By Rhoda Rein
The National Western Stock Show can best be described as a labor of love.
Molded and shaped by those who love it--tirelessly donating their time and energy to something worthwhile. It is one of the longest running livestock expositions in the U.S., and one of the few that are independently funded.
Held sporadically from 1899 to 1905, the 1906 stock show was a turning point of organization, as the Western Stock Show Association was formed. Seeing a need in Denver for an annual event, volunteers formed the association and committed their time, energy and financial support to the fledgling show.
Filled with enthusiasm after a successful 1906 show, which was held in a big circus tent on the grounds. The committee aggressively asked the Union Stockyard Company "to build a pavilion to seat about 10,000 people, with a judging ring about 90 by 180 feet."
The 1909 show, held in the new National Amphitheater (now known as the Stadium), enjoyed much success, selling 12,000 tickets for a Saturday night show, with only 5,400 seats available. This is an example of the tradition of popularity the event always has enjoyed.
The new building was a massive structure for the times, tons of steel was erected and hand riveted. Exterior walls were made of brick tied into steel pilasters that were four feet thick. It was always busy, livestock judging was held during the day and the night shows opened at 8 p.m., featuring horse show riding and driving classes, livestock parades and six-horse wagon hitches.
During the uncertain times of the Depression Era, the show went on, continuing to grow and serve the community and livestock industry. "'Monday night was Society Night and even during the Depression, cars would roll up on 46th St. (in front of the Stadium) and women would be dressed in formal gowns and men in tuxedos or fine suits," remembers Jean Gravell.
She grew up in Evergreen, riding and driving horses from an early age. "I rode cavalry-style under Colonel Wentworth, at his riding academy, at 1413 Pearl St. in Denver," said Gravell, who went on to teach children, operating a large riding academy in Evergreen, with her husband, Lee.
From its beginning under a "monster big tent" to the sprawling 80 acres of today, the Stock Show has enjoyed continuous growth. It has been blessed with good management throughout its history, smart men taking the responsibility to raise funds, obtain land and erect buildings to house the growing show.
"Men like John Caine and the great Willard Simms managed the show with an iron hand," said Gravell, longtime horse show exhibitor. "They were disciplined and organized in getting people and animals together."
John T. Caine III managed the show from 1943 until his death in 1955. Willard Simms took over and began planning the important Golden Anniversary celebration. The 1956 Stock Show was the second largest show to date, with 2,932 animals exhibited.
The Westenaires performed at the show, 14 teenage girls riding side saddle wearing dresses of 1906 fashion. Verne Elliott, rodeo stock contractor and producer, found four famous trick riders of the past to stage a historic act: Dick Griffith, Don Wilcox, Tad Lucas and Berenice Dossey, all past champions.
Gravell remembers competing in the cutting horse event at the Stock Show, an event dominated by men. "I was one of the only women who cut at that time," said Gravell.
The cutting contest was held during the rodeo and was quite a reunion of friends and ranchers. "Every cowboy rode in the grand entry, they got a free stall if they did, the Stock Show did everything to put glamour and style into their show and be helpful to the exhibitors."
The Denver Coliseum arena was erected in 1952, and the rodeo and horse show events moved there. Funded partially by the city and partially by donations of Stock Show association members and directors.
This massive facility allowed for expansion of rodeo and horse show events and once again, the Stock Show grew tremendously. The elevated portion of I-70 was erected in 1962, dividing the show grounds. Changes were made to handle the road, a ramp enclosure was built to safely move livestock from the Coliseum to the Stadium grounds. One end of the Stadium arena was used as a sale ring.
"It was really the greatest livestock show in the country," said longtime horse exhibitor Mildred Janowitz. "The Stock Show was a bellringer for the new year. The prices achieved at the livestock sales set a pattern far all the shows to follow that year."
"Many of my richest memories involve friendships made from the involvement that Jack and I had with the Stock Show," said Janowitz. "There were great people involved, like Ned Grant and Nick Petry, Red Allen and show secretary Louise Marsh."
