I was sitting downtown having a cold drink ("Arnold Palmer"- iced tea/lemonade) outside of one of our local eateries and bought rodeo news which featured "Woman of Rodeo," and noticed that there were no black women featured. Native American woman were featured but no black or Mexican/Hispanic ladies. Maybe I missed them. But I thought, "How could the West have been won without women of every creed?"
Surely Mexican and black men had their women with them, and they probably had the same abilities as European women. I believe all these women were tough. And probably were just as involved with ranching as their counterparts.
Now I didn't have time to research the facts on this interesting subject, but did come up with the origins of bulldogging, also known as steer wrestling. The practice was invented by Bill Pickett, a black cowboy and Rodeo Hall of Famer. See "Bill Pickett, Bulldogger: The Biography of a black Cowboy."
And then there was George Fletcher, another black cowboy from the Pacific Northwest, who rode three of the toughest broncos in a single afternoon in the 1911 rodeo with phenomenal success, only to see the judges give the championship to a white cowboy. This was obviously racist.
But a true cowboy stood up for Fletcher and took up a collection, and Fletcher ended up with more money than the competition would have paid. An old-timer once said Pendleton rodeo officials refused to give Fletcher a number to pin on his back as they did the other contestants.
Today, I see staunch evidence of a continued mentality when I walk down Main Street garbed in clothes of my culture. Stared at because I don't have western boots on or a cowboy hat.
So when there were no woman of my ethnicity featured in that article, I knew that the mindset in place was as stagnated as the stalled development of the downtown area that has a choke hold on the shop owners and future development.
If Pendleton-area residents want to prosper, we have to embrace all cultures, whether they wear cowboy hats or fedoras. And we have to give folks a chance.
Black and Hispanic women were just as much a part of rodeo, even if all they did was cook the spicy food of the West that kept all the men and women in their saddles. But I find that hard to believe.
So next time we go out on the town and pass each other on a downtown street corner, let's remember that differences in cultures and the embrace of diversity are what make Americans so special.
And that woman of every culture stood together to smooth the wrinkles of struggle. And at Round-Up or any other time of year we treat visitors and residents with mutual respect, whether young or old, hip hop or country.
Lamar Howard Jeffries
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