In April 1912 a tall, dark stranger from Cheyenne, Wyo. stepped off a Canadian Pacific Railway train in Calgary, adjusted his black stetson and black silk kerchief, ambled up Stevens Avenue and checked into a $10-a-week room in the Alberta Hotel. He had with him a shabby leather satchel, a marvelous gift of gab and a preposterous idea that was to be romantically billed in the Calgary Herald as "A Cowboy's Dream."
Guy Weadick was the name, podnuh, and Calgarians would never forget it. Part cowpoke, part pitchman, the fast-talking Weadick was all hustle as he outlined his scheme to the local folks. With misgivings, but grasping for a way to bail out their troubled Calgary Industrial Exhibition, they bought it. The southern Alberta city in the green foothills of the Canadian Rockies has never been the same since.
What the locals bought was a plan for a super rodeo to end all super rodeos, a sort of Pendleton Roundup, Cheyenne Frontier Days, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and New Orleans Mardi Gras rolled into one. It would feature the greatest cast of wild horses, broncbusters, steer ropers and wrestlers and fancy riders ever assembled, battling for world championships and prizes totaling $50,000 in gold. In 1912 in Calgary, or anywhere else for that matter, this was quite a proposition.
Perhaps the clincher was Weadick's audacious promise of federal aid in assembling a giant and colorful concourse of Indian nations as his ethnic showpiece, with hundreds of braves drawn from the six tribes that roamed government reservations on the surrounding rangeland. As was true of the rest of Weadick's pitch, this was a promise kept.
The 1912 inaugural Stampede was a wild success. All the big-shot rodeo performers came from across North America and Mexico; 2,000 Indians rode up a storm in the opening parade and set up housekeeping for the duration. The Duke and Duchess of Connaught came, and so did 13,000 fans to whoop and holler at the opening performance. It wasn't a bad effort at all for a frontier town of 47,000 souls that had begun as a station for the North West Mounted Police just 37 years before. And it didn't hurt the general enthusiasm either when handsome young Tom Three Persons came galloping in off the nearby Blood Reservation to steal the show from all those highfalutin foreign cowpokes. Sporting bright red sheepskin chaps and a wide boyish grin, the young brave put on a dazzling, daredevil ride to win the world bucking horse championship, a gold buckle belt, $1,000 in cash and the instant adoration of the mob. Weadick himself couldn't have dreamed up a better boost for the future of the Stampede.
Things have changed a mite since 1912. Calgary is today a modern boom city of 310,000, including lots of millionaires who have gotten rich off the adjacent ranchlands and the oil that flows beneath, but the Stampede is a way of life for a good part of each summer as hundreds of citizens pitch in to help in an annual labor of love. Given fair weather, this year's show will draw more than a million spectators and net the local exhibition society more than half a million dollars. Events like the careening heart-stopper called chuck-wagon races (below) have been added to the program, rodeo prize money now totals more than $100,000 and for a dollar a throw the fans themselves can buy chances on a $50,000 gold brick and $25,000 worth of gold bars. In the Indian Village any elder will reverently doff his headdress to retell the story of the Greatest Stampede Indian of Them All, Tom Three Persons. There have been other lyrically named Indian champions since—King Bearspaw, Johnny Spotted Eagle, Harry Dodging Horse and Johnny Left Hand—but they have won in lesser events than the classic one of bronc riding. Johnny Left Hand, for instance, won his championship at wild-cow milking, thus striking a unique blow for underprivileged southpaws everywhere.
Most of the old heroes keep coming back to the Stampede, even when they are through competing. Dick Cosgrave, from Rosebud, Alberta, who won his first of nine chuck-wagon races back in 1926, is one of them. Now nearing 80, he will be there in the corral this week in charge of the races. Wild horses, of which Dick has seen plenty, couldn't keep him away.