Centennial Anniversary in the Centennial State: Greeley Stampede Kicks Off its 100th Year of Rodeo

100 years of history, fast times and rodeo records at Colorado's Greeley Stampede.
Colorado barrel racer Kathy Korell-Rach makes an aggressive turn at the third barrel during rodeo action in the 2021 Greeley Stampede Rodeo in Greeley, Colorado.

The Fourth of July is coming and Greeley’s revamped dates, designed to have a short round on June 30 instead of July 4, have nestled the Northern Colorado rodeo right square in between Reno Rodeo and the kick-off of most of the big Fourth of July rodeos, meaning it’s on nearly every ProRodeo competitor’s schedule.

Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2022, the Greeley Stampede is a 12-day festival of concerts, carnival, rodeo and more, all of which runs to its conclusion on the Fourth with a Demolition Derby, huge Fourth of July parade and fireworks.

The $25,000-added per event rodeo began with Women’s Professional Rodeo Association breakaway slack on June 21 and Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association events June 22-23 before performances get underway June 23 with Xtreme Bulls. To commemorate the 100-year milestone, all Greeley Champions will walk away with a new trophy saddle.

The Challenge

The tremendous size of Island Grove Park’s horseshoe shaped area leaves the barrels sitting far, far away from any fence, so some horses have trouble finding the corners.

Over the years, the different configurations of the open end of the arena have changed the layout of the barrel pattern—but not the distances to the fences. For some years, and again in 2021, contestants ran from the northeast corner to a pattern set cockeyed to the gate. During others, they started from a centered position in the middle of the arena next to the timed event chutes.

Just getting to the arena can be tricky—some contestant parking is across the Poudre River from the park with the only route to the arena a nice pedestrian bridge. Let’s just say, some horses like the scenic route more than others.

Three Times as Nice for Morgan

The Greeley Stampede has been one, two and three-runs in recent memory but the 100th anniversary brings a return to a two-run plus short go format for the first time since 2011.

Format is apparently irrelevant to Shelley Morgan. Morgan won the rodeo in 2021 as a one-header, claimed the two-run title in 2014 and won across three rounds in 2009. She’s the only cowgirl in more than 15 years to win more than one Greeley Stampede championship.

Shelley Morgan is the only three-time Greeley Stampede Barrel Racing Champion. Photograph by Carolyn Semancik

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Tough Ticket

The barrel race is limited to 150 racers. The first go will begin with the June 25 performance and end in the June 27 morning slack. The second round begins that night and concludes June 29 when the top 12 on two will advance to the short go on June 30.

As tough as the quals are for the barrels, they may be no match for the Stampede’s mutton bustin’ . . . . over 700 annual entries are received for 60 spots. A lottery draw determines who gets to grab wool.

Arena Records

The arena records in Greeley are some of the oldest still standing. JoAnn Middleton’s 16.90 in 1993 holds the single-run record. Britany (Fleck) Diaz’s 16.94 in 2012 came close, while the legendary Kristie Peterson and Bozo hold the record for both two- and three-run averages at 34.16 (1994) and 51.83 (2000), respectively.

The 100th Greeley Stampede Competitors

Four other returning Greeley champs are entered this year: Barrelracing.com coach Shali Lord (2019), Tracy Nowlin (2018), Sydni Blanchard (2017), and Lisa Lockhart (2016). There are three WPRA World Champs in the mix as well: Barrelracing.com coach Jordon Briggs, Nellie Miller and Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi.

Here’s some lesser known Greeley Stampede history that contributes to the event’s rich legacy.

A Rose by any other Name . . .

While cowboy tournaments were held in Island Grove Park as early as 1898, the first organized rodeo was staged in 1922 and called the Greeley SpudRodeo and Fourth of July Celebration, a salute to potato farmers in the region.

In 1949, the name was changed to the Go West to Greeley Rodeo, a nod to the famous phrase, “Go west young man, go west,” attributed to newspaper man Horace Greeley, for whom the town is named.

In 1972, a contest was held to rename the rodeo once again; the Greeley Independence Stampede was chosen from 384 entries.

After a brief stint as the Rocky Mountain Stampede, the name Greeley Stampede was taken in 2005 and has held on until the present day.

Rodeo in the Park

While the name has changed a lot in 100 years, two things that haven’t are the dates and location. Island Grove Park has always hosted the event and it has always been held in conjunction with the Fourth of July.

Island Grove Park is named after the stand of cottonwood trees along the Cache la Poudre River which have made the park a resting grounds for Native Americans and everyone who followed since the mid-1800’s. Along with rodeo grounds and exhibition buildings, the 145-acre park also features Centennial Village, a collection of 30 structures showing what life in the late 19th century was like.

The Greeley Stampede has contributed millions in capital improvements to the park over the years, including, most recently a permanent concert stage on the northeast side of the horseshoe shaped arena.

Supporting Education

In 2006, the Greeley Stampede Foundation was established and has since given $665,000 in scholarships to 640 Northern Colorado students. In addition, the Stampede promotes literacy from a young age through its “Read to the Stampede” program, which annually gives free rodeo tickets to kids aged 4-8 as a reward for completing reading logs. The program gives away about 200 books each year.

In addition, the Greeley Stampede hosts a Barrel Painting Community Art Project for local schools. Kids get creative in decorating a barrel in the theme of “Most Loved Greeley Stampede Event” and on-line voting determines the winner of a $1,000 donation to that school.

Rodeo On

Though the Women’s Christian Temperance Union famously tried to close down the rodeo in 1927, not even World War II shuttered the event’s doors. In 2020, the COVID pandemic kept the Greeley Stampede from happening in July, but a rodeo still came to town when the Greeley committee hosted the Ram National Circuit Finals at Island Grove Park in September.

Racing and a Little Rodeo

Early incarnations of the Spud Rodeo were comprised of lots of horse racing along with bronc riding and “fancy roping” contests. One early race was the Cowboy Pig Race—contestants were charged to ride their horse down the track, stop and pick up a pig (yes, real live pig!) and race home. Races remained an integral part of the festivities until the late 1950s and the track was removed in the 1970s to make room for more grandstands and an arena remodel for the American Bicentennial.

Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA) sanctioning was added in 1945, transforming the event into a professional contest with the sport’s top athletes. In 2014, the Greeley Stampede was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

Never a Dull Moment

While most of the rodeo contestants will be in and out of town, hustling to make other lucrative Fourth of July rodeos, for those who happen to be able to stay for a day will find plenty to do. There’s a carnival, daily parades with longhorn cattle leading the way, lots of food vendors, concerts and the Kids Korral—a fun, interactive experience with everything from a live sea lion show to daily duck races to a petting zoo.

If running in front of 8,500 fans isn’t exciting enough for barrel racers, they might consider a new event: hoverboard barrel racing is making its debut in Greeley in 2022.