BY RENE TORRES
Although the first official Charro Days fiesta was celebrated in 1938, the event that linked Brownsville and Matamoros may go back to before the 1900s.
It is rumored that the first “unofficial” Charros Days took place in the early to mid-1800s when both cities came together to exchange “abrazos.”
In the earlier years of the Charro Days, the fiesta provided a wider range of activities than it does today — especially in 1942 when a rodeo and bullfight added to the color of the fiesta.
It was common for most bullfights then to be in Matamoros, but Charro Days organizers decided that Brownsville could host their own and they did.
With the cooperation of the public schools, Tucker Field, on the campus of Brownsville High School, was used as the rodeo site. The bullfight took place at the Charro Baseball Park which was walking distance from Tucker Field (on the present grounds of St. Joseph Academy).
The Friday and Saturday events were advertised as more of a demonstration of the finer points of the sport.
The Herald wrote, “For a ‘bloodless bullfight,’ with everything that the legitimate bullfight has, except bloodshed, is to be given by whom better than Sidney Franklin.”
Who was Sidney Franklin? He was a Jewish boy from Brooklyn who became a famous matador. Brownville did not know it then, but they were being entertained by one who was loved and respected as a matador first in Mexico then in Spain.
It was in 1923 in Matamoros that Franklin first attracted the attention of the American public as a bullfighter.
When he came to Brownsville in ‘42, he was really coming back to the area where he first started making headlines.
When Sidney first entered the ring in Matamoros, Brownsville writer Hart Stillwell wrote a feature story about the matador that appeared in the old New York World. Sometime right after this he traveled to Spain and his fame became international.
Ernest Hemingway, who was a close friend of Sidney, wrote in Death in the Afternoon, that Franklin was a better, more scientific, more intelligent, and more finished matador than all but six of the full matadors in Spain in 1932.
Charro Days has attracted many famous people and the list continues. But none more admired than Sidney Franklin. He has been written about, featured in movies (notably the “Kid from Spain”) and against all odds — rose to the top of his sport.
But more importantly, his early training which started in Matamoros eventually elevated him to receive the “alternativa” (the ceremony in which a novice becomes a full matador) in Madrid, the center of the bullfight world.
By the late 1940s, Sidney returned to Matamoros to say farewell in one of his last performances in the Americas. Prior to his fight across the river, he announced his retirement from the ring. Betty Alley, of the Herald staff, was there to note his final words.