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Hebert | Bring women back to Round-Up roughstock

By Tom Hebert

For the East Oregonian

Published on September 11, 2018 12:01AM

Last changed on September 11, 2018 9:19PM

Dorothy Morrell rides saddle bronc at the 1920 Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. She was a regular competitor in the Pendleton Round-Up before women were barred from the sport.

Photo by R.R. Doubleday

Dorothy Morrell rides saddle bronc at the 1920 Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. She was a regular competitor in the Pendleton Round-Up before women were barred from the sport.

Writing as a stockholder of the Pendleton Round-Up Association, the following is a Pendleton Round-Up Board Resolution that I wish would come before us for a groundbreaking discussion.

WHEREAS, following a July 4th celebration in 1909 consisting of bareback and saddle bronc riding, horse races by Indians and Non-Indians, Indian feasts and war dances, greased pig contests, sack races, foot races and fireworks, some community and area leaders conceived the idea of an annual event to be known as the Pendleton Round-Up. Also, at that time, the Let ’er Buck slogan, which is symbolic of the Round-Up, was inspired; and

WHEREAS, the first Pendleton Round-Up was to be “a frontier exhibition of picturesque pastimes, Indian and military spectacles, cowboy racing and bronco busting for the championship of the Northwest”; and

WHEREAS, the 1929 Round-Up program reads, “The Only, Original Round-Up. The Epic Drama of the West. A Panorama of the Old West, the Frontier, Mountains and Ranges. Wild and Wooly, Fast and Bully”; and

WHEREAS, until 1929 cowgirls were the actual stars of rodeo including Mabel Strickland, Vera McGinninis, Bonnie McCarroll, Dorothy Morrell, Tad Lucas and Florence Randolph who are in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame; and

WHEREAS, the Official History continues, “Long before women’s lib, the fairer sex got into the act at the Round-Up — cowgirls in the early days of the Round-Up could be as tough as men. In 1914 Bertha Blanchett, wife of cowboy Del Blancett, came within 12 points of winning the all-around title”; and

WHEREAS, of the 27 formal events on the 1929 program, the women’s included: the Cowgirls Relay Race For The Championship of the World, Exhibition Steer Roping, Cowgirls’ and Cowboys’ Grand Mounted Parade, Trick Riding [both women and men], Trick and Fancy Roping [both women and men], and the Cowgirls’ Bucking Contest; and

WHEREAS, going forward the Round-Up will always need the boldness, ingenuity, and the sense of tradition and adventure that drove its founders, men and women, red and white; and

WHEREAS, with its support of barrel racing the Board has already added women competitors to Round-Up events; and

WHEREAS, the Board now realizes that it is essential that the Round-Up grows a new audience for tomorrow’s Round-Up, that it cannot always depend on alcohol sales and its current program with its surplus of roping, and that it must therefore become a more family-oriented event; and

WHEREAS, it’s time to rededicate the Round-Up as an Epic Celebration of the American West; and

WHEREAS, going forward, if the Round-Up brought skilled cowgirls back into roughstock, Pendleton would become the national pace setter for innovation and change and a return-to-roots movement in the now PRCA-dominated rodeos; and

WHEREAS, both tradition and the more recent availability of talented cowgirls competing in regional ranch rodeo championships provides the Board with a clear way forward; and

WHEREAS, while risks in any new venture are inevitable, we believe that the Pendleton Round-Up can still be Wild and Wooly, Fast and Bully;


RESOLVED, that the Board puts itself on record that it supports bringing cowgirls back into active participation in their traditional events of the Round-Up from which they have been absent for almost 90 years; specifically, since September 19, 1929 when the era of the professional rodeo cowgirl ended at Pendleton with the tragic death of Bonnie McCarroll in the worst horse wreck in rodeo history. Within two weeks the Round-Up board canceled cowgirls in rough stock and America’s rodeos followed suit; and

RESOLVED, women returning in rough stock at Pendleton will begin with several successful ranch rodeo cowgirls competing in stock saddle bronc riding at this coming September’s Round-Up;


RESOLVED, that this initiative shall include a review of other possible historic program events followed by an action plan to be presented by staff to the Board within thirty (30) days of this date. They could include some of the universally entertaining events of years past like chuck wagon racing, chariot racing, trick and fancy riding, Roman riding, Indian hide racing, and Cowboy vs. Indian horse racing.

AND, that said Resolution has not been modified amended or repealed and is in full force and effect.

Tom Hebert is a writer, public policy consultant and East Oregonian columnist.


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