Nancy Simpson/The Madera Tribune
Spectators line Robertson Boulevard during the 2017 Stampede. The annual affair is scheduled to take place this year on Friday, March 9, as part of a three-day free rodeo event at the Chowchilla Fairgrounds.
The city of Chowchilla will celebrate its western heritage next week as cowboys and cowgirls from throughout California and bordering states gather for three days of roping fever.
The 61st Chowchilla Western Stampede will kick off Friday, March 9, at 10 a.m. with the historic Cattle Drive down Robertson Boulevard as it makes its way to the Chowchilla Fairgrounds.
The Stampede is one of the oldest roping events in the state, and the Cattle Drive, which began in 1958, has become a tradition in the Valley. Each year, rain or shine, students from area schools, residents and out-of-town visitors line Chowchilla’s main street to catch a glimpse of the past.
The Stampede began with a group of local cowboys meeting on weekends to match their roping skills in an arena. The idea caught on and the Stampede organization was formed. The Cattle Drive began a year later and has its own unique history. According to two of the Stampede’s founding board members, Dan Branco and Jim Looney, the Cattle Drive was the result of a bunch of young cowboys with too much energy.
In 1958 the cattle for the Stampede were furnished by Paul Perry of Madera. He kept the cattle on a ranch located on the other side of Dairyland. The Stampede Committee was at a loss how they were going to get the steers to town, so they decided they would just drive them in. The closer they got to town, the more they thought it would be funny to drive the steers right down the main street — and that is just what they did. Needless to say, the first Cattle Drive caused quite a commotion among the residents but definitely set the stage for the roping event and quickly became a Chowchilla tradition.
This year’s Cattle Drive will be led by the 2018 Stampede chairman, Corey Mendes.
In January the committee named Amanda Martin and the late Tom Martin as this year’s Grand Marshals. Tom Martin was an active member of the Stampede Committee for eight years. This husband and wife team brought a solid cattle background — horsemanship and rodeo experience — to the group, along with a desire to preserve the area’s western heritage. They were instrumental in bringing the Gymkhana, a youth horse program to Chowchilla. In 2011, they organized the Grand Marshal dinner to kick-off the Stampede year, created the Stampede Royalty Contest and sponsorship program which helps provide scholarships to graduating seniors in Madera County and Dos Palos. They have given countless hours to the community and to promoting area agriculture.
The Martins were recognized at the Chowchilla Fair by the Western State Fair Association as Blue Ribbon award winners. They were also recognized with the same award for their 11 years of work supporting the Merced Fair as promoters and producers of the Merced Rodeo.
Tom was a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and California Cowboys Rodeo Association. He also served as chairman of the Chowchilla High School Ag Advisory Committee and was a director of the Mariposa Farm Bureau.
Amanda will join Mendes in leading this year’s Cattle Drive. In honor of Tom, his horse will be led in the Cattle Drive by committee member Leon Ragsdale.
Following the Cattle Drive, the first roping event will begin at 7 p.m. at the Chowchilla Fairground’s covered arena. Roping will continue Saturday with the Tom Martin Memorial 8 Steer roping beginning at 9 a.m. and roping events will continue throughout the day. There will be two roping events Sunday, starting at 9 a.m.
Approximately $70,000 in cash and prizes including Chowchilla Western Stampede saddles, belt buckles and other prizes will be given throughout the weekend.
On Friday, Mar. 16, the Stampede Committee will sponsor a free gymkhana for youth ages 17 and under. Sign-ups begin at 5:30 p.m. and the gymkhana will begin at 6 p.m. at the Chowchilla Fairgrounds.
The Chowchilla Western Stampede Barrel Race, featuring some of the top barrel racers in the Western United States, will compete for top money and prizes on Saturday, March 16. Race time begins at 11 a.m.
Mendes, who has been a member of the Stampede Committee for seven years, said, “It is an honor to be a part of a tradition that is so rich in the sport of team roping and barrel racing. If you ask legends of both sports across the country, they will tell you how the Stampede was a big part of the growing trend of team roping and barrel race jackpots. Both sports are continuing to evolve and the committee is working hard year-round to produce a great event for the contestants.”
Mendes noted that Chowchilla and the surrounding communities play a key role in continuing to produce the Stampede.
“With their support it allows us to create a scholarship fund, donate items to Ag and community programs and have a great prize line and payouts for the contestants,” he stated.
All Stampede events are free and open to the public. There is no charge for parking.