Will Rogers Range Riders
On July 4, 1938, the city of Amarillo commemorated the opening of the Will rogers Memorial Highway – US 66, so later that year, when a group of businessmen in the city decided to form a riding club, a place where they could gather and enjoy a common interest – horses – it was decided to call the club the Will Rogers Range Riders.
That was the beginning of what is today the oldest continually operating riding club the United States. Located on the northwest side of Amarillo, on the same highway from which the group took its name, the club today boasts of more than 100 members representing almost every occupation – doctors, lawyers, accountants, contractors, writers, artist and many more.
Although the club started out with just such a varied and professional membership, its first home was a borrowed one. “The old racehorse stables at the Fairgrounds was the first headquarters,” said Cliff Lowrance; longtime Range Rider member and current Treasurer of the group. “We were there until 1947, at which time we purchased the land west of town. In 1951, we brought the old racing stable building we had been using at the Fairgrounds, and moved it to our new locations. That’s our Recreation Hall today.”
When the club moved from the Fairground to the 50 acres it had purchased, the group also made another acquisition. The old Mils Bivins home, which had been built in 1911, was bought from Mrs. Betty Childers, Bivins daughter, and moved from its site at 10th and Tyler to the new location. The two-story home was installed over a basement and became the headquarters club house for the group.
Another reason the club was organized was to serve the community. And this service was never better exemplified than during World War II. In December 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, various groups from all over the country were organized as a defense mechanism in case the mainland of the United States was invaded. Amarillo participated in this, and it was Will Rogers Range Riders who were chosen to help defend the area. Each man was issued a 30-30 Winchester rifle, and although their services were not needed in that capacity, there were prepared.
“Also during the war, while all the young men were of fighting, the area ranches were left shorthanded,” noted Lowrance. “The Range Riders would, as a group, help the ranchers work cattle and do other chores necessary for the operation of the ranches.”
Although club members no longer carry arms, they still assist area law enforcement officials periodically with search and rescue missions when horses are required in the more areas of the Panhandle.
Will Rogers Range Riders assist the city in other ways too. They donate their arena and other facilities to various non-profit groups for charitable functions. And since 1952 the Range Riders have held an Easter egg hunt for all the children of the city. Thousands of eggs are hidden each year, and children from throughout Amarillo search through the grass for eggs.
The Range Riders are known not only locally, but state-wide as well. In 1947 they were invited to participate in the inaugural parade of Texas Governor Buford Jester, and horse and rider alike journeyed to Austin on the train. The invitation was repeated when Governor Preston Smith took office and Ranger Riders again traveled to the state capital to represent Amarillo.
Also, the famous Gray Horse Drill Team, made up of various Range Rider members was honored nationally in parade activity.
The only rodeo held in Amarillo is that of Will Rogers Range Riders. Scheduled annually for the Fourth of July weekend, the rodeo is the second largest amateur rodeo in the Tri-State area, and attracts more than 300 contestants from five states.
Will Rogers Range Riders celebrates its 76th anniversary this year. Although none of the original members are still active, many of the current members have been in the club for more than 20 years, and the traditions that were set forth in 1938 are still upheld.