Six of the original Stampede organizers pictured above: (from left) Keith Whitfield, Pete Samson, Don Andersen, John (Doc) Gee, LeRoy Miller, and Don Derks. Photo by Vicky McCray
C. M. Russell Stampede Celebrates 50 years!
50th PRCA Rodeo is set for Sunday, July 20, 2014
Compiled by Vicky McCray
Judith Basin Press Editor Press Editor, June 19, 2014
(with help from Press archives)
The first annual Charles M. Russell Stampede, held in Stanford on Sunday, July 26, 1964, was an event described by many as "the best ever." The weather cooperated in every way, being sunny but not too hot, with just a hint of a cool breeze blowing through the stands and carrying the little dust in the arena away from spectators.
Car licenses from all around the county and many from out of state gave mute evidence to the excellent reception of this rodeo.
The rodeo action was fast moving throughout the program, allowing no time for things to get dull. The rodeo stock was exceptionally lively, and the rodeo clowns provided the crowd with lots of laughter.
More than 175 Rodeo Cowboys' Association members competed in this Stampede. Many of the competing cowboys and those of the Big Sky Rodeo Company, which furnished the stock, took time to congratulate the sponsoring organization, the Judith Basin Jaycees and others who helped on the fine new arena they had built.
These volunteers – farmers, ranchers, mechanics, contractors, local businessmen, and even a barber and a young veterinarian – modeling the Stanford rodeo grounds after the Helena rodeo plant, had revamped the Judith Basin County Fairgrounds into a first-class rodeo arena. They built portable bleachers and secured large bleachers from other sources to assure a maximum crowd seating with a good view of all the arena. They also built chutes and corrals for the rodeo stock.
An added feature to the first Stampede was the open Wild Cow Milking contest. Ground rules allowed for four men to a team, with the contest limited to six teams. Cows were haltered and all turned loose simultaneously. The first team able to get milk enough to pour out of a pop bottle was declared the winner.
Admission to the first Stampede was $2.50 for reserved seats, $1.75 for general admission, and children under 12 attended free. The Stanford Rod and Gun Club handled concessions.
A rodeo dance was held Saturday night in the IGA parking lot.
One lucky reserved seat ticket holder won half a beef.
Among the rodeo winners was Dr. John Gee, a member of the Jaycees, who won the bull riding event. He also placed fourth in the steer wrestling competition.
From the praises received from out-of-town folks attending the first dance and Stampede, the Jaycees, Jayceens, and all who helped build the arena were urged to take a bow. And everyone who attended looked forward to the second annual Charles M. Russell Stampede, which could be nothing but better than the first.
Joining John Gee among the ranks of the Jaycees are men who have since passed away and men who still enjoy a good rodeo: Don Andersen, Allen Samson, Pete Samson, Tom Evans, Keith Whitfield, Don Derks, LeRoy Miller, Jay Potter, Bill Skelton, Bill Hammer, Ed Thatcher, Floyd Vandergrift, Fred Curtis, Don Mikkelson, Paul Barker, George Woodhall, Peanuts LaRoque, and Jerry Hedrick.
Now 50 years later the spirit of that first rodeo continues in the capable hands of the Stampede Club, yet another group of hardworking and dedicated men. They have expanded the event into two days of family entertainment, held the third weekend in July (July 19 and 20 this year).
The fun includes a free Music Fest on Saturday afternoon at the Judith Basin County Fairgrounds, as well as a Kids' Stickhorse Rodeo with Miss Rodeo Montana, a genuine Western Barbecue, and the famous C.M. Russell Quick Draw and Auction.
Good times continue Saturday evening in downtown Stanford as The Waterhole Saloon carries on the tradition of a rodeo dance, held today on Central Avenue.
On Sunday afternoon the C.M. Russell Stampede Rodeo offers rodeo's premier events: bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping, tie-down roping, ladies' barrel racing, and bull riding. A Kids' Calf Scramble has taken the place of the Wild Cow Milking event and breaks things up half way through the afternoon.
Much has happened since that first Stampede in 1964, but the philosophy begun by the Jaycees has remained the same – hold events that provide quality family entertainment and raise funds for many worthwhile causes in Central Montana.
The 2014 C.M. Russell Stampede is dedicated to the numerous people who have worked to put on the events and to the thousands of Central Montana folks who have supported these events.