January 8, 1954: Gene Autrey performs at the Duluth Armory

On this day in Duluth in 1954, the “Singing Cowboy” Gene Autrey gave two performances of “Hot Show of 1954” at the Duluth Armory. The Duluth News Tribune reported that the “Hot Show” included comedian and Autrey sidekick Pat Buttram, musicians the Cass County Boys, human sound-effects machine Rufe Davis, the Melody Ranch Orchestra, and others—including the “versatile and acrobatic” Jemez Indians Troupe, with which Autrey would be “playing cowboy and Indian.” “Thousands” of Duluth children came to see “America’s favorite cowboy” at the afternoon show, which ran an hour long. No one played any “cowboy and indian”—the Jemez, from Arizona, demonstrated traditional hoop dancing. Still, the show wowed the young crowd. The paper reported that “Joe Mole rode some crazy bicycles, Carl Cotner fiddled like there was a bird in the violin and the Cass County Boys sang pretty.” The paper pointed out that while “there were girls in the show,” they all paled in comparison to Barbara Bardo, the “best girl in the show” who could “spin a rope, or even two, and jump in and out of the loop doing it.” But the big star—besides Autrey—was his horse, Champion. When the horse first stepped onstage, “the shout that went up drowned [Autrey] out.” Autrey also took the time to say hello to 12-year-old Ronald Farley, who had met the Singing Cowboy three years earlier after a burn accident in Ottumwa, Iowa, hospitalized the young Duluthian. At Autrey’s invitation, Farley had appeared on his the Singing Cowboy’s radio show while still confined to a wheelchair. Later, Autrey rode back to the hospital with Farley in a police car.

Champion and Gene Autrey. (Image: Public Domain)