The West


The first celebration in September 1910 was a rodeo simply because that was what came naturally. Ranchers from 100 miles around brought their best bucking horses, their orneriest* calves and meanest steers. There was no lack of cowpunchers to rope and ride them. They held the rodeo ona gravel bar down by the river — the same spot used today.

The fame of the Pendleton Round-up™ has spread around the world, primarily because it remains true to the Old West. All mechanical contraptions are banned; only critters* with four feet — or two — can enter the arena or join the West ward Ho parade* along the old Oregon Trail,* which once wound its way through the present-day round-up grounds to the ford on the lazy Umatilla River.

To see the sun rise over the rimrock when it’s round-uptime in Pendleton is to see the Wild West of story and song born again. The smell of ham and sour-dough hot cakes — the cowboy’s breakfast — scents the air. Wranglers shoe their horses in the middle of the street, which is roped off for the occasion. Packers throw diamond hitches* on their pack mules.* Cowboy bands, Western singers, square dancers, medicine men,* calliopes and cowboy clowns perform among the crowds. Down on the river-bank near the round-up grounds the smoke of 200 camp fires hangs hazily over the Indian village — where canvas and lodgepole-pine tepees point their heads gracefully like a range of mystic mountains against a grove of cottonwoods.

The round-up always starts on Wednesday of the second full week of September, and ends Saturday, and the show has changed little. The bucking, riding and roping events move faster. For there is a time limit now — ten seconds for bucking broncs and eight seconds for bareback riders — whereas the cowboys originally rode until the judges were satisfied. The almost lost art of roping long-horn steers (forbidden by law in some states) is still practiced by the few remaining masters. The steers for this event are bought in Mexico, where they grow lean and mean enough to survive the snap of a rope which sometimes jerks them several feet in the air to land on their sides. The cowhand then has to dismount, run to the downed steer while his horse keeps the rope taut, and tie three of the critter’s four feet together.