On January 24, 2009, I celebrated Wyoming Day at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado. Wyoming Day at the National Western Stock Show took place the second to last day of the 16 day annual event in Denver, Colorado. Let me tell you more about my Wyoming Day activities at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado. Living in this state all my existence, I have taken for granted the things which my home is known for, like cattle ranches, rodeos, and wide open spaces.
Yet despite the fact that cattle and calves outnumber people in my state (roughly 1.3 million to 550,000), those numbers were down 8 per cent from 2007 to 2008 according to the Wyoming Agricultural Statistics 2008 publication.
It’s also estimated that by 2050, 26 million acres of open space will be lost to development in the West according to the Wyoming Stock Growers Association Agricultural Land Trust brochure, meaning that things don’t necessarily last forever. Wyoming’s average farms and ranches rank first in the nation in size (averaging just over 3,900 acres, about nine times the size of the average American farm or ranch), according to the Wyoming Agricultural Statistics 2008 publication.
Visiting The National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado for Wyoming Day
With that in mind, I decided to get more in touch with my Western roots by venturing down to Denver, Colorado for “Wyoming Day” festivities at the National Western Stock Show on a very chilly January morning via two buses with around 60 other people, which included some of the state’s lawmakers who were taking a break from the legislative session. The trip was organized by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, who’ve taken up this decades-long tradition of busing Wyomingites down to Denver, Colorado for the National Western Stock Show for more than ten years running. This organization created the state’s first non-governmental land trust to help preserve open spaces by addressing such issues like erosion, silting and noxious weeds.
The bus ride to the National Western Stock Show was rather jovial as we riders were served coffee, orange juice, and donuts, and many passed the time by playing cards. As we left the state and ventured into Colorado, I pondered the snow-covered plains and cloudy skies, but by the time we got into Denver about 90 minutes later, the sky was blue and the temperature was cold, though thankfully, it wasn’t that windy.
At the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado for Wyoming Day
We were turned loose to roam the 103rd annual event, the biggest of its kind in the world (2008’s attendance was just under 675,000, according to cbs4denver.com.
Not only did this year’s National Western Stock Show record over 5 million dollars in livestock sales via some 15,000 livestock on display, but so many other events took place like rodeos, livestock judging, interactive agricultural exhibits, Western-themed sales of clothing, jewelry, etc. A Scottish marching band dressed up in traditional dress (including kilts) even paraded through the exhibition and vending areas playing some stirring music, much to the chagrin of some of the cowpokes, but mostly to the admiration of the majority as they continually snapped digital pictures.
What I found most interesting were the exhibits located in the Children’s Ranchland area of the National Western Stock Show. I never realized that there were so many colorful breeds of guinea pigs, chickens, and rabbits, including some English Angora bunnies, who looked like a big swatch of a shag carpet! It was so crowded in this area that I was constantly being run into by little kids as they temporarily escaped from their parents’ watch. The Western art sale exhibition also drew a lot of interest with a vast selection of paintings and three-dimensional art pieces. As a train enthusiast, I was captivated by one such beautiful oil painting called Box Cars and Snow, painted by artist Stock Schlueter, until I saw the $5,000 price tag: too rich for my blood, though that was one of the least expensive works there!
Dining With A Living Ranching Legacy on Wyoming Day of The National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado
The group’s Wyoming Day luncheon was quite an affair indeed featuring meat entrees that have made the West renowned. I feasted on prime rib, succulent roast beef brisket, and pork ribs so tender that they came off of the bone effortlessly! But the best part of my meal was having the honor of sitting at the same table with a still active 81 year old rancher by the name of Bill Gray, who used to participate in rodeos during the 1940’s and 1950’s, and was taking in the National Western Stock Show and Wyoming Day events with several of his grandchildren. He’s a very lively and friendly man, and he shared with me some very interesting facets of his and his family’s ranch life. His grandfather J.C. Shaw founded a ranch about 115 miles northwest of Cheyenne in 1884 near Douglas, and was affiliated with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association during the legendary and controversial Johnson County War of 1892, of which many books and movies like Heaven’s Gate are based on.
Gray remembers a time during the 1930’s and 1940’s when sheep were everywhere in central Wyoming. That’s when the state had close to 4 million sheep roaming the land, though those numbers dropped significantly since World War II because of synthetic fabrics to where less than 450,000 currently populate my state. During the Great Depression, he told me he really didn’t suffer like so much of the country since they had a plentiful food supply from their livestock and also a very large garden. His grandfather fed down-on-their-luck folks passing through.
Gray also told me some stories of the Blizzard of ’49, which was so bad that rural areas went without mail for several weeks, and where cattle were buried alive en masse by the drifting snow. The snow was so tightly packed, that cattle not buried in the drifts could successfully walk across it. He said that his nose got frostbitten after being outside just five minutes.
I asked him how he is able to keep on actively ranching with his relatives, and he jokingly remarked that his wife of more than 54 years makes him get up and work from dawn until dusk!
National Western Stock Show Rodeo Honors Wyoming Day
Late in the afternoon, the rodeo honoring Wyoming Day took place before a near capacity crowd at the Denver Coliseum, a short walk from the National Western Stock Show Complex in Denver, Colorado. Four women on horseback came out, each holding a flag (one of them being the state flag of Wyoming) as the announcer said words of praise about my state and its role in making the National Western Stock Show what it is. And a stagecoach containing some of the state’s government and Stock Growers Association dignitaries drove around the arena.
I hadn’t seen any rodeo event live since I was a child, and was quite impressed with the nicely-flowing 2 plus hours of events at this National Western Stock Show rodeo honoring Wyoming Day, which included bareback and saddle bronc riding, bull riding, barrel racing and “mutton bustin”, where some five and six year old children tried to stay on the backs of sheep for eight seconds. Six-time All Around Champion Trevor Brazile competed in the calf roping event. As for the steer wresting competition, the steers won 6-4, as only four of the contestants were able to get a timed score. The last steer not only escaped, but kicked the cowboy, too!
I really liked the beginning of the rodeo, when a precision horse team came out and rode around the ring in darkness, the only things seen were their glow-in-the-dark uniforms. During John “The One Arm Bandit” Payne’s show, he was able to get two buffaloes and his own horse on top of a trailer and down again!
Wherever my near or far travels take me to (even Denver, Colorado for Wyoming Day), I come to appreciate and learn more about the world in general, especially when I get to visit with colorful and substantive folks like Bill Gray. In addition, this short day trip to the National Western Stock Show for Wyoming Day helped me became more appreciative of the Western culture that surrounds me.
Printed Sources for my article about Wyoming Day at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado:
(Brochure) Conserving Wyoming’s Open Spaces & Ranching Heritage: Wyoming Stock Growers Association Agricultural Land Trust, 2002
(Bulletin) Wyoming Agricultural Statistics 2008, USDA NASS, Wyoming Field Office, 2008
Online Sources for my article about Wyoming Day at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado:
Judith Kohler, National Western Stock Show Seen As Economic Spur http://cbs4denver.com/local/National.Western.Stock.2.905082.html, January 10, 2009, AP via cbs4denver.com
National Western Stock Show: www.nationalwestern.com
Wyoming Stock Growers Association: www.wysga.org