The Snake River Stampede in Nampa, Idaho is one of the top 10 regular professional rodeos out of the approximately 600 rodeos in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. This is a long way from its humble beginnings of just after the turn of the century.
The Stampede is a direct descendent of the Nampa Harvest Festival which was first staged in Nampa in 1911. During that first year, the "old time harvest festival" featured crop and stock exhibits, prizes for the best products of Nampa farms, orchards and gardens, sports and contests, special attractions, and free amusements. The event was held in late September.
After two successful years of the Harvest Festival, the committee decided to add a bucking contest to the festivities in 1913. The first bucking contest was held in a large, roped-off area on the block where the Nampa Post Office is now located. There were no stands so the spectators stood outside the rope.
The bucking contests, which were held in conjunction with the harvest festival, gained popularity and continued into the 1920’s. Year by year, other events were added to the Wild West contest such as calf roping and bulldogging. By the year 1923, they were calling "the buck show" the backbone of the Harvest Festival. The event still did not have a name of its own. Ed Moody herded the bucking stock over from his ranch, north and east of Horseshoe Bend, about 50 miles to Nampa. He continued to furnish stock for the Rodeo and Buck Show until 1937.
The year 1937 marked many changes for the rodeo in Nampa and was the push that was needed to turn the rodeo into a national event. The rodeo separated from the Harvest Festival and moved its dates to July. They joined the Rodeo Cowboys Association and from that day forward, the Stampede has been a professional rodeo. A new name was chosen. After considering such names as Ski-Hi Rodeo and Thunder Mountain Round Up, rodeo director Ike Corlett named it the Snake River Stampede. Lights were installed on the rodeo grounds and it was changed from an afternoon to a nightime show. Professional rodeo stock contractor, Leo Cramer of Montana, was engaged to put on the rodeo. He brought his stock to Nampa by train.
President Franklin Roosevelt, at his home in Hyde Park, New York, pressed a golden telegraph key which opened the spectacular new rodeo. This telegraph key was studded with the first 22 nuggets of gold found in Alaska and had been used by presidents since 1909 for such events as starting the operations at the Panama Canal and setting off the power generation machinery at Boulder Dam. Roosevelt pressed the key at 11 p.m., which was 8 p.m. Nampa time and the newly organized Snake River Stampede was under way.
In 1950, a new state-of-the-art horseshoe-shaped stadium, seating approximately 10,000, was built and a top western star was brought in to entertain at half time during the rodeo. Gene Autry was the first star of the Snake River Stampede and he filled the stands every night. Many more who were unable to get in, for lack of room, stood outside in the park to listen to him sing. Others who followed him included Roy Rogers & Dale Evans, Rex Allen, and the Sons of the Pioneers.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, following the demise of Hollywood singing cowboys and television western starts, famed country-western singers came to the Stampede. Included among those were Reba McEntire, Glen Campbell and Barbara Mandrell. The Stampede was the first show in which McEntire, a former rodeo barrel racer, was a headline entertainer.
It was during the 1980’s that the Stampede exchanged the western singing stars for more rodeo events. The stars were dropped from the schedule of events and team roping and ladies barrel racing, plus the Wrangler ® bull-fighting event were added to the lineup.
In 1986, a popular kid’s event, mutton busting, was also included in the night’s schedule. The Miss Rodeo Idaho contest is also now held in conjunction with the Stampede week.
After years of planning, the world-famous Snake River Stampede moved into a new home in 1997. The familiar old green arena, which was built in 1950, was retired after the last performance of the 1996 Stampede and the rodeo moved to its new home indoors at the Ford Idaho Center located just off exit 38 on I-84. The modern, air-conditioned facility offers a seating capacity for up to 10,000 spectators in an oval rodeo configuration, giving every seat a great, close-up view of the rodeo action.