History of the Derby

ORIGIN OF THE MANGUM RATTLESNAKE DERBY
In 1930, the population in Greer County Oklahoma peaked at 20,282 people. Times were good and business was booming. However, a series of events
successively hit the nation that would have a lasting impact on Greer County.

In 1929, the stock market crashed setting in motion the Great Depression. During this time, hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their jobs. In contrast to
the long soup lines on the coasts, the southern plains states, including Oklahoma, were enjoying relative prosperity. Wheat prices were high and farming in
the southern plains became a lucrative business. Also, the Great Plains was enjoying an unusually high amount of rain fall. Farmers expanded their operations
across the southern plains to take advantage of the high wheat prices.

By 1930, wheat fields replaced prairie grasses. Farmers harvested more wheat than necessary and the price tumbled by over fifty percent. Many farmers went
broke and lost their farms. They abandoned their fields in search of a new way to live. Grain elevators were abandoned and left for the rodents. Some farmers
stuck around and focused on raising livestock.

By 1934, the southern plains were barren with deserted dust fields. Also, the plentiful rains stopped coming and a terrible drought gripped the southern plains.
The drought began in 1931 and lasted most of the thirties. Starting in 1934 and lasting through 1938 the Dust Bowl engulfed the southern plains. The Dust
Bowl was a series of dust storms that carried Oklahoma dirt as far as New York. Temperature would soar past 120 degrees. The southern plains almost
became inhabitable. More and more farmers migrated far from the region in hopes of finding a new way of life. In their absence, thousands of homesteads
were surrendered to Mother Nature. Mice became occupants of the abandoned dwellings and gorged themselves on the grain that was left behind. The rodent
population exploded and with it, the snake population.

By the end of the 1930's, pre-Dust Bowl days were returning. Oklahomans who fled the Dust Bowl began to return. However, many Oklahomans would not
return to the farms they left behind. Instead, many Oklahomans would find themselves waging war across two oceans. In 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor
which caused many Americans to travel from rural towns to major cities to assist the war effort by building tanks and bullets. Many would not return to the
farms that they left behind.

World War II officially ended in 1945. However, many Americans continued the shift from rural areas to urban and suburban areas. By 1960, the population in
Greer County dropped to 8,877 people. In thirty years, Greer County lost 57% of its population. The community of Mangum was drying up. Businesses were
closing. The town was receding while urban centers were expanding. Local merchants were seeking an answer to the declining customer base.

At the same time, Mangum farmers were also looking for an answer to the out of control rattlesnake populations. Some farmers had rattlesnakes living under
their houses. Farmers were losing livestock and family pets to snakebites. Also, curious children fell victim to the dangerous serpent. Farmers out of
desperation began gassing rattlesnake dens or even using dynamites on areas known to house rattlesnakes. Several ecosystems were destroyed through the
farmers' desperate attempts to protect their family and animals.

In 1966, the local merchants seeking to aid their shops and farmers looking for a better alternative than destroying wildlife environments came together to
address both issues. That year, the community of Mangum hosted the 1st annual Mangum Rattlesnake Derby. The founding members sought to use the
Derby as a way to promote Mangum through tourism, promote local businesses, give farmers an alternative for controlling snake populations, and to educate
the public about the misunderstood rattlesnake.

THE EARLY YEARS
The 1st Annual Mangum Rattlesnake Derby was held in April of 1966. The event was small, barely covering one side of the courthouse square. The Derby did
so bad that its very existence was in jeopardy. The Shortgrass Rattlesnake Association lost money on the Derby. The Association couldn't even pay on the
loan that it had to take out to even get the event off the ground. Still, the early members felt that this was exactly what Mangum needed and decided to give it
another try.

R.O. Heatly, a founding member of the Association, ran the local lumberyard in Mangum. He generously donated thousands of dollars worth of materials and
thousands of hours of his time so that the Derby could be a success. He, along with a handful of other dedicated individuals pulled up their sleeves and gave
the Derby another try the following year. This time, after the event had ended, a sign of success emerged. It was then realized that this could work. So,
annually the event is held and it continues to get bigger with each passing year.

The early members continued to change and evolve the Derby in an effort to make it more accessible to tourists. The date in which the event would take place
has changed numerous times. Eventually, the Association decided that the last weekend of April was the most opportune time to put on the Rattlesnake
Derby. The date was chosen due to the fact that you have to have snakes to have a Rattlesnake Derby. In Oklahoma, it is only legal to hunt rattlesnakes in
the months of March, April, and May. March and April are the best months to catch rattlesnakes because they are still near their dens. Catching them off their
dens is the easiest and most successful way to catch a rattlesnake. Also, this date fit into the schedule of all the vendors and the carnival.

Even with all the strives that these early members made to make the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby a success, it is up to the members today to continue on the
tradition. Today, the torch has been passed to the new generation of snake wranglers. It is up to this new generation to continue the Derby's success and to
continue adapting to the new problems that threaten the future of the Rattlesnake Derby.

THE DERBY TODAY
From its humble beginning, the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby is a sight worth seeing. Over 30,000 people flock to the tiny, farm community of Mangum,
Oklahoma, which is home to about 2,800 people. The entire downtown area of Mangum has to be blocked off, because over the three day weekend, people
and vendors litter the streets. During the peak hours of the day, it is nearly impossible to even get through the streets.

Today, the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby has the most educational snake show of all the snake hunts. It is also the most widely recognized. The Mangum
Rattlesnake Derby has been featured in several periodicals, magazines, and television documentaries such as Sport's Illustrated, Outdoor Oklahoma, USA
Today, Fox News, the Travel Channel, and countless others.

Also, with each new year, other film crews, photographers, and journalists, come from not only the United States, but from all over the world, including France,
Germany and Canada. On top of that, countless other people from all fifty states and abroad flock to Mangum to partake in the events. People from Ireland,
England, France, Germany, Mexico, Canada, Japan, and Australia make this trek on an annual basis.

The Shortgrass Rattlesnake Association has its own building and office in downtown Mangum. This is the central nervous system of the Rattlesnake Derby.
over one hundred vendors come every year and set up in the streets. The Pride of Texas Carnival sits at the south end of the festival and covers two city
blocks and the roads that separate them. With each passing year the event grows. The Mangum Rattlesnake Derby is the most successful snake hunt in all of
Oklahoma.

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