MEEKER — As a docent for the White River Museum, Sandy Shimko sees a steady flow of people coming in and out of the Meeker attraction.
But, during the Independence Day weekend, the numbers fluctuate quite a bit, an increase in attendance that Shimko attributes to the collection of Western odds and ends that make up the museum.
“We focus on what people did during Meeker’s early days in the 1880s, and people really enjoy learning about that lifestyle,” she said. “We got more than 100 people today (Saturday), and we’ll probably see even more tomorrow.”
Shimko said the surge in attendance had to do with the museum’s nearby location to the downtown activities of the 125th annual Range Call Celebration. The Range Call is Meeker’s combination of rodeo events, Fourth of July festivities and historical re-enactments.
As the longest-running annual rodeo in Colorado, the event began in 1885 — also the year of Meeker’s official incorporation — and in its quasquicentennial year, Range Call still offers the same kind of fun for attendees, Shimko believes.
She referred to a blown-up photograph hanging in the museum capturing one of the earliest events with cowboys and their bulls and broncos in the middle of town.
“All the men back then would gather up a lot of stray cattle, brand them and, eventually, they would start making bets about who was the best rider,” she said. “It wasn’t called ‘Range Call’ back then, though.”
The Range Call title came in 1938, as the celebration
expanded further to include other elements of Meeker’s unique culture. The Meeker Massacre Pageant — commemorating the actions of the infamous 1879 death of town founder Nathan Meeker and numerous members of the White River Indian Agency by the Ute Tribe — began this year and since then, the Range Call has continued to grow, including the event’s 1985 centennial, which saw the new tradition of country music performers.
This year’s headliner, Neal McCoy, joined the ranks of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, John Michael Montgomery and inaugural singer Reba McEntire in entertaining the Range Call crowd.
Margie Joy, president of the Meeker Chamber of Commerce board, said the planning that goes into the event by the Chamber and the Range Call Committee involves blending new events, such as the downtown carnival, with those that originally made the Range Call famous.
“We’re respecting our heritage as part of where we’re going,” Joy said. “What really matters is that the community loves hosting it.”
Ellene Meece, Chamber membership director, said the first part of the Range Call she experienced when she moved to Meeker six years ago was the downtown parade.
“It had such a hometown feeling,” she said.
Meece got involved with the Range Call in 2008 organizing vendors for the arts and crafts booths, the number of which has almost doubled in the two years.
“I had 11 vendors back then and this year we have about 20,” she said.
Connie Kammerer, of Fort Collins, was among the vendors, representing her business, Cowboy Connection Designs, an outlet for cowgirl apparel and accessories. Kammerer said she has been coming to the Range Call for about 10 years, originally for the rodeo circuit.
“My son was a Little Britches Rodeo world champion,” she said. “I’ve gotten out of following the rodeo closely, but I’m getting back into it and here is the perfect place to do it. I love this community and I think it’s so great that so many people are working hand in hand to keep their history going. It just keeps getting bigger.”
As part of the historical aspect of the weekend, the Rio Blanco County Historical Society offered a new service in addition to the group’s re-enactment of the town’s 1896 bank robbery and shootout.
Members of the Historical Society oversaw tours of Milk Creek Battlefield Park, the site of the Meeker Massacre.
The group’s involvement in the Milk Creek area includes efforts to create interpretive signs around the site that will educate observers about the Utes and the Meeker Massacre, as well as an ongoing project to landscape the area with plants of cultural significance.
Historical Society volunteer David Steinman, a tour guide during the Range Call and a self-described “amateur historian,” said the group strives to teach people about the area’s past through historical accuracy in their re-enactments and well-researched work in preserving the area.
“It’s the highest priority,” Steinman said.