The Stock Show was not only created to provide entertainment and competition, but to provide a marketplace to further the beef industry. From its inception, meetings and conventions of livestock associations were held in conjunction with the January stock show.
In preparation for the 1941 show, the Executive Committee made a few historic changes. The 4-H Boys and Girls Clubs and Future Farmers of America groups were combined into a Junior Feeding Contest. As the economy regained strength, so did show numbers increase.
Entries recorded from 18 states: 380 Hereford breeding cattle, 115 Angus, 35 Shorthorns, 380 junior show steers, 157 barrows and 78 wethers. There were 115 carloads of feeder show cattle, plus 5,000 commercial cattle and nearly 1,000 sale bulls.
This show marked the beginning in the change of cattle types winning in the show ring, it also headlined family name that became an institution in cattle feeding and later in the packing business. Twelve year-old Kenneth Monfort, son of Eaton cattle feeder Warren Monfort, won the junior show and the overall National Western grand championship.
Another one of the early highlights in the cattle industry would have been the 1945 show and sale. The reserve champion Hereford bull, though predicted to top the sale, brought only $15,000.
A few minutes later, the seventh place bull brought $22,000. Later, the third place bull, Thornton Hereford Ranch's TT Triumphant 29th, by WHR Triumphant Domino 45th, brought a record $50,000. That same night, TTRegent, stood under the bright lights in the auct
on arena and brought $50,000. These two bulls were displayed in the beautiful and spacious lobby of the Brown Palace Hotel, in downtown Denver.
By 1965, the show broke away from its traditional and long-established carload fat cattle division. Substituted was a practical Carcass Contest. This new program was supported by the Colorado Cattle Feeders Association. A large cooler was installed in the Stadium, where the winning carcasses could be displayed and the meat industry promoted to the general public.
Like so many involved in the labor of love called Stock Show, Ben Houston has fond memories of showing there. He is another example of the many influential men who grew up competing in the show and now tirelessly give their time to serve on the National Western committee.
His first trip to the show was in 1938, with his father. As a young man, he worked as a herdsman, fitting and showing Polled Herefords for Norgen Cattle Co., Denver, and Angus for the Haystack Angus Ranch.
"We traveled by railroad car, showing in Calgary, Great Falls, Denver and an to other shows," said Houston.
They would load 15 head in a car and fix a place to sleep and keep their belongings in the same car, traveling for as much as six months to the stock shows. Houston enjoyed success, showing the champion Angus bull at the 1968 International Livestock Expo, in Chicago, and the champion Angus bull at the 1973 National Western Stock Show.
"In the late 1960', a kid who was the herdsman for Zato Heir Herefords stole the champion rooster from the poultry show during the National Western Stock Show, in Denver," remembers Houston. "He put it in his boxcar for the ride to Fort Worth. He entered the roaster, naming it Zato Heir Quack and won the Rooster Show, in Fort Worth."
Houston and his family own and operate Aristocrat Angus, in Platteville, CO. Son Skyler and daughter Pam help run the large operation, which concentrates on registered Angus cattle.
He has served on the Stock Show committee since 1971. Although he is no longer active in showing, Houston raised the top selling Angus bull at the 1970 Stock Show, Black Revolution 628A. The bull brought 4105,000--a record that still stands today for that breed.
In 1981, a Hereford bull named Le Grand Domino 7184 sold for $301,000 to Gary McDonald & Associates, Fort Collins, CO. He had stood grand champion at the 1980 National Western Stock Show, and his sire was the top-selling bull at the 1978 Stock Show sale.
With its colorful history, the National Western. Stock Show is an event that should not be missed. More than 600,000 people pass through the gate annually, seeing more than 13,000 livestock entered.
There is something for everyone to see, there are rodeo performances and more than 12,000 entries exhibited in the Horse Show events. There are cattle breeds and bison, horses, sheep, hogs, poultry, goats and llamas exhibited or auctioned.
It certainly has lived up to the expectations of the early committeemen that created it and is one of Denver's greatest events, receiving visitors from all 50 states and more than 30 foreign countries.