodeo was produced by former Caraway residents Floyd and Mary Jane (Brooks) Johnson, and their son Mark. Floyd grew up in Caraway and graduated from high school there in 1953. Mary Jane Brooks graduated from Caraway H.S. in 1955, and Mark in 1975. Needless to say the Johnsons call Caraway home, and are glad to be back visiting with family and friends.
After Floyd's death in 2004, Mary Jane and Mark continue to own and operate Johnson and Jordan Rodeo Company. The business headquarters is located in Jackson, Mo., south of St. Louis, on Highway 55. Their company is sanctioned by the Arkansas Professional Rodeo Association and the International Professional Rodeo Association. The company was featured in last month's issue of Pro Rodeo World Magazine.
"My father was a true cowboy," Mark Johnson said. "He loved horses, rodeos and everything connected with them, and so do I. You would have to love it to stay in it."
"We develop our own bucking stock of bulls," Johnson said. "We make sure the bucking cow is bred by a bucking bull, for the best prospects of getting a bucking offspring. The old saying "just born to buck" is true, as it is just seems to be in their bloodline. We keep about 25-35 bulls on hand. About the only thing that will stop them from bucking is age. We also keep about 100 horses and rotate their use. Since we do about 29 or 30 shows a year, it is important that the animals be in good shape for the show."
One of Johnson's favorite bucking broncos is named Poncho. He is a high kicker and is branded J-1, which was Floyd Johnson's personal brand. Mark and Floyd Johnson worked both sides of the bucking bronco circuit, as they produced the broncos and worked as pickup cowboys, taking riders off their steeds after they completed their 8 seconds in the saddle.
"Clowns are synonymous with the rodeo and we have one of the best," Johnson said. "Tim Lepard, is known as "the Wild Thang." He is a professional rodeo clown, barrel man, and animal trainer. He has a routine using monkeys as cowboys that is a sure crowd pleaser."
State High School Rodeo Queen, Kylee Abshure, will be making an appearance at the Caraway rodeo. Her father is a steer wrestler and will be in the program.
Mark Johnson was involved in intercollegiate rodeo competition, while a student at Arkansas State University, in Jonesboro. His daughter Brandi takes part in the Johnson rodeo adventures with her father and grandmother. Her friend, Lena Larussa, travels with the show and helps coordinate the opening program.
"Lena is the best helper I have ever had," said Mary Jane Johnson. "She helps with the opening routines, costuming, music, flags, and the girl riders. Everyone in our company has a job to do and when it all comes together it turns out to be quite a spectacular show."
"On July 3 and 4 there are more events held nationally than any other time of the year," Emery said. "Needless to say, rodeos provide a very popular type of entertainment. Rodeos are a family orientated sport, and an effort is made to include everyone. We don't forget about the kids, as it is still the American dream to grow up to be a cowboy.
"I recall watching the Caraway rodeo as a teenager and wishing I could ride one of those bucking broncos, but I never did," He said. "When my son Michael was young, we got him a little black pony. He quickly became a part of our family. When the horse died two years ago, we thought so much of him, we buried him in our back yard. We now have 12 horses.
"Michael rode on the high school rodeos during his junior and senior years," Emery said. "Our friend Steven McCormick taught him to do calf roping and team roping. Michael still does team roping, and jackpot roping. Since we are farmers, he has to do most of that during off season, in the winter.
"Our daughter, Mandy, is quite an accomplished rider also," Emery said. "She likes pole bending and barrel racing. She competed all four years of high school and qualified for the high school National finals her Jr. and Sr. years, in New Mexico and Wyoming. She will be using six local friends to help out in the opening program."
Merett is married to the former Michelle Murphy, and they have three children, Michael, Mandy and Grayson. They are kept busy with the farming operation and operation of the Caraway restaurant, called The Cowboy Grill. Michael and his wife Starla have a young son named Mason. Three generations of the Emery family live on Highway 139, west of Caraway, and are well known for their support of community endeavours.
"We are starting off right with the rodeo this year, and will be having church services at 5 p.m., before the show starts on Monday evening, July 3," Emery said. "Tim Ray will be leading the services."
The five day line up of festivities started Friday, June 30, armband night at Bluff City Shows and a four-wheeler pull inside the ballpark. On Monday, July 3, the rodeo will begin at 7 p.m. and on Tuesday it will start at 6:30 p.m. The Independence Day parade will be on the 4th, with inclusions of antique cars, tractors, etc. Drawings will be held after the rodeo on the 4th, with a big fireworks display for the grand finale at 10 p.m.
"We have tried to include a little bit of everything in our rodeo part of the celebration," Mark Johnson said.
Merett Emery not only loves horses, rodeos and good barbecue, but he loves to collect cowboy memorabilia. Inside the Cowboy Grill walls are adorned with photos, saddles, harnesses and wagon wheels. Outside of the grill stands a ten foot horse statue, with his front feet reared up and his mane blowing in the wind.
"My father (Melton Emery) wanted me to paint the horse statue to look like Trigger, Roy Rogers palomino horse," Emery said. "I had to use automotive paint to get the job done. When asked what color Trigger is, I quickly reply "82 Cadillac." it's all about horse power anyway."