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100 Years of Celebrating our Western Heritage

The Past, Present, and Future of the Greeley Independence Stampede

Article by Kelly Zeillmann

Photography by Photography Provided

Originally published in Greeley Lifestyle

In 1922, a gallon of milk cost $0.35, gasoline was $0.25 a gallon, and Greeley had officially been a city for 36 years. That year, what we now know as the Greeley Stampede was held for the first time. 

The Foundations 

In 1922, community member J.W. Norcross brought volunteers and local merchants together to host the Greeley 4th of July Celebration and Spud Rodeo. The free one-day event at Island Grove Regional Park included bronco riding, fancy roping, horse, motorcycle, and bicycle races, and a pie-eating contest. 2,500 Greeley residents attended the celebration.

The Greeley Spud Rodeo was a hit among Greeley residents and was taken over by the Chamber of Commerce the following year. By 1930, the attendance had grown to over 30,000, and the celebration was expanded to two days. Children’s events, steer wrestling, and Rodeo Queens were added to the line-up. Greeley’s celebration of patriotism, community and the Western way of life had become a much-anticipated annual event.

The Evolution

In 1949, it was decided that the name needed to encompass a broader meaning that more appropriately reflected the growing scope of the event. Playing off the famous quote by Horace Greeley, the “Go West to Greeley” era was born. 

1958 saw the remodeling of the arena to bring spectators closer to the action. Through the 1960s and early 1970s, the event grew to five days with the addition of team roping, the expansion of the midway carnival, and the inclusion of night shows. 

By 1970, National Champion rodeo cowboys from all over North America were coming to compete at Go West To Greeley. With the growth in prestige and number of events, the organizers realized it was again time for a name that more accurately reflected the scope of the event. They held a contest, and the name “Greeley Independence Stampede” was chosen from among 384 entries.

The next decade brought tremendous growth and expansion. In 1971, The Stampede Troupe entertained the crowds with its first musical performance. In 1972, nationally recognized musical guests Johnny Paycheck, Loretta Lynn, and Pat Boone performed in night shows. 

By 1974, The Greeley Stampede was a six-day event with 42,000 attendees. In 1976, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Rodeo was broadcast nationwide on CBS. 

Through all the changes and growth, the Chamber of Commerce continued to organize the event. But, by the nation’s Centennial, the scope was more than the Chamber could manage. The Stampede needed a volunteer group, and thus The Wranglers were formed. The Greeley Independence Stampede was incorporated, and the all-volunteer Stampede Committee was formed. Service on the committee was limited to six years, and after that, volunteers became members of the Old Spurs Club.  

Tragedy struck in August of 1977 when fire destroyed the newly refurbished grandstand. Fortunately, a new concrete structure was built in time for the 1978 Stampede. 

The Greeley Stampede became a “can’t miss” rodeo for World Champion cowboys in the 1980s and 90s due to the prestige and prize money offered. Visitors from every state and many different countries flocked to the event.

The grandstands underwent a $4.1 million addition in 1995 to accommodate the growing crowds, which were now up to 350,000. 

New entertainment options continued to be offered, including the addition of a Demolition Derby in 1980 and the continued expansion of carnival rides and food. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s 1996 night show at the Stampede was nominated for The Country Music Association (CMA) Event of the Year. 

A herd of Longhorn cattle was paraded through downtown to celebrate the opening of the Stampede in 2000 – an event that remains a much-anticipated event for Greeley residents today.

In 2006,  The Stampede Foundation was established to support  education in Weld County. Since its inception, the Stampede Foundation has awarded $665,000 to 640 students. 

The Present

Since 2017, The Stampede has invested $1.5 million in capital improvements to Island Grove Park. Renovations include new shoots, a permanent stage, an enclosure, and air conditioning within much of the Club level of the arena. Over the past five years, the Stampede has given $375,000 back to community groups that support the event with volunteers.  

As the Stampede celebrates 100 years, over 220,000 guests are expected, and nationally ranked cowboys and cowgirls will compete for $225,000 in prize money. Some of the most popular names in Country and other music will entertain evening crowds, including Brad Paisley, Jon Pardi, the Stone Temple Pilots, and more. 

More importantly, the Greeley community will come together to connect and celebrate our Western heritage with one another. Long-time Stampede volunteer Jackie Lymnan said, “If you grew up in Greeley, you went as a kid, and then, you grow up and take your kids. You know that it is the one place that you will see everyone.”

Looking Ahead

What’s in store for the next 100 years of Greeley’s premier event? According to another long-time volunteer, James Herman, “The heart of the Stampede is keeping alive our Western heritage. I hope we are still celebrating those roots one hundred years from now, even as our area becomes more urban.” Long-time Wangler, Bob Hinderaker, agrees. “As we become more of an urban society, people have less opportunity to experience the Western way of life.” 

Herman and Hinderaker also feel passionate about the Stampede remaining a community-driven event. “Bringing people together and our community sharing the celebration with neighboring communities is so important,” Hinderaker commented. Stampede and community volunteers give hundreds of thousands of hours year-round to make the event a success. According to Herman, “It gets in your blood; there is just something about it. It becomes a family.” 

The volunteers and merchants who conceived the first Spud Rodeo in 1922 probably couldn’t imagine what their original endeavor would look like 100 years later, just as it’s hard to imagine how the Stampede will evolve in another century. But, given the enthusiasm and nostalgia around it, we can only foresee bigger and better things for the Greeley Independence Stampede.