Chicken Rodeos, Airplane Stunts, & More: The History of Trade Days in Collierville

Chicken rodeos, pig races, airplane stunts, and more! From 1933 to 1935, local Collierville merchants sponsored “Trade Days” on the third Saturday of the month. Featuring big sales and exciting attractions, Trade Days drew large crowds and many out-of-town visitors to the town square.

The Start of Trade Days

In December 1933, a group of ten local merchants decided to start a Collierville Trade Days series. According to The Collierville Herald, “These occasions [were] modeled after Trade Days in other localities where they ha[d] proven immensely successful.” By working together with other businesses, merchants were able to reduce prices, attract more customers, and sell more products.

Over 5,000 posters and circulars announcing Trade Day sales were distributed 15 to 30 miles around Collierville. Merchants hoped to “attract the greatest throng that ever met in Collierville” and to make the first Trade Day “one of the high points of local history.” In addition to running a “concentrated advertising campaign”—called “one of the most intensive poster campaigns ever conducted in this section—merchants also sponsored entertainment to draw crowds. The Cooper Motor Company advertised a new 1934 Ford V-8 car on display at both the Square and in their store.

The first Trade Day was a success. With merchants “drastically reducing prices,” large crowds attended, reportedly including customers from beyond Macon, Moscow, and Olive Branch. Merchants soon planned another Trade Day, and additional stores joined in. Certain new features were also added that drew even bigger crowds.


The Chicken Rodeo: Tossed from the Bandstand

Following a successful first Trade Day, local business owners held a meeting to consider suggestions and features for the second event. They came up with a unique new main attraction: the Chicken Rodeo. Called “a novel and entertaining stunt never before tried in this section,” each of the merchants sponsored a chicken, “which they [would] fatten and train for the occasion.”

“Champion sprinters in the poultry world” were groomed for “the literal race of their lives,” and put on exhibition. Including “perky” roosters, shy chickens, and chickens that had “never seen a cage,” selections were based on “speed, stamina and general elusiveness.” According to paper, the chicken rodeo worked as follows:

"The first rodeo will be held a[t] 2:30 p.m. when three chickens will be turned loose from the bandstand in the center of the town square. The remainder of the chickens will be turned loose as fast as time permits.

All contestants and spectators in this rodeo will be kept back to the pavement until the chickens are tossed down from the bandstand. That will be a signal for the race. Whoever catches a chicken keeps the fowl and will receive a prize from the merchant sponsoring the chicken.

These prizes will run from a sack of feed to a box of candy. The contest is open to everyone, young or old, man or woman, boys or girls, white or black.”

With the addition of attractions like the chicken rodeo—and continued special bargains at stores—the next Trade Day was a resounding success! “Officials estimated that between 1500 and 2000 visitors were in town that day. During the chicken rodeo they stood five deep in the north end of the square, while there was not an open space on any of the four sides.”

Reportedly, “the largest crowd in recent history came to the city to join in the merrymaking and bargain hunting.” The Trade Day was so successful that merchants decided it would become a monthly event, held on the third Saturday of every month…with a few changes.


From Chickens to Rabbits to Guinea Fowl

As Trade Days grew in popularity and became a regular event, store owners decided to provide a new attraction every month so that the public wouldn’t get bored.

For the third Trade Day, it was decided that the chicken rodeo would be replaced with a rabbit rodeo. Inspired by “the good race the lone rabbit ran in the chicken rodeo” last time, merchants hoped that rabbits would provide for a more entertaining event.

“Chickens were too slow for the huge crowds that bore down on them and their capture was too easy,” the Herald reported. “Rabbits, the merchants believe[d], [would] provide more excitement and spills.”

However, game laws about the close of rabbit season meant this wouldn’t be possible, merchants realized. A guinea fowl rodeo was chosen as the main attraction instead. Considerable interest was shown in the guinea rodeo, and it was expected that it would be a highly thrilling event because of the guinea fowls’ speed.

As in the chicken rodeo, the plan was that three guineas at a time would be released at the center of the Square, each representing a store-sponsored prize and becoming the property of whoever caught them. Races also became segregated, one race for white boys and men and one race for Black boys and men, to “reduce the number entering in each event and allow the bird a better opportunity to make a good race.”

