More than 20 circuses have called Hugo home since 1941. During the 1950s, when about 200 troupes traveled the country, up to seven circuses wintered here at one time, says City Manager Dave Rawls, a former mayor who grew up in a circus family and owned the Kelly Miller Circus for 25 years before selling it in 2006.
Both sets of Rawls' grandparents were in the business. His father worked as a circus cowboy and trick rider, and his mother was a wire walker. One of his sisters was a trapeze performer, and he and his brother had a trampoline act. "Most people in the business were raised in the business," Rawls said.
That's certainly the case at Carson & Barnes.
Byrd, 63, grew up on the circus road with her parents, and now her two daughters, Kristin Parra, 34, and Traci Cavallini, 37, hit the trail each spring with their young children and an extended tribe of in-laws and relatives.
"We're proud of the fact that we are going into the fourth generation of management," Byrd said. "I sent them both to Texas for college, but they both came back to work in the circus."
Parra, a TCU graduate who is in charge of all the animal permits, says life as a circus kid "was the best way to grow up. You got a new playground in your back yard every day."
Educating their kids is one reason circus people cherish their permanent but part-time lives in Hugo.
"I loved traveling with the circus. But we were just like one of the kids in school," said Cavallini, who with her husband, Julio, handles concessions and the circus work force. For her young boys, living with an extended family in a fleet of RVs while seeing the country is "almost like a vacation every day," Cavallini said. "It's a wonderful way to grow up."
Hugo schools let circus kids take their books with them when they hit the road. About 20 children travel with Carson & Barnes and spend two hours a day with a teacher hired by the circus, Byrd said.
"Our kids are good students. They are cheerleaders and football stars," she said. "They just get to take more field trips."