History, tradition at home in the Sunbowl; Dixie Roundup

A bronc rider breaks from the gate during the 1960 Dixie Roundup Rodeo |Archive photo St. George News

ST. GEORGE – As the St. George Lions Club gets ready for the Dixie Roundup Rodeo next weekend, club members are looking back over the history of the event and the club’s contribution to what has become a St. George institution.

“The tradition is huge. We have people that plan their family reunions around the Roundup,” long-time Lion Joe Bowcutt said. “They’ll come and they’ll buy a few thousand dollars worth of tickets so their family can all sit together. It’s just become such a tradition for families.”

One tradition is changing this year. The Roundup parade is moving from its traditional start time Saturday evening to Saturday morning at 9 a.m. The club is hoping to give parade viewers some relief from the heat and allow rodeo organizers more time to prepare before the final night of the event.

Parades have been part of Dixie Roundup history since the 1940s, Jerry Parker, long-time member and past president of the club, said. The Roundup once held a parade every day of the event to draw the crowd down to the rodeo grounds.

“Thursday night was the beauty parade and there were girls in bathing suits in trucks and in convertibles,” Parker said. Friday night the children’s parade was held. “The whole idea of the parades was to bring people from the west end of town to the east end of town and attend the rodeo.”

The Saturday parade remains an important part of the Dixie Roundup.

“It creates enthusiasm. It’s an atmosphere,” Parker said.

While many of the traditions surrounding the event have changed, the heart of the three-day celebration remains. The Dixie Roundup is a point of pride for the Lions Club.

Rodeo has existed for just about as long as the cowboys who compete in them.  In St. George, during the early days of the Great Depression, local cowboys held impromptu rodeos behind the Tabernacle. Using wagons and trucks to form a makeshift arena, competitors roped and wrangled for spectators. The newly-formed Lions Club decided to support the popular pastime by holding an official competition.

“The St. George Lions received their charter from Lion’s Club International in November of 1934,” Parker said, “and in 1935 the first Roundup was held.”

That was the beginning of an 81-year tradition in Southern Utah. After more than a decade in an arena in the middle of a racetrack, the club decided the Roundup needed a permanent home.

Creg Cabrai leaves a bronc during the 1960 Dixie Roundup, St. George, Utah, 1960 |Archive photo St. George News
Creg Cabrai leaves a bronc during the 1960 Dixie Roundup, St. George, Utah, 1960 |Archive photo St. George News

After collecting contributions from each member of the club and additional funds from the community, construction of the Dixie Sunbowl began in January 1947 and the now iconic arena was completed in time for that year’s Dixie Roundup in September.

Grass was added to the arena in 1948 and for 40 years the Roundup had the distinction of being one of the few rodeos that was held at night, on grass. The grass was removed in the late 1980s and cowboys have competed there on dirt ever since.

Over the past eight decades, the venue has hosted football games, concerts and Boy Scout gatherings but time has taken a toll on the Sunbowl.

“Admittedly the place is old,” Parker said. “The condition of it is such that it almost needs to be torn down and rebuilt and that costs a lot of money.”

For many years the Lions engaged in a yearly ritual of painting and patching up the arena prior to the rodeo.

If we hadn’t put hundreds of, well probably thousands of gallons of paint over there, the place might’ve fallen apart already,” he said. “I would like to see it redone. It’s a tradition. It’s part of the community.”

The Lions Club encourages anyone who hasn’t attended the Dixie Roundup to come and join the fun next weekend and enjoy the company of friends and neighbors while watching the athletes of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association compete in one of its last rounds of competition prior to the national finals.

The 81st Dixie Roundup Rodeo will be held Sept. 17-19 at the historic Dixie Sunbowl, 150 S. 400 East, in downtown St. George.

Read more: Dixie Roundup Rodeo tickets go on sale


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