Stock Show National Western Center (copy)

The National Western Stock Show in a Jan. 16, 2019, photo. 

For 115 years, hundreds of thousands of people in cowboy boots, cowboy hats and large belt buckles have gathered in Denver to attend the annual National Western Stock Show. 

Despite unpredictable events throughout the years, such as the Spanish Flu in 1919, the Great Depression and two World Wars, ranchers persevered and brought cattle and horses to the show.

But like many other events, the NWSS was a casualty of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, announcing in September that the 2021 show had been postponed.

"It was the most painful decision that the board and I have had to make in our tenure," said Paul Andrews, the president and CEO of the NWSS.

The stock show had only been cancelled once before -- in 1915 after an outbreak of the highly contagious hoof and mouth disease. Four years later the show went on despite the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1919.

"The attitude on the flu in 1919 (during the show) was sort of a sigh of relief as people were in effect saying it was over," said Stephen Leonard, a professor of history at Metro State University Denver.

Thomas J. Noel, a history professor at the University of Colorado-Denver and author of "Riding High; Colorado Ranchers" and "The First 100 years of the National Western Stock Show," said 69,581 people attended the event in 1919.

Modern attendance averages over 700,000 people during the 16-day event and people flock to Denver from over 40 states and 35 countries. So it would have been impossible to host such a large event under the current COVID-19 restrictions, Andrews said. 

So this year, despite the show being postponed, some of the events will be held virtually, but the show must go on without many highlight events such as the rodeo, trade show and dancing horses.

The stock show has had to adjust to unpredictable situations before. During World War II, from 1942 through 1945, the money raised during the National Western was used to buy war bonds, according to Keith Fessenden, an archivist for the NWSS.

Although the stock show won't be happening on its tradition north Denver stomping grounds this year, officials are optimistic about the years to come. 

"Although it was the most painful decision that we've ever had to make, it was the responsible one, and we're going to move forward by looking at the 2022 show with great optimism," Andrews said. 


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