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Travis Carlson riding bareback bronc, 1996 Stampede
Travis Carlson riding bareback bronc at 1996 Greenly Independence. Photo: Dan Hubbell / Greeley Independence Stampede Permanent Collection

Greeley Independence Stampede

What began in the early 1900s as an afternoon rodeo has evolved into what is heralded as the "World's Largest 4th of July Rodeo." In 1999, more than 400,000 people attended the 14-day Greeley Independence Stampede, which includes a professional rodeo; a parade with a U.S. Air Force flyover; flapjack feed and watermelon feast; art and antique exhibits; a carnival midway and amusements; country music, featuring Nashville stars; a demolition derby, and wrestling. Among rodeo events are a kids/youth rodeo, steer wrestling, ladies barrel wrestling, a wild horse race, buffalo race, bareback riding contest, calf roping event, saddle bronco riding, and team roping. At the stampede's 78th annual celebration in 2000, June 22 through July 4th, the world's top cowboys and cowgirls compete for $352,000 in prize money.

The city of Greeley takes its name from Horace Greeley, the eminent editor-in-chief of the New York Tribune, who sent his agricultural editor, Nathan Meeker, to Colorado in 1869 to research a story on farming practices. Meeker was so impressed with the area that he started a town, at the junction of Cache la Poudre and South Platte rivers, based on his idea of Utopia. Within a few years, the population of Greeley Union Colony had reached 1,200.

Members of the surrounding community were invited to celebrate Greeley's first Independence Day in 1870 at Island Grove Regional Park, the city's largest park, which still remains the festival venue. Early 4th of July festivities included fireworks, bicycle and auto races, boxing matches, and foot races. Today the park, which lies beside the Cache la Poudre River is 102 acres, and includes a sports arena, stadium, and activities pavilion. In 1995, the arena's $4.1 million expansion was completed, increasing its capacity to 9,500 people for rodeos and 15,000 for concerts.

Greely Spud Days, the Independence Day Celebration that also honored the area's main cash crop, began in 1906, and continued during the war years. In 1918, a 2,500 person parade attracted 10,000 spectators. In 1922, Spud Days was officially named the Greeley 4th of July Celebration and the Spud Rodeo and Horseshow. That year 2,500 attendees came. Free events included bucking bronco riding, fancy roping, pie eating contest, a horse race, and motorcycle and bicycle races, and a Ford car race. The chamber of commerce took over the successful event as a community all volunteer project the next year.

In 1925, the Spud Rodeo became more professional with the addition of Ivan "Jack" Elliott's Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. He also convinced top cowboys to attend and perform along side local ranch hands. In 1927, steer wrestling was introduced, and attracted 30,000 people. In 1930, rodeo queens were selected to help promote the event. By 1945, the rodeo was sanctioned by the Rodeo Cowboy Association (RCA), precursor to the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA).

In 1947 entry fees were $25 per rodeo event, and purses were $400, with a $100 silver anniversary bonus. The five standard RCA events were Bareback, Bronco and Brahma Bull Riding; Calf Roping; and Steer Wrestling. Specialty events included a Wild Horse Race and Wild Cow Milking contest. That same year, to attract national attention, the rodeo's name was changed to "Go West with Greeley."

In 1955, chariot races and ladies barrel racing were added, and the purse had reached $7,000. As the reputation of the rodeo was growing, attracting world and event champions, ticket prices were kept affordable for families. A Queen's Ball was added in 1968, which became the kick-off event. By 1969, the rodeo had become a national event, with a $5,750 purses. In 1971, a name contest netted "The Greeley Stampede" to reflect the national festivity, which has become the ninth largest year round PRCA rodeo. Since 1972 top entertainment, such as Loretta Lynn, Pat Boone, Buck Owens, George Jones & Tammy Wynette, Glen Campbell, Doc Severinson, Reba McEntire, Charlie Pride, Johnny Cash, and Faith Hill have performed at the stampede. The festival has also added classic rock concerts to its musical line-up.

The Greeley Independence Stampede was recognized as a premier event by the International Festival and Events Association, which bestowed its annual Gold Grand Pinnacle Award in 1999, and the American Bus Association rated it as one of North America's Top 100 Events in 1998 and 1999.

Documentation comprises a 75th anniversary commemorative book, nomination material and photographs, a video promotion, and a ESPN 1999 video.

Originally submitted by: Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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