Historic Rodeo Back in Downtown Las Vegas Saddle

Las Vegas Days, an annual western-themed parade and celebration of Las Vegas’ history, will offer two days of rodeo at the CORE Arena at the Plaza Hotel on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 11 and 12, 2022.

Roy Rogers Dale Evans Trigger
Roy Rogers Dale Evans Trigger
Roy Rogers (on Trigger) and Dale Evans ride in the Helldorado Days parade while filming the 1946 movie ‘Heldorado’ in Las Vegas. (Image: ebay.com)

Admission is free for the rodeo, which will feature bull riding, barrel racing, breakaway, team roping, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, and bareback riding. Prize purses for the champions total $40K and include custom belt buckles.

Highway to Helldorado

Longtime Las Vegas visitors are more likely to remember Las Vegas Days by the name it went by until 2017; Helldorado Days began in 1934 when Arizona carnival barker Clyde Zerby sought a quick buck from Hoover Dam workers. His event included a “hoochie-coochie dance show” and other attractions aimed at letting the workers blow off steam. Zerby stole the name from a similar festival in Tombstone, Ariz. Prospectors joked that they came to Tombstone looking for gold – their Eldorado – but found nothing but a “Helldorado” of heat and bad jobs.

In 1935, the Las Vegas Elks Lodge took the reins of the festival and – with support from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and local businesses – made it a family-friendly affair. Held to commemorate the 30th year of Las Vegas’ founding, it featured a parade, rodeo, and a carnival.

Of the first Elks-run Helldorado, the Las Vegas Evening Review-Journal reported: “The parade staged in Las Vegas Friday night was the most unique ever seen in the southwest. Throughout the two-mile length of the parade, not a single automobile or truck appeared. In the ancient buggies, carts, and wagons rode revelers dressed as cowboys or prospectors, and girls wearing full-skirted dresses.”

The newspaper recommended that it become “one of the nation’s most colorful and famous annual celebrations,” and that’s exactly what happened. Each year, as Las Vegas grew, Helldorado Days grew in lockstep. By 1946, the festival was so well-known that Roy Rogers and Dale Evans filmed a movie in Las Vegas, Heldorado, with Helldorado Days as the backdrop. (There was already a 1934 film called Helldorado, so one “l” was dropped.)

That same year, a young Marilyn Monroe – then Norma Jean Baker – met Rogers during the movie’s filming, and even got to ride Trigger. (“What a horse!” she wrote in a letter to LA modeling agent Emmeline Snively.) Monroe happened to be in town establishing her required six-week Nevada residency to divorce her first husband, James Dougherty.

In 1979, the Elks moved the aging Helldorado parade from Fremont Street to the more popular Las Vegas Strip. In 1985, however, the National Finals Rodeo established itself in Vegas, overshadowing Helldorado in every subsequent year. By 1997, Helldorado Days gave up the fight.

Return to Hell

In 2005, the Elks’ Helldorado returned to downtown as part of the City of Las Vegas’ 100th birthday celebration. The event has been held every November since – except for 2020 – thanks to funding from the City’s Centennial Commission.

After the Elks, who own the Helldorado name, stopped organizing it in 2017, the city was forced to come up with another name. They chose “Las Vegas Days.”

The Las Vegas Days Rodeo is fully sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association.

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