Community Agriculture: The National Western Stock Show
December 31, 2006
Steamboat Springs — In January, Routt County invites cowboys from the National Western Stock Show in Denver to Steamboat Springs, straps skis on them and sends them down the ski hill in a raucous race.
The annual Cowboy Downhill brings a lot of fun coverage for both the ski area and the National Western Stock Show. One might say that this is a meeting of the ski and agricultural cultures here in Routt County. As far as traditions go, the Cowboy Downhill is relatively new. But Routt County’s participation in the National Western Stock Show is much older – as old as the stock show itself, and that tradition continues today.
The first stock show opened Jan. 29, 1906. The grand champion steer that year was from the Cary Ranch near Hayden. The beginning of the 20th century brought a variety of homestead acts and the establishment of the Forest Service System, which impacted the cattle industry of Routt County. Large herds that were driven between the high country of Routt County and lower elevations of other counties on a seasonal basis gave way to smaller homestead herds that stayed in the valley through the winter.
The homesteaders needed cattle that could stand the cold snowy winters and gain weight more rapidly during summer grazing to be ready for the fall market. Routt County ranches became known as a supplier of such animals. The National Western Stock Show was a marketing tool to help these ranches establish a reputation. The Routt County 4-H clubs also had a close connection with the National Western Stock Show from 1930 until World War II. A Winter Calf Show was held in Steamboat Springs in December. Four-H members loaded their calves on specially equipped sleds and brought them to parade on Lincoln Avenue. Those animals were then sent by train to the National Western Stock Show to be judged and sold there.
Cattle wasn’t the only Routt County livestock shown at the National Western Stock Show. Like cattle, sheep were driven here for the good summer grass and then driven to warmer climates for the winter. It wasn’t until the 1940s and ’50s that small-farm flocks of less than 500 head became popular. Many large cattle ranchers, as well as small ranchers and homesteaders, began to run their own flocks along with their cattle and/or grain. The sheep allowed for more financial diversification.
Routt County sheep and their wool still have an excellent reputation. Routt County wool is the cleanest wool nationally and frequently received the top wool prices in the nation. Routt County Woolens has built its business on this reputation. Routt County ranchers are still showing sheep and wool at the stock show.
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The first Quarter Horse Show at the National Western Stock Show was in 1944. With Hayden being the cradle for the beginning of the Quarter Horse breed, many horses have gone from Routt County to the National Western Stock Show. They have gone to be judged and to provide horsepower for contestants of many equine disciplines. Currently, Clydesdales from Hayden make a regular visit to Denver in January.
As the stock show has expanded with an increasing variety of animals and activities, so have the entries from Routt County. One of the newest breeds to be included at the stock show and to travel from Routt County is yaks.
While the animals are the stars of the stock show, it is the people who make it work by being contestants, volunteers, superintendents and vendors. Through the history of the stock show, Routt County has actively participated. The names of those who participated are part of a who’s who found in the history of Routt County – names like Cary, Carpenter, Peavy, Dawson, Lufkin, Hinman, Perry, Laughlin, Scott, Hitchens, Rider, Semotan, Green, Sherrod and Kemry.
In the more recent past, Bill Gay, Sam Haslem, and CJ Mucklow are some of the superintendents of events who have come from Routt County. Daughenbaugh, Kurtz, Hallenbeck, Monger, Wagner, Werner, Sherrod, Holly and Stanko are among the volunteers for two booths in the Hall of Education. Troy Allen has groomed cattle. Andy Kurtz has been a rodeo contestant. Sheep have been shown by the Wille, Horn, Koroulis and Maneotis families. Berry Castagnasso has shown Clydesdales. The Delaney family has shown their yaks, and River Ranches has shown Scottish Highland Cattle. Routt County Woolens, Steamboat Ranchwear and Schaefer Outfitters have all had booths.
This year’s National Western Stock Show runs from Jan. 6 through Jan. 21. Who knows what Routt County person you will meet if you choose to go to the stock show.