The number of merchants involved in Trade Day grew to sixteen, which The Herald described as “virtually city wide.” Merchants continued to put on special sales as an added attraction, and with good weather expected, record crowds were anticipated with “visitors from as far west as Grand Junction and as far north as Arlington.”


Airplane Stunts: Throwing Guinea Fowl from a Plane

The February Trade Day was considered a triumph, drawing “the greatest gathering in the history of Collierville” with over 3,000 visitors. The guinea fowl rodeo was such a big hit that it was set to be repeated at the March event, in addition to one other feature: airplane stunts.

According to The Herald, Dave Skinner’s “agile flying” became an, “unexpected feature of the February Trade Day and made such an impression that Mr. Skinner was prevailed upon to take part in the March occasion.”

Skinner was also expected to take part in the guinea rodeo, as “two or more guineas [would] be dropped from [his] airplane.” A thrilling chase was expected with “several acknowledged record breaking guineas” entered in the rodeo and with stores advertising prizes such as sacks of flour.

Other changes to the March Trade Day included additional merchants, scheduling attractions earlier in the day to allow farmers more time to trade, and implementing “a reserved section around the truck for white ladies so they [wouldn’t] be jostled in the crowd.” Two churches also operated shops and booths serving food like hot dogs and hamburgers throughout the day.

Record-breaking crowds even larger than those in February were expected, and merchants reported “more interest [shown] in these Trade Days than ever before.” According to the Herald, “most stores reported tremendous business while two merchants declared their receipts were greater than on any other day since Fall.”


Pig Races and the World’s Fair

In April, the Trade Day featured “an old-fashioned greasy pig race,” and “the country [was] scoured for the wildest razorback pigs known.” These races were a big hit, and continued on in later months, during which The Herald reported that “coated with grease [the pigs would] be almost impossible to catch.” Two pigs were released from a box in the center of the Square, and whoever caught a pig became its owner.

In May, Trade Day events took place during Collierville’s inaugural Cheese Carnival, which celebrated the recently opened Swift and Company Cheese plant. And after a break in June and July, Trade Days resumed with a bang: the grand prize for August was a trip to the Chicago World’s Fair, called the “Century of Progress.”

Flyers distributed over 25 miles and stickers on local cars—as well as the return of the greasy pig race—were used to try to draw “the largest crowds since the cheese carnival to visit Collierville.” Sponsored by the Missouri Pacific Lines, the grand prize gave the winner three days at the Fair, all hotel and transportation fees included (itinerary below). Due to racism, African American winners were offered a cash prize of $25.


Trade Days Fade Away

Trade Days continued, but attention eventually started to fade, resulting in less publicity. Ads for Trade Days appeared through December 1935, but articles about the events dwindled and only a few were published during this time.

In June 1935, an article appeared that twelve merchants had agreed to support Trade Days for the next six months, once again on the third Saturday of each month. Tickets would be given out by participating merchants, and large crowds and entertainment were still expected. Operation of the Trade Days also became the responsibility of The Collierville Herald instead of a cooperative effort between local merchants.

While no reason was given for the end of Trade Days, one possibility is the beginnings of Collierville’s Cheese Carnival. In May of 1934, Trade Day events were incorporated into the first Cheese Carnival, which was advertised as “the greatest event ever held in suburban Shelby County.” Almost all of Collierville was expected to turn out, visitors came from as far as Oklahoma and Michigan, and Collierville saw some of the largest crowds it had ever seen. Those who took part in the carnival turned their sights to an even bigger and more exciting event the following year.

As the Cheese Carnival continued and Collierville grew, it’s possible that monthly events like Trade Days weren’t as necessary to draw in visitors and that the people of Collierville turned their attention to other events. It’s also possible that Trade Days continued, but weren’t as well-documented in The Herald. Available newspaper records end in February 1936 and don’t pick up again until 1944, so it’s hard to say precisely when and why Trade Days ended.

All quotes and images are from The Collierville Herald 1933-1935.

By Alina Dorion, 2021 Morton Museum Volunteer