Excitement at the rodeo

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 3, 2003

Included with your News-Herald today is a special, tabloid section focusing on the Gates County Rodeo, which takes place next weekend.

If you’ve never been to a rodeo, I highly recommend it. For many of us Easterners, a brief glimpse of the action on ESPN2 is about as close to the action as we ever get. Television does not do rodeo justice.

Believe me, there’s nobody in the world to whom horses and bulls are more foreign than I. I don’t like them; refuse to even eat them. The feeling is apparently mutual, except for the eating part. I’ve never been around a horse or pony that didn’t try to bite or otherwise stomp the life out of me.


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So naturally I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to avoid proximity to these beasts.

However, in 1997, my company sent me to Mena, Ark. to run our little newspaper there.

Mena is an interesting place. Located in far western Arkansas, about 20 miles from the Oklahoma border, Mena is literally in the middle of nowhere. Ninety miles to the north is Fort Smith; 80 miles south is Texarkana; 80 miles east is Hot springs; and to the west, Dallas is 250 miles. Except for a few small hamlets, the land in between Mena and these cities is predominantly barren, inhabited only by coyotes, armadillos, scorpions, roadrunners, and Tyson chicken plants.

Mena itself is a wonderful little town of about 6,500 people. Built by the Kansas City Southern Railroad in 1896, it was intended as a stopping point, midway on the line from Kansas City to Port Arthur, Tex. It’s nestled at the foot of the beautiful Oauchita (Watch-it-taw) Mountains, reportedly the only mountain range in North America that runs East to West.

Being located where it was, Mena naturally attracted a lot of people who wanted to get away from civilization for one reason or another. It’s small population counted an unusually large percentage of writers, artists, tax protesters, and criminals. There was a wonderful little theater group there as well as a Freeman compound. Its airport is famed as the one Oliver North and the CIA allegedly used to fly drugs into the U.S. to support the contras in Nicaragua. Type in Mena on Yahoo and you will get literally thousands of hits involving various conspiracies.

Despite their eccentricities, though, the folks in Mena were perhaps the nicest I’ve ever met. We enjoyed our time there but eventually fled out of boredom. There was nothing much to do.

My wife and I got a babysitter one Saturday night after we first got there and went out for a night on the town. We went to see a movie at Mena’s twin cinema. When it was over, the most exciting thing we could find was to go walk around the Wal-Mart and then stopped at the Texaco convenience store for a cappuccino. Mena was also dry, so there was not much of a nightclub scene.

Anyway, the biggest event in Mena was the annual Bull Bash. I could not believe the electricity in the air as the date approached. The Prutsoks got swept up in it too. I must admit, I’ve never been to a sporting event that could rival it in terms of excitement and sheer brutality. It made NFL football look like Flintstones on Ice. Cowboys and cowgirls were stomped, gored and broken in a three-hour orgy of blood, pain and screams. I never had so much fun in my life.

I can’t guarantee, of course, that the Gates County Rodeo will offer as much wholesome, family entertainment as the Mena Bull Bash, but its certainly worth a look, and it beats the heck out of walking around Wal-Mart.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald.