In 1909, a 17-year-old named Lee Caldwell won a bronc riding contest in Pendleton. From that seed, the Pendleton Round-Up was born. The Round-Up started with the idea that real working cowboys could gather together and pit themselves against each other and the roughest stock around in a celebration of the real West. Here are some highlights:
In July, the Northwestern Frontier Association is formed as the organization behind the inaugural Pendleton Round-Up, held two months later. The Round-Up drew 7,000 spectators (1910); Steer wrestling is first established as an event at the Round-Up; George Fletcher, an African American, impresses the crowd with his riding ability in the bucking final and earns the title “the people’s champion,” although judges select John Spain, a white man, the winner (1911); The first Happy Canyon Night Show is performed (1913); Jackson Sundown, 53, a Nez Perce Indian, wins the All-Around title (1916).
Round-Up president and Umatilla County Sheriff Til Taylor is murdered by a prison escapee (1920); A standing-room-only crowd of 35,000 attends the final night of Round-Up (1922); Yakima Canutt wins his fourth All-Around title (1923); Stories about the Round-Up appear in New York, Syracuse and Philadelphia as well as Washington and California (1924); The chuck wagon race is first held (1925); Bob Crosby wins the all-around for the third time and takes permanent possession of the Roosevelt Trophy (1928); Cowgirl Bonnie McCarroll dies from injuries suffered in a bronc riding accident, and Round-Up directors ban women from bucking events as a result (1929).
The District of Columbia bicentennial suggests the Round-Up be moved to the national capitol for the event. The board says, “No, it belongs to Pendleton and was not a wild west show, nor was it for sale” (1931); A new Round-Up board is installed, and the name of the governing body is changed from Northwest Frontier Exhibition Association to Pendleton
Round-Up Association (1933); The Westward Ho! parade thrills thousands of spectators, covering 37 blocks and featuring more than 3,000 participants, including 2,000 Indians (1935); Poker Jim of the Cayuse tribe, who led the Native Americans at the Round-Up for 25 years, dies (1936); Calf roping is added to the list of events (1937).
Fire destroys the grandstand during a softball game in August, but a new one is built in time for the Round-Up (1940); World War II forces the cancellation of the Round-Up (1942-43); The Pendleton Round-Up welcomes home veterans of World War II; jitterbug contests are staged following Monday’s Happy Canyon Night Show, with Bill Perry and Donna Trout, both of Pendleton, taking first place (1945); Bull riding is dropped, but bareback becomes an official event (1948); Movie star Ben Johnson sets an arena record in calf roping, 12.5 seconds, with a 60-foot score (1949).
Two thousand people watch the Indian dancing contests as the Pendleton Woolen Mills sponsors a tribute to the late Round-Up Indian director Chauncey Bishop (1950); Turf is added to the Round-Up Grounds for athletic contests (1951); A roof is put on the grandstands (1954); The new
Happy Canyon grandstands host 5,000 spectators in its first performance (1955); Bull riding returns to the Round-Up (1956); The Round-Up receives its first taste of national exposure when CBS televises the Sept. 14 show live for one hour (1957); The Let ’er Buck Room is built under the south grandstand (1958).
The Pendleton Round-Up celebrates its golden anniversary (1960); Barrel racing replaces chariot racing, but is not continued because the turf is too slippery, and wild cow milking is added as an event (1962); Pendleton cowboys finish 1-2 in the all-around, the first time a local cowboy wins the title in the history of the Round-Up (1963); Ear-biting in the wild horse race is outlawed, as well as nine other rules enacted by the Rodeo Cowboys Association at the request of animal welfare groups (1967); The Severe Brothers of Pendleton take over making the trophy saddle from Hamley and Co., which leaves the saddle-making business (1968); The Round-Up Hall of Fame is established (1969).
The Hall of Fame Room is constructed under the south grandstand (1973); Parts of the movie “Twister, Bull from the Sky” are filmed at the Round-Up (1974); The total purse for Round-Up is increased to $19,320, or $3,150 for each of the six events, after cowboys complain the purses are too low to make attending the rodeo financially feasible (1975); The Round-Up moves into the computer age as cowboys are able to enter the rodeo with just a phone call. Contestants and stock also are matched up using the system operated by Rodeo Communications of America (RoComm) based in Fort Collins, Colo. (1976).
The Round-Up and Happy Canyon sponsor a re-enactment wagon train moving from Ukiah to Pendleton (1980); The inaugural Exceptional Rodeo (now the Children’s Rodeo), pairing cowboys with mentally and physically handicapped youth, is held (1983); Author Ken Kesey writes a screenplay — which has never been made into a movie — based on the 1911 Round-Up bucking contest between George Fletcher, Jackson Sundown and John Spain (1984); Wade Leslie of Moses Lake, Wash., and “Hard Rock” combine Thursday for a score of 89, a record bull riding score at the Round-Up (1988).
Women compete in roughstock events for the first time since 1929 (1990); Team roping is added to the Round-Up (1991); Longtime Sidesaddler and Hall of Famer Beryl Grilley watches the Westward Ho! parade from the sidelines for the first time since she began riding in the parade in 1942, after handing the reins — and the antique dress — over to her granddaughter Ginnie Grilley (1994); Mike Beers takes permanent possession of the East Oregonian Let ’er Buck all-around trophy with his third win (1997).
Barrel racing returns to the Round-Up (2000); The Happy Canyon Night Show is revamped to be more historically accurate, and includes expanded narration and the addition of speaking parts, though most say they prefer the original show (2001); Ashley Ward, 19, of Heppner becomes the first female ever to carry a flag in the Round-Up grand entry (2003); The Hall of Fame moves from under the south grandstand to the corner of Southeast 12th and Court Avenue, and Happy Canyon celebrates its 90th anniversary (2006); Cash Meyers retires the East Oregonian Let ’er Buck trophy in record time, winning the All-Around for the third time in just five years (2008).
Centennial Plaza and the new west grandstands are built for the Centennial Round-Up; Flint Rasmussen makes a one-time special appearance at the Round-Up as a rodeo clown, the first time since 2005 after joining the Professional Bull Riders Circuit; events such as hide races, wild horse races and the serpentine entry return to the rodeo in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first Round-Up (2010); Cord McCoy of Tupelo, Okla., who appeared on CBS’ “Amazing Race” reality show, won Monday’s PBR round and $1,000 with a 90-point ride on “Exotic Justin”; a delegation from Pendleton’s sister city, Minamisoma, Japan, travels to Pendleton to open for the Happy Canyon Night Show and express gratitude for the support provided by the city after a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in March (2011); a new shower and restroom facility is built on the teepee village grounds just in time for the annual event; Parker Breding wins the bull riding title 16 years after his father Scott Breding look top honors (2012); four clones of former world champion bucking bull Panhandle Slim compete in the Round-Up, a first for cloned rough stock (2013).