The following is an excerpt from the March 6, 2005 edition of the Chowchilla News, Patty Mandrell, Editor:
The Cattle Drive down the main street of Chowchilla first began on Friday, March 28, 1958. Since that time, the Cattle Drive has become a tradition and has been the official opening for the Chowchilla Western Stampede.
The annual event attracts children, adults, cowboys, cowgirls, and out-of-town visitors. It "hails the beginning of Roping Fever" that spreads throughout the community. The Cattle Drive sets the stage for five days of team roping, calf roping and barrel racing.
How did the cattle drive get its start? Well, there are several versions. According to local residents Dan Branco and Jim Looney, the cattle drive was the end result of a bunch of young cowboys with a lot of energy.
In 1958, the stock for the Stampede was to be furnished by Paul Perry of Madera. He planned to have approximately 150 steers and 60 calves on hand for the big three-day event. The stock was on a ranch the other side of Dairyland. The committee was at a loss as to how they were going to get the steers to town.
The young cowboys decided they would just drive the stock to town, which they did. As they got closer to town they thought it would be funny to drive the steers right down Robertson Boulevard, of Chowchilla, which they did.
The drive did create a sensation and definitely announced the coming of the Chowchilla Western Stampede. It did cause one problem. One Chowchilla resident got a little upset when a steer stepped on his strawberry plants. The little incident ended up costing the fair manager $20. The Cattle Drive has continued each year but the cost is far more than $20.
At one time, the cattle drive through town was threatened due to the high cost of insurance. Two local farmers/dairymen, Charlie Keller and Tony Fagundes, stepped in to save the day. Today the cost of insurance for the Cattle Drive runs around $800.
There has never been an injury as a result of the Cattle Drive.
Nearing its 57th year, the Chowchilla Western Stampede Cattle Drive continues to be a popular event. School children line the streets dressed in their western attire. Adults envision the days of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and the news media capture it all on film. The Cattle Drive has received national coverage and has been featured in numerous magazines and papers. Other cities have tried to copy the event but not as successfully as the Chowchilla event.
The Cattle Drive and Stampede are a part of Chowchilla's rich heritage. At one time the grandstands were packed with spectators. There is no charge to watch the roping and barrel racing. The Stampede Committee invites the community to come out and catch the "Stampede Spirit."