This Oregon community works together in the spirit of the Old West.
The story of the Pendleton Round-Up is more than a story of one of the world’s leading rodeos. It is the story of a community and the tremendous satisfaction that people attain by doing things together and doing them well.
Every age and every civilization throughout history has found human beings joining together in their primitive village, country hamlet, or metropolitan area to participate in an annual “celebration” or “ceremony.” It seems to make little difference whether this event is centered around a flower show or a mardi-gras. The important thing is that friends and neighbors put aside their usual activities and differences to celebrate together.
So, back in 1910, when the little western community of Pendleton, Ore., first organized and promoted an annual rodeo, it was not a thing that was unusual in itself. What was unusual was that this small community suddenly found itself with a celebration that came to be known as “the greatest of the western shows.” The importance of the Pendeton Round-Up in the rodeo world became recognized wherever the name rodeo was known. The annual celebration of a small town had become a tourist attraction and the community was put on its mettle to produce a show worthy of the name.
More than 50,000 people come to Pendleton annually to see the Round-Up, the evening Indian pageant “Happy Canyon,” the Westward Ho! Parade, and the Main Street Cowboys program of free fun and frolic on the city streets.
But, to really understand Pendleton, you must know the place the Round-Up fills within the community. The Round-Up is planned, managed, and produced entirely by citizens of the Pendleton area. From the time that the show goes on the planning boards until the last event of that show is staged, more than 1,500 local citizens have taken an active hand in its production. When we realize that this community of 15,000 people has 10 per cent of its population giving its time and effort to make the show a success, we begin to catch an inkling of the deep sense of community pride that surrounds the show. Picture, if you will, the magnitude of such a celebration in the city of Chicago, should 10 per cent of its 4,000,000 people become enthused with such a community effort.
And, inevitably, the spirit of working together goes on throughout the year, long after the show is over. People who understand each other find few areas of disagreement. The modern rodeo plant, constructed at almost no cost to the tax-payers, provides a million dollar year-around stadium and recreation area for the community. Observers have frequently commented upon the almost total absence of racial and religious prejudice, the social caste problem in Pendleton. The reason, Pendletonians believe, can be found in the Round-Up. The big show has made Pendleton famous. But, it has done much more than that for the citizens of Pendleton.
As long as there is rodeo, the spirit of the Old West will never die. Estimates show that 12,500,000 fans paid to see this great American sport last year, and performers competed for over a million dollars in prize money. The prize money for the Pendleton RoundUp totals about $16,000. The bulk of this prize money goes to the six major rodeo events-saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, bulldogging, calf roping, steer roping, and bull riding. Pendleton is one of the few rodeos in the world which produces all six of these events. Aside from the prize money, contestants compete for championship saddles, silver buckles and spurs, and various trophies and other prizes. The $5,000 sterling silver Journal Trophy is awarded to the outstanding all-around cowboy each year and must be won three times for permanent possession.
This trophy is a successor to the Sam Jackson trophy, donated by the Oregon Journal Publishing Company, of Portland, Ore., and won three times for permanent possession by Shoat Webster of Lenapah, Okla., in 1951.
In addition to the six major events, the arena show, where the horse is king, includes riding club relays and pony express races, squaw race, other Indian races, clowns, trick riding and roping, and other specialty acts.
The Indians come to the Round-Up from every tribe in the vast Pacific Northwest. Camping in their teepee village on the grounds are the full-blood descendants of the great Indian nations of the past — the Umatilla, Walla Walla, Cayuse, Nez Perce, Yakima, Rock Creek, Warm Springs, Black Foot, Nespeelum, and Omak. Daily these colorful people perform their tribal dances in the arena and a feature of the final day of the show is the selection of a true American Beauty in the Indian maiden beauty contest.
Various citizens’ committees direct the events that take place during the four-day celebration. The Round-Up directors produce the rodeo; the Happy Canyon directors produce the evening pageant depicting the life of the Indian and the coming of the white man; the Main Street Cowboys decorate the town and provide free entertainment on the streets, as well as acting as good will ambassadors to neighboring cities of the northwest.
A feature of the friday celebration is the Westward Ho! parade — a magnificent display of authentic Indian and pioneer modes of transportation which winds for blocks through the streets of the city.
Each year, the Round-Up is ruled by a queen and four princesses. These girls are chosen primarily for their riding ability and sit their horses in the arena with poise and confidence. Somehow, horsemanship and beauty have a way of going together and the royal court has included many beautiful girls of the northwest throughout the years. Queen Sandra Curl will reign over the 1956 Round-Up on September 12-15. Her royal princesses are Terry Hill, Judy Thompson, Tammy Dix, and Claudette Edwards.
A trip to Pendleton during Indian summer to see the Round-Up is truly an experience that will return you to the Old West and the people and spirit that made our frontier.
This article was originally published in the September 1956 issue of Western Horseman.