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County fair drew big crowds for thrilling entertainment

Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives
Special to Texoma Marketing and Media Group
Aviator Art Smith, famous for his stunt-flying tricks, was among the featured performers at the 1913 Big Bryan County Fair in Durant.

Would You Like to Be the Bird Man? That was the question asked of Bryan County residents in 1913. Advertisements for the Big Bryan County Fair promised three exciting days of entertainment including displays and performances by locals, contests of every sort imaginable, famous motivating speakers and the death-defying feats of the celebrated aviator Art Smith.

Arthur Smith, world-famous for his stunt flying, especially his night flights and sky writing, was a major acquisition for the ambitious fair in Durant.

Program planners didn’t have to go far to acquire another popular attraction: Lord Kitchener. The “world’s fastest two-year-old trotter,” was owned by Col. Charles R. Allen of Durant, who agreed to display some of his 60 famous race horses and to give daily harness racing exhibitions featuring Kitchener, Goldsmith and Cherry Leaf.

He made it clear that he didn’t need the publicity for his horses, but wanted to promote the attributes of the area. Col. Allen stated, “I am wintering my horses here for the reason that this climate is the best in the world for wintering fine race horses.”

Speakers for the county fair included Judge R. L. Williams, Congressman Charles D. Carter and State Superintendent R. H. Wilson. Performances by a wide variety of musicians, from big bands to local singers, entertained. There was even a public wedding. And, of course, the grounds were covered in rides, concessions and displays. Congressman Carter was especially complimentary of the livestock displayed.

The second day was the biggest crowd-pleaser. People paid to see a day of horse races and the big football game between Southeastern State Normal School and Burleson College of Greenville, Texas. It was reported to be the largest crowd ever gathered in the region and a triumph for Durant in their bitter rivalry with Caddo, which for years hosted the “Blue County Fair,” and later claimed the right to the post-statehood title of “Bryan County Fair.”

Durant disagreed and countered by naming its event the “Bryan County Agricultural and Livestock Association” fair. They eventually settled the matter and Caddo continued with their extremely successful Corn Carnival in August, and Durant hosted the Bryan County Fair in the fall.

1913 was a serious challenge for the association, which included W. L. Townsend, president, R. L. Curdup, vice-president, G. W. Seely, secretary, and Green Thompson, treasurer. They had finally purchased 40 acres at the southwest edge of Durant and had just completed a beautiful permanent setting for races and entertainment, when a storm hit just days before the event scheduled in October.

Wind and hail destroyed buildings, downed trees and knocked down much of the fencing. Art Smith, already enroute, had to turn back and the fair was rescheduled for November. Thankfully, it wasn’t reported that anyone canceled.

Corley McDarment was one of several people privileged to join Smith for a successful demonstration ride in his 60-horsepower Curtis biplane. The paper reported that Smith flew him two miles to the north of the park and they remained in the air for 20 minutes. McDarment must have surely felt like a bird man.

Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.