Belton Fourth of July Parade
People from all over Texas come to celebrate the 4th of July in Belton. Belton’s first recorded Independence Day celebration was in 1852. It became an annual tradition in 1919.
Backstory and Context
People from all over Texas come to celebrate the 4th of July in Belton. Belton’s first recorded Independence Day celebration was in 1852 according to the Belton Journal. (Other sources say the first parade was in 1850.) It became an annual tradition in 1919. Year after year the Belton Journal reported details of each and every parade and rodeo. Many parades were dedicated to local veterans of various wars including Confederate veterans, members of the AEF (American Expeditionary Forces) of World War I, and the sacrifice of the soldiers of World War II. The week-long celebration continues to draw thousands of spectators and brings families back year after year to continue the tradition.
The parade of 1924 was featured on the front page of the Belton Journal and praised as a “parade of extraordinary beauty and length and one of the most beautiful spectacles ever witnessed in Central Texas.” It was estimated that a crowd of 25,000 viewed the floats which were created by farmers, businesses, churches, schools, and fraternal orders. Bicycles, horseback riders, ancient vehicles, and comic floats were among the other entries. Cochran, Blair and Potts won the prize for business float; the Christian Church was awarded first place for organization float. The farm display floats included the Baylor College Poultry Farm decked out with chickens of all ages. The Ku Klux Klan float bore eight knights and was escorted by four horsemen in costume. Political candidates followed in their cars with Albert Bonds, a candidate for sheriff, winning first place in the candidates cars. W. C. Polk’s car was called “The Tin Lizzie.” The Belton High School Band furnished the music for the parade, and the National Guard lent a stirring military presence.
Fourth of July celebrations generally begin with a kick-off barbeque meal in Yettie Polk Park during the week. On July 4, a patriotic program takes place at 9:00 a.m. at the courthouse. The parade begins promptly at 10:00 a.m., forming largely at the parking lot at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Over the years, the route has varied, but now makes its way down Main Street starting at 10th Ave., then south to Central Ave., turning east and finishing at Birdwell. In years past, the parade was followed with political speeches at the park. Nowadays attendees flood to the park and Nolan Creek to indulge in favorite foods, arts and crafts, and water activities. An integral part of the festivities is the Ole Fiddlers Contest at the bandstand in the park, with prizes awarded to the best fiddlers in various age categories.
In July 2000, to celebrate 150 years of the parade, the theme was “Mom, Dad, and Apple Pie” to express patriotism, nostalgia, and traditional family values. Governor George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, and Commanding General III Corps and Fort Hood, Leon LaPorte, were the parade marshals. Governor Bush and General LaPorte spoke briefly at the patriotic program prior to the parade.
In 1982 the parade made its first appearance on television with a live broadcast from the courthouse lawn, thanks to KCEN-TV. Today the parade is also live-streamed on the internet. It gained national attention in 2008 when USA Today named Belton’s 4th of July Parade as one of the country’s “Top Ten Places to Fly Your Flag on the 4th.”
The rodeo became a part of the celebration in 1924. Originially the rodeo was a one-day event with ten entries in each event and held at the football field on South Penelope between East Avenues C and E. According to Berneta Peeples, the bucking broncos were rented, and it was advertised that anyone who had a wild horse that needed to be saddle-broke was welcome to bring it. One year, a horse suffered from heat exhaustion and died. The Chamber of Commerce used all of the rodeo profits to pay for it. The cattle were purchased just for the rodeo and later sold at a reduced price. By the 1930s, the event moved to the football field at Confederate Park, and the Belton rodeo became a member of the Cowboys Turtle Association (later the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association). The rodeo was a very popular event, and following World War II, the Chamber of Commerce built a new rodeo arena in Confederate Park. Over the years as attendance at the rodeo increased, it was moved to the Bell County Expo Center in order to accommodate the large crowds.
In the 1990s Marvin Crow wrote a column for the Belton Journal entitled "Crow's Cafe" in which he reminisced about days gone by. At one time Crow's Cafe was part of the Greyhound Bus Station located near the post office. Crow told of one Independence Day celebration during the war that was rather humorous. When the parade started, the employees of Crow's stood in the street and watched the parade "until the horses came down the hill." Then they went inside the cafe and began cooking hamburgers and chicken fried steak. During the war each Greyhound Bus schedule had five buses. All the buses had to stop outside town until the parade was over; then, within five minutes of each other, all ten buses rolled in to the bus station. All the buses were full with as many as 50 passengers per bus. Crow's special, "The Best 35 Cent Dinner in Texas" was in demand as well as restrooms at all the nearby gas stations!
Crow, Marvin. "Crow's Cafe: 4th of July Festivities." The Belton Journal (Belton TX), February 12, 1998.