By Randy Pennington
It happens every August. Thousands of people flock to the east side of Lawton to experience one of the oldest traditions in Southwest Oklahoma history: The Lawton Rangers Rodeo. For over 70 years, cowboys and cowgirls have travelled from all over the world to participate in what has become one of the top 50 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) events.
On August 10-13, 2011, the L.O. Ranch Arena east of Lawton will once again be filled to capacity as spectators witness cowboys and cowgirls competing for money, points and good old-fashioned “braggin’ rights”. The sights and sounds of a professional rodeo can only be truly appreciated when witnessed live: the smell of leather and cotton candy, the sight of a 200 pound cowboy being tossed around on top of a 1500 pound bull, the laughter of children as the clowns entertain the crowd, and the sounds of screaming spectators, standing to cheer when the buzzer finally sounds. And in all honesty, just listening to the National Anthem being sung while the American flag is displayed on horseback, in the center of the arena, with troops from Fort Sill and cowboys with their hats held over their hearts, standing at attention…is worth the admission price.
What began in the 1930’s as a group of people who wanted to celebrate Lawton’s birthday in western style, calling themselves the “Buckaroos”, the Lawton Rangers have evolved through the years, becoming a Riding Club in 1941, and officially becoming the Lawton Rangers in 1944. Their first rodeo was held in 1945 at an area located south of Lawton on Highway 277, and they moved to their current location in 1967.
The Rangers’ mission has remained basically the same throughout the years. Their goal is to improve the breed of cattle and horses in Southwest Oklahoma, to promote and produce rodeos and other forms of entertainment, and encourage breeding of pure-breed cattle and horses. Their organization has grown to over 100 members strong today, and they continue to hold their annual rodeo every August, the staple by which they are best known. But just who are the Rangers, and how do they spend their time during other 11 months of the year?
The Lawton Rangers, by nature of their name, lends one to imagine a group of hat-wearing, gun-toting ranchers out riding the range, protecting their livestock from coyotes and poachers. Some are. But you’re just as likely to find their membership a mixture of insurance salesmen, real estate brokers, maintenance workers, laborers, truck drivers, carpenters, and a myriad of other occupations, and of course, farmers and ranchers. And most would tell you that all of them are “good ole boys”.
“I liked what they stood for”, said Farrell Large, Rangers Board of Directors member, when asked why he joined the club. “Like most of our members, I liked horses, and enjoyed what I saw the Rangers doing, so I wanted to be a part of it”, he adds.
While a lot of time is spent organizing the annual rodeo, the Rangers are busy the rest of the year addressing other areas of need in the community. Three high school seniors, (who will pursue a degree in some form of agriculture), from area schools each year are selected to receive a $1,000 scholarship, compliments of the Rangers.
Also, the Rangers have become regular donors to the Breast Cancer Center in Lawton, making sizable donations in honor of their “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” campaign. The Comanche County Memorial Hospital Starlight Children’s Fund is also a recipient of the Rangers’ hospitality. And it’s not uncommon to find the Rangers supporting Trail Rides, Parades, the Giddy-Up-Go Program for children and other charities and organizations.
Many area FFA Chapters have benefited from Ranger donations through the years, as they have been strong supporters of agricultural endeavors among young people. In addition, the Armed Services YMCA, when in desperate need of funds, found the Rangers at their door, presenting them with a very generous donation. Not surprising, because that’s what good ‘ole boys do.
The Lawton Rangers are no strangers to the PRCA circuit, and to other communities who welcome their participation in annual parades. The Rangers, in their white shirts, black ties and cowboy hats, have ridden in many parades through the years, most notably in Lawton. But they’ve also represented our community and themselves in Walters, Chickasha, Hobart, Sterling and Vernon, Texas. The Rangers have also done our community proud by riding several years in the Fort Worth Livestock Rodeo Parade. It’s the largest non-motorized parade in the country, with over 240 entries, and the Rangers stand out, as a respected and honored riding club, when participating at the event.
It’s apparent the Lawton Rangers are more than just “the rodeo folks”, but if you want to see them at their best, you can attend this year’s Lawton Rangers Rodeo. The PRCA event includes Bareback Bronc Riding, Saddle Bronc Riding, Steer Wrestling, Tie-Down Roping, Team Roping, Barrel Racing, and the crowd’s favorite, Bull Riding. In addition, the Bull Fighters will put on a tremendous show in protecting some of the country’s top cowboys, as they compete for prize money and points. The L. O. Ranch Arena and Rodeo Grounds are located 3 miles east of Lawton, off Interstate 44, on Highway 7, and ½ mile south on SE 60th Street. The rodeo will be held August 10-13th, and is a great family event.
From a group of “Buckaroos” in the 1930’s, to the well-known Lawton Rangers today, one thing has not changed: their values and support for the community and its residents. The Lawton Rangers are so much more than rodeo sponsors, and they should be heralded as one of the longest-standing civic clubs in this area. Because through it all, they have always represented us well…the cowboy way.