The storied history of Brady's July Jubilee

by Karlton Steffens

By Karlton Steffens

(See more photos by clicking on the above image)

Independence Day is approaching and I thought it would be fun to step back in time and re-live those days when the Fourth of July celebrations were spectacular. When I consider the grandest Fourth of July festivities of my lifetime, I have to venture back into the 1950s.

The July Jubilee celebrations were opened with the Miss Heart of Texas Pageant which was held in front of the grandstands at G Rollie White racetrack. Some 20 of McCulloch County’s brightest and loveliest young ladies participated for the honor of being crowned Miss Heart of Texas.

The very next morning the newly crowned Jubilee Queen’s float led the big parade cheered on by 7,500 holiday spectators. The great parade was highlighted through the years by the appearance of state dignitaries such as Governors Preston Smith, Bill Clements and James V. Allred.

The greatest thrill for the immense crowds were the magnificent floats from all over Texas. Every nearby town sent their floats—Mason, Fredericksburg, Llano, Coleman, Brownwood, Lampasas, Burnet and Ballinger to name a few. Some of the larger festivals in Texas sent their floats to Brady such as the Fiesta Flambeau of San Antonio, the West Texas Fair, San Angelo Rodeo sent riders, Fort Worth Stock Show, Miss Texas float, Miss Wool float and the Miss Mohair float.

High School bands from area towns along with the Famed Brady Bulldog Band and Junior High Bands marched. The Brady High School cheerleaders and Junior High cheerleaders performed and marched. Also marching were the Goodfellow Air Force Band and the Kelly Air Force Band of San Antonio.

With the conclusion of the grand parade, three days of the best horse racing in Texas took place. The box seats at G. Rollie White Downs were filled with local and state dignitaries and the center box was reserved for the General Manager of the July Jubilee Association, Miss Heart of Texas, the Governor and the mayor.

Dances were held at the Country Club Clubhouse and the National Guard Armory. In 1956, the Chord Kings of San Angelo played the Country Club with admission being $3 per couple and the Burket Playboys of Coleman entertained the younger crowd at the Armory at $2 per couple.

“Ain’t That A Shame” it wasn’t 1955 Because Elvis was touring Texas and played Cherry Springs on Oct. 5, 1955, and that crowd was “All Shook Up.”

I’ve saved the best part for last because as a 10-year old kid in the mid 1950s, the Bill Hames carnival was like going to the Texas State Fair and Disneyland all rolled into one. Seventy years have come and gone and I still remember where every ride was located at Richards Park. Every carnival attraction was located in the south side of the park from the circle drive to the rock wall at Brady Creek. It took a crack engineering team to plan and place each huge ride between the gigantic pecan trees.

These magic rides were all located in the enclosed area described above. Let’s take a walking tour to each ride—we’ll start at the octopus at the far northeast corner, then 30 yards to the south towards Brady Creek was the giant Ferris Wheel. Walking west some 30 yards was the Tilt-o-Whirl (spinning was great!). Then walking to the north about 40 yards was the Lupo Plane (scary). The remaining rides were situated at the west side of the park before you get to the big hump. The west side of the park housed the bumper cars, roller coaster, the Scrambler, the Sizzler and others.

In the middle of the grounds were the fun rides of of the youngsters, she merry go-round, horse rides, plane rides, car rides and a small roller-coaster. Walking through the midway with these interesting people manning the side shows that included all the games, some of which were the gun shooting, rubber ducks, milk bottle throws, horse and car racing games, basketball shooting and more. I never had the courage nor strength to try the strongman sledge hammer.

Parents and grand parents sitting on the rock wall at the south side of the park waited for their kids to return for another dime or two. Cotton candy, candied apples, pitching a nickel into a glass and it always bounced out, the weight and age guess, fortune teller and the late show that had men trying to coax you inside.

The end of a wonderful night at the carnival was going home, and getting hosed down in the back yard. These were the days when simple was fun and you needed were a couple of feet and a few friends.

However wonderful my memories of the Fourth of July were, they do not compare to the written records of the July Jubilee of the 1920s and 1930s. Almost one hundred years ago the citizens of Brady joined together with an incredible volunteer effort which will forever be remembered as the greatest Fourth of July celebrations in the history of Brady.

The year I picked is 1936 but every year from 1926 to 1939 equally compares. Why did I stop at 1939? The years beginning with 1940-45, America was engaged in a great war. The sons and daughters of the men and women who worked so hard to make the July Jubilee glorious, took up arms against the evil forces of this world. The Greatest Generation marched off to war and returned five years later and “made America great again” along with the July Jubilee.

