In 1921, citizens of Burwell, Nebraska decided to put their community on the map with an annual community celebration. They chose to begin a rodeo, which reflected the western heritage of the town. The first rodeo was held in September of 1921, and since that time nearly every professional rodeo champion who has pulled on a pair of boots has tramped through the historic arena of Burwell.
Local citizens have enjoyed the annual migration of these participants and the spectators that follow. In the early days NBR swelled and trainloads of people traveled from Lincoln and Omaha. Crowds of nearly 20,000 daily were squeezing into Burwell for wholesome family entertainment. The 1930’s saw Burwell become one of the important stops on the circuit of champion cowboys. Although times were hard and the weather was dry, the show at Nebraska’s Big Rodeo always went on and brightened the lives of many during a bleak time in history. In the 1940’s war years the rodeo was cancelled for the first and last time. At the request of the President of the United States, NBR did not appear in 1943, 1944, or 1945. However, the ’46 show saw the biggest crowds in the history of the event. In 1948 the rodeo expanded to include four performances to accommodate fans as well as top contenders of the time like Jim Shoulders and Casey Tibbs.
NBR stepped up with the times in the 1950’s and added specialty events such as trick riders and chuck wagon races to the schedule. The 1960’s saw a new breed of cowboys who flew into town for the vent and rodeo became recognized as a true “sport.” Event through the 1970’s saw the American agriculture economy take a turn for the worse, NBR continued strong. The faith and dedication of local citizen and volunteers kept the rodeo alive, and the reputation for quality entertainment at Burwell kept spectators coming.
The 1990’s and 2000’s have been a period of revitalization for both the community of Burwell and NBR. With the Calamus Lake nearby and the town’s small town, rustic appeal spectators are flocking the annual event that their parents and grandparents also enjoyed. NBR and the Garfield County Fair are held annually on the original 40 acres of grounds and facilities listed with the National Registry of Historic Places. The grounds include one of the world’s largest outdoor rodeo arenas, a ¾ miles track, original wooden covered grandstands and more.