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Springfield connection to the country’s oldest African American Rodeo

Samuel Knox
UniteNews Staff Writer

In the heart of the American Midwest lies a story of cultural heritage and community resilience that bridges the gap between two communities.

Boley, Oklahoma is home to the nation’s oldest African American community-based rodeos in the country. It is a celebration of local citizens and visitors from around the world with a line-up of fun, family-friendly activities, and entertainment. “Our annual Rodeo celebrates the historical significance of Boley, an all-black town representative of many towns established by African Americans who migrated from the South to northern and western communities after slavery. The Boley Rodeo began in 1903,” remarks Henrietta Hicks.

At the helm of the annual Boley Rodeo and Bar BQ Festival is Henrietta Hicks, a local historian whose roots run deep. Yet, the story takes an unexpected turn as we shift our focus to Springfield, Missouri, where Tim Ferguson resides. While Springfield may seem worlds away from the dusty rodeo arenas of Boley, it is here that the threads of connection between these two locations converge.

The land where the rodeo arena stands today was once owned by Henrietta Hicks, who owns a ranch next to the rodeo arena. She is a former judge and local historian, who also happens to be Tim Ferguson’s aunt. Tim was born in Brooklyn, New York where his father worked in a ship yard as a master underwater welder. Tim has nine siblings.
Tim Ferguson’s father, William “Bill” Ferguson, was raised in Boley, Oklahoma, and had a deep connection to the town. While Tim grew up in California, his childhood was filled with memories of his father returning to Boley frequently, drawn by his love for the town and its rodeo traditions. Growing up, Tim was involved in the Boley Rodeo, lending a helping hand wherever needed. Bill Ferguson’s expertise with horses, passed down from his father, made the rodeo a natural gathering point for the family.

Ferguson recalls how his father always owned a nice car and fondly remembers the regular holiday trips they made to Boley. On each journey, his father would bring a family member from Texas or Oklahoma back to California. What made these trips remarkable was his father’s ability to ensure safe passage, thanks to special documents from a prominent judge. These documents were obtained through his work distilling moonshine, which his father would deliver to parties attended by influential community members. This ensured that if he was ever pulled over by law enforcement, he would not face any trouble.

Ferguson’s involvement today with the rodeo extends to booking Gospel singing groups for the weekend event, adding a different spiritual dimension to the festivities.

As the 121st Annual Boley Rodeo event approaches, the spirit of community and cultural pride burns brighter than ever. Through the dedication of individuals like Henrietta Hicks and the support of community members like Tim Ferguson, the legacy of Boley lives on, inspiring future generations to honor their past while embracing the promise of tomorrow.

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