1936 July Jubilee

The coronation for the Jubilee Queen would open the four-day salute to America. The old racetrack at Richards Park would host the event. The grandstand seat 6000+ spectators who were treated to quite a show and June Jordan, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson Jordan, was chosen Jubilee Queen.

The other young ladies who graced the stage were, Louise Walker (Geeslin), Tommy Ruth Bradley (Archer), Charlene Gray (Carrithers), Janie Baker (Newlin), Marge Trail (Lawler), Vera Thomlinson (Archer) and Queen June Jordan (Bowden).

The coronation featured 22 queens from festivals and celebrations from Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and of course, from Central and West Texas.

Several college men served as escorts for the contestants and visiting queens from other towns.

Continued . . .

Those men were Sam McCollum, Karl K. Steffens, Barry Franks and Ed Campbell. Steffens, football star at A&M, serenaded the young ladies with “I’m in the mood for love” and “Good night Ladies” to close the show.

An interesting note was the fact that the old racetrack was located at Richards Park inside the circular stone wall with the grandstands located where the little league ballfields now are located.

The area also was the location of the Brady Sports Complex which included the Brady High School football stadium as well as a baseball field and track and field arena.

The Queen’s Ball was held at the Country Club Clubhouse and attended by 750 enthusiastic and mostly young people who danced the night away to the tuns of the Mack Rogers Orchestra of swing, straight from the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio. Bright and early the next morning the Fourth of July parade drew a crowd of 10,000 strong that jammed the plaza and streets of downtown Brady.

G.C. Kirk, parade chairman declared “This is the greatest crowd that will ever attend our parade. We are so proud of all the volunteers and of course all the citizens who attended!”

The July Jubilee parade was led and then reviewed by Gov. James V. Allred, the governor’s vehicle was followed by the organizations, merchant’s decorated cars and floats of area banks. The highlight of the parade was the float ridden by Queen June Jordan and her court.

Speaking of Jubilee Queens, the 1967 Miss Heart of Texas is cooking supper as I’m writing this. ‘The beauty and the Feast.’ Not bad for a short-red headed guy.

The Brady Municipal Band dressed in their new blue and white uniforms purchased with donations from Brady merchants, led the parade around the square and then marched to Richards Park followed by thousands of happy holiday fanatics.

The four day festival at Richards Park was now in full swing with people attending from all over \Texas. The area surrounding the park was covered with vehicles and tents where multitudes stayed for three or four nights. These were the days of no public showers and very few rest rooms (and way before port-o-potties). I suppose with plentiful vegetation and Brady Creek, the visitors managed just fine.

How many Texans attended the 1936 July Jubilee in Brady? It was estimated at 55,000. This number is incredible and almost unbelievable, however, the 55,000 is printed in the Brady Standard!

The three-day gathering at the park was planned and managed by some 200 local volunteers who coordinated the activities. These days were filled with concerts and speeches from the concert stage. There were dance contests, singing contests, wrestling, boxing matches, trapeze acts, weight lifting, free movies and something for everyone. A traveling carnival that sported carnival rides and a midway was full of fun for everyone.

Each day there were baseball games contested at the sports complex where Brady’s baseball team competed with area towns. The baseball games were held before and after the horse races with thousands attending each game.

The focal points each day of the July Jubilee were the horse races. Post time was 2 p.m. and six to eight races were held each day. In between each race, rodeo events were staged in the infield. Each day an estimated 7,500 horse race devotees attended. Frank Waring, San Angelo ranch man and state horse racing official, stated that these races were the best Texas has to offer.

The grand festival ended with the colossal barbecue meal served free to the 20,000 appreciative visitors and no one left hungry. There were 75 local volunteers who filled the necessary roles to pull off this gigantic endeavor.

Brady and McCulloch County volunteers gathered wood, dug long trenches to cook over, they cut up the meat, cooked it, cooked barrels of beans, prepared all the vegetables, along with the pickles, onions, tea and coffee and then served the meal.

The meat from cattle,sheep and goats was donated by area ranchers. These ranchers donated 12,000 pounds of beef alone.

The committee chairs for the July Jubilee were: Jamie Brook, Dr. Jack Ragsdale, Ed Broad, B.A. Hallum, A.B. Reagan, H.R. Hodges, John Wall, Harry Schwenker, K.D. Steffens, A.H. Broad, Dr. Posey Collins, Jim Mann, D.A. Harkrider, Ira Mayhew, G.C. Kirk, H.M. Deaton, G. Rollie White, Wilson Jordan, W.N. White, Curtis Norman, Herbert Wood, J.B. Whiteman and F.M Richards.

These were the days when civic pride in Brady superseded everything else and the Heart of Texas stood alone with an extraordinary celebration that as not surpassed by any other festival in the great State of Texas.