Trish Yerges
The La Grande Observer

The Elgin Stampede is one of the highest-attended events in Union County. Stampeders credit their success to the hardworking royalty court, the sponsors and many volunteers, and also to the progressive improvements they’ve made to the rodeo program and arena grounds.

The recent 2019 Stampede was another great one, and while the Stampeders are still calculating all the attendance figures, they believe it was a profitable event. Typically, the Elgin Stampede draws between 5,000 and 7,000 people, and this year they had strong participation right out of the chute for Family Night.

“The rodeo attendance and the participation numbers were both up, and on Wednesday’s Family Night, we had 138 kids who participated in the events,” said Bud Scoubes, a member of the Stampede board.

One huge change to the program was evident on Thursday night, the first annual Mark Nichols Memorial Xtreme Bull Riding event.

“Before when we had open bull riding (for the Mark Nichols Memorial event), anyone who wanted to enter it could. But now that we went with extreme bulls, we typically get cowboys who have PRCA cards, and that money counts toward their qualifications to go to national finals in Las Vegas,” board member Kyle Evans said.

The Xtreme Bull Riding event is sanctioned by the PRCA and draws in “circuit cowboys,” a higher caliber of bull riders who want to win that larger PRCA winner’s purse. Stepping up the rodeo like this also means better bulls, which the Stampeders get through Flying 5 Rodeo Company. What this all translates to is more rodeo action, higher attendance and greater revenue to invest into next year’s rodeo.

Stampeders’ president Ty Hallgarth, who worked in the arena this year, said the Xtreme Bull Riding attracted 19 contestants for the first year.

The idea to upgrade to Xtreme Bull Riding is something the board has been considering for a few years. After revisiting the idea again this year, they decided to give it a go. It was a big financial decision, because it costs the Stampeders more to put on the Xtreme Bull Riding event.

“But when we see something that is popular, we want to be the first (around) to try it,” Evans said. “And we plan to do it again next year.”

Because of transitioning to the Xtreme Bull Riding event, the Stampeders needed to rebuild and improve their out gate, where bulls or horses are exited from the arena as quickly as possible and stripped of their saddles and any rigging, so the next bull and rider can enter the arena.

Hallgarth was very pleased with how the new out gate worked for them.

“It was really a good year,” he said. “The new out gate ran smoother than ever before, shaving off about 20 minutes from our show. We were all tickled about how well things went getting bulls in and out more quickly.”

In addition to these big changes, the Stampeders had another one in mind to introduce this year: a tribute to first responders.

“We invited the sheriff’s office, fire, ambulance and search and rescue from Elgin, Imbler and La Grande communities,” Stampeder Lara Moore said. “This was the first year, and we were unsure what to expect, but wow, were we pleasantly surprised.”

During Friday night’s grand entry, there were more than 30 first responders attending the tribute. They entered the arena, and the crowd was immediately on their feet, cheering and clapping for nearly four straight minutes.

“It was a wonderful tribute,” Moore said. “I think you can expect us to continue to incorporate that into our show in the future.”

The royalty court sold a lot of tickets this year, and the Stampeders have decided to send Queen Maggie Zacharias of Joseph and Princess Tymra Anderson of Elgin to the national rodeo in Las Vegas in December.

As the Stampeders look back on their growth over the past 73 years, they can see how far they have come by making progressive changes. The Elgin Stampede started in 1946 at the Moore Field in Elgin as a two-day “riding festival.” That celebration was sponsored by the Elgin Chamber of Commerce, and it featured the Stampeders Riding Club, as they were then known.

The rodeo in 1947 was sponsored by the Stampede committee chaired by Tom Burton. This time, they introduced a carnival for kids that remained a feature of the celebration until about 1952. The rodeo action was furnished by Harley Tucker’s livestock.

Rodeos were held at the Moore Field from 1946 to 1949. In 1950, the club began developing their own rodeo grounds on land that Stampeder Dick Hibberd purchased outright. It was located just east of Moore Field, where it is today. Volunteers worked to level the land, and then some of them moved two sections of grandstands from Moore Field across the highway and set them up on the new rodeo grounds, according to a July 17, 1950, article in the La Grande Observer. That same year, they hosted a small rodeo and amateur show with a promise of a larger rodeo to come the following year.

In March 1951, the Stampeders instituted a new change, the annual crab feed fundraiser, and that summer they put on a large rodeo as promised. In 1952 the Elgin Stampede, which was held on Saturday and Sunday, was advertised as “Two big parades and a carnival on the Stampede Grounds. It’s a rip-roaring 2-day professional show!”

Dances have always been part of the Elgin Stampede. In 1952, they were able to have the first dance in their brand-new Stampede Hall. The hall had no walls yet, but it had studs up and the subflooring was nearly finished. One Stampeder, Linda Moore, recalled that as the music and dance started, volunteer workers Pete Trump and Larry Follett were still pounding nails into the subfloor of the hall.

The 67-year-old hall is currently used by about 30 organizations annually, but it’s in dire need of replacement.

“The new facility would better meet the significant needs of our local organizations and community members, and would provide a resource that does not currently exist in size or scale in any of the many adjacent counties in Northeast Oregon,” Moore said.

As the Stampeders move forward with their progressive improvements, they will continue to prepetuate the Western values they represent.