Each year, the wagon train makes the 160-mile trip from Philadelphia, Mississippi, to the fairgrounds in Jackson over the course of the week.
Whether you’re experiencing the Dixie National Rodeo in Jackson, Mississippi, for the first time, or you’ve grown up looking forward to it every year, there’s one iconic symbol that indicates the start of rodeo festivities in the Magnolia State– the wagon train.
The Dixie National North Ride Wagon Train acts almost as a starter pistol for the Dixie National shows in the capital city. Each year, the wagon train makes the 160-mile trip from Philadelphia, Mississippi, to the fairgrounds in Jackson over the course of the week. The wagon train covers between 10 to 20 miles per day of the seven-day journey.
Hundreds of people participate in the North Ride Wagon Train each year, and even more stop what they’re doing to watch as the train comes by. There are many opportunities to see the train in action as it meanders up to Jackson.
The North Ride has become an essential part of the opening routine for the Dixie National Rodeo over the nearly four decades since it began.
“The very first ride was in 1981, and it was just a day ride,” said Jamey Johnson, the ride’s wagon master. “Then in 1983, it became a full-week-long ride, and that became the North Ride.”
Johnson has been part of the ride for most of all of his life. As a child, he was a rider, and in the mid-2000s he became even more involved.
“My dad was a wagonmaster, and he died in 2014, and I took over in 2015,” said Johnson.
After a brief hiatus in 2018-2019, Johnson came back to lead the North Ride in 2020, and over time, it has grown.
“People come from Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida that come and ride with us,” said Johnson. “It’s not just local folks.”
Jamey said Commissioner of Ag Andy Gipson has been supportive of all of the groups efforts, as well as Helen Fleming, is over all 8 of the different rides that ride into the Dixie National Rodeo in Jackson.
“One starts in Louisiana, and the Leaf River Ride rides for two weeks to get to Jackson,” said Johnson.
Though they’ve come a long way from the cowboy days of old, this wagon train is a throwback to the old-school method (and speed) of travel. What would normally take an hour and twenty minutes in the comfort of your cozy vehicle is a seven-day trip for these wagoneers.
Saturday, February 3rd, the wagon train got its start from the Neshoba County Fairgrounds and made its way on the 15-mile journey to trail boss Jamey Johnson’s Barn in Philadelphia. This pit stop served as a launch party for weary travelers with a chili meal and a concert by The Smoke.
Then, on Sunday, the 4th, they were on the road again for the 16-mile ride to Walnut Grove. Monday the 5th, another 19 miles were put in between Walnut Grove and Lena. Tuesday, another 18 miles to Coal Bluff Campground; Wednesday, 16 miles to Tommy’s Trading Post in Brandon; Thursday, another 16 miles to a stop in Flowood; and finally, the last 10-mile leg of the journey to Jackson on Friday.
Saturday brings a staple for the Dixie National Rodeo: the parade.
In between all of this, there’s caring for the animals, securing the wagons, sleeping arrangements, food arrangements, celebrations, and wrangling the excited kids (since children 12 and under get to ride for free)— this adventure is not for the faint of heart.
Beyond the North Ride
While the Dixie National North Ride has been a staple for over three decades, these wagoneers aren’t done after this one event. Many of the participants in the Dixie National North Ride often unite their passion for the wagon life with giving so that others can have a better life.
“Our group, we have several rides a year that we go on,” Johnson said. “And they’re for a good cause.
In October, many wagoneers participated in the annual Ranch Rodeo and Wagon Ride in Houlka, Mississippi, with proceeds benefiting LeBonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
Then a week later, the riders participated in the 6th Annual Bentley’s Ride, which raised over $131,000 for Children’s of Mississippi. Bentley’s Ride is named for Bentley Strickland, who was born with Hurler Syndrome, a genetic condition for which there is currently no treatment or cure.
“Bentley rides with us in the North Ride, too,” said Jamey. “He’s had a long road, but he’s a fighter and he loves horses as much as anyone. He’ll be there with us all this week.”
For more information about the Dixie National Rodeo North Ride, visit the event’s Facebook page.
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