Best Of The West 2012: Centennial Silver State Stampede
The annual event honoring the Western heritage of Elko, Nevada, celebrates its centennial this July.
Photography: WT Bruce, Eric Swanson
In 1912, about 20 years before Las Vegas legalized gambling, Elko artisan Guadalupe S. Garcia founded Nevada’s first tourist draw, then known as the Elko Rodeo. Cowboys throughout the West gathered to compete not for the traditional buckle prize but for something far more desirable — a pair of custom Garcia spurs.
When Garcia left Santa Margarita, California, for Elko in the mid-1890s, he had already established his reputation as a master craftsman. Starting in a rented building on Railroad Street, he spent the next four decades creating extraordinary equestrian gear for such famous customers as Will Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks, and many of Nevada’s early governors. The saddle he designed and built for the World’s Fair in 1904 — adorned with gold, silver, and diamonds — earned two gold medals and was hailed as the best in the world.
At the time, Elko was a booming cow town, with a growing population of California vaqueros relocating to Nevada’s Great Basin after the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Garcia couldn’t think of a better place for a rodeo, and so he established what would become the Silver State Stampede, even building his own fairgrounds to house it. From the beginning, the Stampede earned a reputation for featuring some of the roughest and meanest bucking stock in the West.
A century later, the city of Elko still honors its Western heritage at the Stampede, which will celebrate its centennial from July 12 to 14. “It’s been voted one of the best small rodeos on the PRCA circuit and draws a lot of the top cowboys,” says Don Newman, executive director of the Elko Convention & Visitors Authority. “We always get some pretty good competition here.”
Special events at this year’s celebration include an Old West Bronc Riding competition, in which entrants use the stock saddles they work in every day. And Guadalupe Garcia’s granddaughter will be on hand to continue the tradition of awarding Garcia spurs to the winners of each event. But the highlight of every Stampede is the Ring of Fear, which allows fans to get in on the action. “We turn a bull loose at the end of the night and the last man standing in the ring without jumping out wins a prize,” Newman explains. “We always get a lot of people in there who think they’re bulletproof, and as soon as the bull looks at them they’re running for the stands.” www.silverstatestampede.com