The Strangest Event at Ceremonial
By Ernie Bulow
When the Gallup Inter-tribal Indian Ceremonial was started in 1923 it seemed to have had two aims. The promoters wanted to make money off all the tourists they attracted to Gallup. That never worked out too well. Over the years the event has been a heavily subsidized money pit.
Number one depended on number two: they wanted to get as many people from as many tribes as possible, and make sure they had a real good time. That one was much more successful.
The rodeo wasn’t exactly a rodeo in modern terms, being made up largely of racing events, horse and foot, old time events like wild cow milking and wild horse riding, and the chicken pull. They had the hide race where one cowboy towed another through the dirt for awhile. If he stayed on the cowhide long enough and ate enough material (that’s sand mixed with other things) from the arena, he could be the winner.
Even the regular events like steer riding, bareback and saddle bronc riding and calf roping were all amateurs. The buffalo riders were given ten dollars apiece just to risk life and limb.
The women were not left out, they had wood chopping, fire starting and cow chip throwing – only they used cast iron frying pans so you didn’t want to get downfield. Same with the archery contest.
But my favorite of all was the apple-bobbing contest. At times there were as many as five tubs and never less than three. The contestants first had to ride an unsaddled horse the length of the arena – with their hands tied behind their backs.
Once at the tubs it was a mad free for all. Things could get pretty violent and there were a lot of busted heads and broken noses – plenty of blood. For the apple bobbing it was “no experience needed.” Over the years I have learned more about this event, and now I have a still from a film shot in 1936. Contestant after contestant gets his apple and runs for the finish, as apparently there was no limit of “winners.”
In the few minutes of the film, man after man gets his fruit and runs off, until there are only two left. One of them has his hands free, but he tries to keep them behind him. You can’t tell, but there may have only been one golden delicious still floating because that guy repeatedly head bashes the other into submission. Violently. Apparently he wasn’t going to give up.
I recently came across another good story about the famous Zuni clown Joe Crazy Horse. He was a crowd pleaser for many, many years. In this incident they had galvanized tubs of apples for the smaller kids. Joe runs out into the arena, manages to pratfall until he dumps over all the tubs, then gathers up all the apples in a rag he was carrying and takes off. Sounds a little tough on the kids, but I imagine the judges made things right.
I can understand why all these events have been gone for many years, but wouldn’t it be fun to see them again?