Cowtown Rodeo was started in 1929 by Howard Harris Sr. and his son, Howard “Stoney” Harris Jr. Stoney held the first rodeo in Woodstown NJ, in conjunction with the Salem County Fair, at the original auction grounds on North Main Street. Presently this ground is known as Harris Acres, with the back stretch of the race track now being the Presbyterian Church on Auburn Road. The rodeo was held annually during the County Fair until 1937. World War II caused the rodeo to be put on hold until 1955 when Baldy Harris, Stoney’s son, came back from the University of Idaho carrying the 1954 National Intercollegiate All Around Rodeo Championship saddle.
The Family worked together in establishing what is now known as the “oldest weekly professional rodeo in the United States.” Cowtown Rodeo was – and is – known nationwide due to live national TV exposure in 1957 & 1958 and taped exposure nationwide in 1968 & 1969. The rodeo outgrew the original arena and in 1967 built the present 4,000 seat arena.
Howard Grant Harris, the fourth generation, grew up at Cowtown, NJ. Grant was only one year old when the weekly rodeo started in 1955. He practically lived behind the chutes and at 8 years old he became the Junior Bull Riding Champion.
Grant entered professional competition at the age of 14, getting his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association card at the age of 17. He attended Casper College, in Casper, Wyoming, with a full rodeo scholarship and competed hard all across the United States. He was the Northeast Circuit Saddle Bronc Champion in 1975, 1977 & 1978 – being invited to compete in the 1977 North American Match Invitational Bronc Riding in Wolf Point, Montana.
In 1978, Grant, along with his new wife Betsy, bought the Cowtown Rodeo from his father and had to make a very tough decision, be a contestant or a producer. Grant has been quoted saying: “I like to think that I haven’t left it for good, but you cannot run a rodeo every Saturday night from May to September and compete on the rodeo circuit as well. Rodeoing has been a family business since 1929 when Grandpop Stoney got it rolling. When it came my turn to open the big gate, I had to make a big decision. It wasn’t easy, but it is hard to walk away from something your dad and your granddad spent a lifetime building. Somehow, sitting on a bronc is mild compared to the things that pop up all over the place around here. With all the action up front, there is considerable organization in the background.”
Cowtown Rodeo is unique in the fact that they not only have produced rodeos all over the East Coast, from Rutland, Vermont to Raleigh, North Carolina, but also raise most of their bucking stock. The bucking horses you see today are the grandsons and granddaughters of those you might have seen in the early 1970’s. In 1984 & 1985, Cowtown Rodeo was very proud to have one of their bulls named PRCA “Bucking Bull of the Year”.
Grant and Betsy live on the “home ranch” and are carrying on the tradition of Cowtown Rodeo. Grant runs the daily operations while Betsy secretaries the rodeos. She is past president of the First Frontier Rodeo Circuit and she oversaw the entire rodeo circuit here in the northeast. She travels many times over the year conducting business at the NFR in Las Vegas, Nevada and at the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, FL.
Grant and Betsy have two daughters: Courtney and Katy, who are the fifth generation of Cowtown Rodeo. Courtney is married to Jake Morehead of the Three Hills Rodeo Company in Bernard, Iowa. They have three children, Sam, Lily, and Cade. Courtney and Jake continue the rodeo tradition in the Midwest. Katy lives just down the road from the “home ranch” and is married to RJ Griscom. They have two children, Nathan and Olivia. Katy and RJ continue to follow in the footsteps of the generations before them keeping the traditions of Cowtown Rodeo alive.