They Walked Among Us: Sally Rand and her WWII Rodeo
“Here comes Junction City’s Gigantic Rodeo” The Junction City Union proclaimed on June 24 1942. To be held on June 27th and June 28th in Rathert Stadium, the event would feature 150 rodeo stars including: John Lindsey, famous rodeo clown; Hoyt Heffner, professional bull fighter; Buff Brady, champion trick rider and roper whose exploits could be seen in films; Earl and Valdene Strauss, Hollywood stunt riders; and Alice and Margaret Greenough, sisters of Pvt. Turk Greenough and champion bronc riders. And the headliner? Sally Rand, “one of the nation’s top-ranking celebrities” and wife of arena director Turk Greenough.
Sally Rand had gained fame as a burlesque dancer, known for her alluring fan dance. Her presence in Junction City was met with more than a bit of excitement. She arrived by train at 4:30 in the morning with her Pekingese dog “Quannie” and stayed at the Bartell Hotel. She was offered a private residence, but preferred the downtown location as it would make planning and handling all rodeo details easier. Prior to the start of the event, Sally Rand spent many days traveling on a rodeo caravan to towns and cities within a 75-mile radius of Junction City to promote the event. While staying in town, Sally was presented with a “key to the city” at a Junior Chamber of Commerce dinner; she also received a badge and the title of honorary Geary County Sheriff.
The question might be asked, why was Junction City chosen for such a large, nationally advertised rodeo event? The answer lies in Sally Rand’s personal life. In 1941, at the start of World War II, she married Turk Greenough. Up until the start of the war, Turk Greenough traveled the country as a national champion bronco rider performing in places like Madison Square Gardens. He achieved the title of champion bronco buster of the world six times. During his World War II enlistment, Pvt. Turk Greenough trained at the Cavalry Replacement Training Center at Fort Riley. And it was through him, Sally and some of their friends from the rodeo circuit, that the “gigantic rodeo” was put together. It was reported in the papers on June 5, 1942 that “The famous fan dancer and her cowboy husband [were] collaborating with Junction City business men in providing the financial backing for the rodeo, being staged for the benefit of the Army Emergency Relief Fund at Fort Riley.”
The army had several featured spots in each show, as some of the nation’s finest horsemen and horses from the Fort Riley Cavalry show performed jumping exhibitions. There were also demonstrations of a cavalry bivouac and the public was able to inspect the equipment before and after each show.
14,000 people were estimated to have attended the two day event, with the peak crowd reaching 5,000 people on Sunday afternoon. This peak crowd was reached despite a torrential downpour which turned the grounds around Rathert Field into a sea of mud. At 75 cents for general admission and $1 for grandstand seats, this rodeo raised quite a bit to help the Army Relief Fund and, the rodeo was declared a success.
The Geary County Historical Society is gearing up for our “Year of the Soldier” celebration in 2017. It may seem like a long way away, but we have started researching and planning for our exhibits and programs for next year. If you have any stories about your time in the army, or your time as a supporting family member of a soldier, stop into the museum. We would love to hear stories, see pictures and talk to you about loaning objects for this exciting event. Call Heather at the museum with any questions 785-238-1666.
For a more immediate event: the museum’s Spring Valley Historic Site will be open Saturday June 25th from 10-1pm. Stop by the site to explore the historic buildings, and to see demonstrations of spinning, weaving and other pioneer handcrafts.