The history of Steamboat’s July 4 celebration

A vintage stagecoach rolls down Lincoln Avenue during Steamboat's July Fourth parade in 1947.
Tread of Pioneers Museum/Courtesy photo

There’s nothing more Steamboat than celebrating the Fourth of July in true Western style.

The first ever Independence Day celebration was back in 1876. James and Maragaret Crawford, Steamboat’s first permanent settlers, had moved to the Yampa Valley just one year earlier.

In the lead up to July 4, they decided to fly the American flag, which only had 37 stars at the time. It is said that some native peoples of the Ute tribe initially saw the flag as an act of aggression — it was the same flag that had waved above military bases and legions which attacked the Ute. 

James Crawford then explained that there was no threat, and then the Utes joined the Crawfords and a few other settlers for the picnic and a flag raising. It is often cited as an example of early interaction between the Yampa Valley’s native tribe and white settlers.

The Ute tribe was forcibly displaced to a reservation in 1881.

Independence Day celebrations since the 19th century have grown considerably in size and scope, but still look back to its Western roots.

In an edition of the Steamboat Pilot published May 25, 1898, residents throughout Northwestern Colorado were invited to celebrate in Steamboat on the fourth.

“The town will endeavor to make it pleasant for all visitors. We expect to have a good time and want all to participate,” the report read.

The annual Fourth of July parade became a regular feature of the holiday, with the 119th parade happening this year.

As more settlers moved to Steamboat, the celebration came to include a parade, speeches and celebratory dances. According to the Tread of Pioneers Museum website, rodeo events were incorporated as time went on, with the first bucking events happening July 4, 1904, which was the first ever Cowboy Roundup. 

The tradition continues today, with the 118th annual Cowboy Roundup Days this year.

The 1919 celebration included horse races, running races and car races, as well as a baseball game between Steamboat and Oak Creek, according to the July 2, 1919 edition of the Steamboat Pilot.

The American Legion took over the celebration in the 1920s. In 1924, however, the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan staged a fireworks celebration for Independence Day. 

The Legion refused to accept donations from the hate group and denied them participation in the general celebration, which the Klan then described as “intolerance to certain interests” on a flier advertising their event, according to a July 2, 1924 edition of the Steamboat Pilot.

The Legion fully took over Fourth of July celebrations in 1927, and a fireworks display became a regular feature of the celebration in the late 1940s.

The celebration continued year after year, solidifying as a bonafide tradition. 

In the June 22, 1957 edition of the Pilot, Steamboat’s Mayor, J.R. Smith, proclaimed that “all residents, businessmen and employees of (Steamboat Springs) are hereby directed to wear Western attire for the period from June 24, 1957 to and including July 4, 1957.”

Since then, ski jumping, block parties, hot dogs and more have been folded into this long-standing tradition of celebrating July 4.

Though the parade has since moved from Lincoln Avenue to Yampa Street, some things in Steamboat remain the same — namely, the excitement for the holiday.

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