If you have ties to Colorado's historic Arkansas Valley, chances are you, and several of your ancestors, have fond memories of Fowler's Missouri Day celebrations. The first Missouri Day was held in July of 1920 in honor of the Missouri pioneers who first settled here, and it continues today.

The event includes a parade, live music, and activities in the park. However, an intense and unique ranch rodeo tournament is a new tradition that's attracting several hundred spectators to an old vacant schoolyard in the center of town.

Although the festival has always incorporated some form of western entertainment, up until two years ago, it was a very different experience than it is now. In the past, the rodeo event was held at the Fowler Roping Club facility outside the city limits. At which time, the performance included some standard rodeo timed events; such as team roping, barrel racing, kids events, etc.

In most recent years, there wasn't a rodeo at all, instead, a stand-alone team roping which took place early in the week according to Missouri Day Committee Chairman, Becca Sharp.

In 2017, the Missouri Day Committee reinvented the western portion of the event in hopes of reviving its western traditions and attracting a larger crowd. In order to grow the rodeo, they knew it had to be closer to the other Missouri Day activities, which would require some creative brainstorming.

According to Sharp, logistically the vacant schoolyard across from the town's park was a great solution, but it would demand some changes.

"While exploring our options, we realized the Old Park School area is not big enough for a standard arena so it would not work for a regular rodeo.  Furthermore, we wanted to do something new and exciting for our crowd which is made up of spectators who have never seen a ranch rodeo, much less traditional Missouri Day games like the hide race and the potato race," declares Sharp.

This year marked Missouri Day's second annual Old Park School Ranch Rodeo, which reached full seating capacity. Spectators from every walk of life and all ages gathered to experience the extreme western sport.

What sets this open ranch rodeo apart is its loyalty to local ranchers and traditions. Even though the committee has a waiting list of talented ranch hands across the state and beyond, they give priority to their local cowboys and cowgirls. A sentiment that has proven to be extremely popular.

"We give priority entry to local ranches and ranch rodeo teams because many of the contestants are decedents of Missourians who first settled in Fowler and the surrounding areas.  Their families are the reason for Missouri Day.  That's just another way we pay tribute to those who have helped make Fowler live up to its motto- 'Fowler, A Good Place To Grow'," explains Sharp.

Nine teams made up this year's roster, which included Mustang Ranch, 4-S Ranch, Iron Springs Ranch, High and Dry Ranch, Flying A Ranch, YWM Ranch, Broken Spear Ranch, James Ranch, and E and W Livestock.

The contestants competed in the wild cow milking, stray gathering, maverick branding, and mugging competitions. Overall performance was calculated at the end to determine the average winners.

Flying A Ranch (Kyle Hughes, Tyler Karney, Clay Forgey, Paul Hughes, and Cade Thomas) took top honors, earning $1,400 and a custom buckle donated by John Montgomery. Second in the average was James Ranch (Brian James, Cole James, Trey James, and Dub Martin). High and Dry Ranch (Jackson Donnell, Brian Olomon, Gary Grokett, Jeff Crowder, and Jesse Crowder) rounded out the top three.  

The top three cowboys in the ranch bronc riding were, Gatlin Huddleston with an 80 point effort, followed by Austin Kuhn with a 79, and Cade Thomas secured a top three finish with a 77.

The Top Horse award went to Spooky Rey of Gary Grokett; a 9-year-old AQHA Roan gelding by Boonlight Dancer, and out of own daughter of Gray Starlight. Grokett's wife, Heather, told Ag Journal that Gary has owned and trained this horse since he was a two-year-old.

Clay Forgey of Sugar City dominated the competition and was named the overall Top Hand.

This year, the committee reintroduced the legendary hide race and potato race; allowing this generation of cowboys to experience the games most likely played by their grandfathers, fathers, and uncles.

In the hide race, local business participants clung to a stiff cowhide while a mounted cowboy with a rope raced around a barrel and back. Jet Stream Ag (Brand Sharp and Cody Ourso, pulled by Jackson Donnell) clocked the fastest time.

The potato race is basically the cowboy version of hockey, without helmets and safety gear. Mounted cowboys carried long sticks with potatoes on the end. Things certainly got western as the teams attempted to put their potatoes in their opponent's guarded feed tub. 4-S Ranches (Ryon Sallee, Luke Sharon, Jason Stites, Wyatt Sharon and Wade Sumpter) wrangled their way to victory.

To these cowboys, cowgirls, and the Fowler Community, Missouri Day isn't just a day circled on the calendar. It's a beloved tradition that bridges the gap between their past and their present, it gives them a sense of belonging and a reason to come home.

As for the Missouri Day Committee, they know the best way to live up to the town's motto "A good place to grow", is to preserve traditions that build strong roots.