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A youth movement in the Main Street Cowboys

New members bring new life to 68-year-old downtown organization
Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on September 10, 2018 6:50PM

Last changed on September 11, 2018 1:19AM

Patrick Hendren, 18, helps assemble the scaffolding for a tent while working with the Main Street Cowboys on Monday in Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Patrick Hendren, 18, helps assemble the scaffolding for a tent while working with the Main Street Cowboys on Monday in Pendleton.

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One of the newest Main Street Cowboys, Patrick Hendren, left, tapes up signs telling motorists Main  Street would be closing on Monday in Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

One of the newest Main Street Cowboys, Patrick Hendren, left, tapes up signs telling motorists Main Street would be closing on Monday in Pendleton.

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One of the Main Street Cowboys’ central problems is spelled out pretty succinctly on its website.

“The Main Street Cowboys need new members to help continue the Main Street Show and Dress-Up Parade traditions here in Pendleton,” the website states. “We only have around 12 active members with an average age of well over 70 so it’s getting harder each year to make this happen!”

But a recent injection of youth means the 68-year-old group might have a little more pep in their step for the 2018 Pendleton Round-Up.

Eighteen-year-old Patrick Hendren is one of the newest members of the Main Street Cowboys, one part of the constellation of Round-Up offshoots and adjacent organizations.

A senior at Pendleton High School, Hendren had to walk from campus to Stillman Park on Thursday to serve the hungry, rodeo-ready crowds there for the Twilight Breakfast.

Between flipping pancakes underneath the park shelter, Hendren said he joined the Main Street Cowboys two years ago as a way to make better use of his time.

“I’m one of the guys who has to stand up and do something,” he said.

With another member in his 20s, Michael Adams, also recently recruited to the group, the Main Street Cowboys have a small youth movement following years of trying to diversify an aging membership.

Larry Koehne, a Main Street Cowboys vice president, publicity director, and group historian, said some people think the group’s chartreuse and purple Western shirts are a repellent for younger men looking to volunteer.

When the Main Street Cowboys were established in 1950, Koehne said the group adopted the shirt style to stick out amongst the crowds, who dressed in more conservative color palettes than they do now. The shirts were once popular enough that they were sold off the rack at Hamely’s, but the Main Street Cowboys uniform is now special ordered from a different vendor.

The rest of the Main Street Cowboys history is as colorful as its shirts.

Instead of the family friendly line-up of musicians and performers found on Main Street today, the Main Street Cowboys early downtown shows featured exhibitions like bear wrestling.

And until about 1980, the Main Street Cowboys carried revolvers filled with blanks and might greet a newcomer with a few friendly shots in the air.

The Main Street Cowboys also originally provided bales of hay for seating instead of the familiar benches that now line the streets for parades and other community events. Keohne said the Main Street Cowboys only switched to the benches after they received complaints from local authorities that mischief makers were setting the bales on fire.

Despite all of its history, Koehne thinks the main reason the Main Street Cowboys ranks have shrunk in recent years is because of an overall decline in volunteerism.

He pointed to the now-defunct local chapter of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, which surrendered its charter and closed its Pendleton lodge as it looks to downsize as evidence that local residents aren’t as interested in fraternal organizations as they used to be.

“The benches get heavier as you get older,” Koehne joked as the Main Street Cowboys got ready to place the benches along Court, Dorion and Main streets ahead of Saturday’s Dress-Up Parade.

For the record, Hendren had a positive spin on the Main Street Cowboys uniform.

“We brighten up the world,” he said.

Hendren enjoys the community contribution aspect of being a Cowboy and plunged head first into participating in its activities.

For most of Round-Up week, Hendren will be working the day shift at the “The Greatest Free Show at the West,” where he’ll help oversee the dozens of vendors and entertainers who will gather on Main Street.

But on Saturday, he’s focused on the intersection of Southwest Ninth Street and Dorion Avenue, where he’s responsible for staging roughly 20 entries in the Dress-Up Parade.

While he’s confirming that each of the entries is in proper position, a police officer informs him that firefighters from the Bureau of Indian Affairs had arrived in the Bi-Mart parking lot and were looking to be inserted into the line-up.

Hendren promised the BIA group that they would have them slipped in behind the Oregon Department of Forestry entry as soon as the parade started. Despite the mix-up, Hendren said it was much easier to deal with vehicles than horses, who have a much harder time reversing.

Even with all the chaos surrounding him, Hendren maintained his composure and even got some time to socialize with a friend who was dressed as rain cloud for the National Weather Service entry.

And as the parade got started, everything ran pretty smoothly, allowing Hendren to join a group of Main Street Cowboys announcing the parade and handing out awards by the Round-Up Grounds. As the weather service entry rolled by the Main Street Cowboys, the rain cloud sprinkled some water below his costume to look like rain.

Koehne laughed and said he hoped there was good weather for the rest of Round-Up week.

While a week of work lies ahead for Hendren, he seemed to relish it.

“I enjoy every minute of it,” he said.

Even though he’s set to graduate in June, Hendren said he plans to stick around Pendleton and continue to help out the Main Street Cowboys.


Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.


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