On the Trail
When I think of Pendleton, Oregon, the image that comes to my mind is the Pendleton Woolen Mills, a place that is difficult to bypass when in the area. On a recent trip to Oregon I drove through Pendleton twice without one detour to the Pendleton factory, which no doubt helped my pocketbook, if not my spirit.
There are many other attractions in Pendleton, however, including their underground tour where you walk through basalt tunnels and learn about the Chinese population that once lived here and why the town was known as the entertainment capital of Eastern Oregon, with 18 bordellos and 32 bars. At the nearby Tamastslikt Cultural Institute the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes give visitors a unique perspective on the history and vision of their homelands.
For the past nine decades one of the greatest reasons to visit Pendleton is the annual Pendleton Round-up.
The 98th annual Pendleton Round-Up includes parades, concerts, Native American dancing, PBR bull-riding competition, barbecues, dances, gambling, and other events and runs from Sept. 6 to Sept. 13.
“How many times have we heard people say, ‘I’ve always wanted to go to the Pendleton Round-Up,'” asks Butch Thurman, President of the Round-Up Board of Directors. “Now’s the time to grab your boots and hat ” and life by the horns ” and come on over and earn your bragging rights.”
Cheyenne Frontier Days, California Rodeo Salinas, the Calgary Stampede and Pendleton Round-Up are considered the preeminent outdoor rodeos in North America. The Round-Up offers a true Western experience as some of the top-named, gutsiest cowboys and cowgirls ” and livestock ” compete in its historic stadium. The Round-Up grounds feature a dirt racetrack surrounding a green grass oval (the Round-Up is the only U.S. rodeo on grass), traditional wooden gates, and a long score for its timed events.
The Round-Up is one of the most challenging rodeos in the country, as timed event cowboys run downhill onto grass to catch their animals, and cowgirl barrel racers run one of the longest patterns across the grass and turn on the dirt track.
The rodeo offers a great time for everyone: In addition to competing for a share of more than $400,000 in prize money, the winning cowboys and cowgirls receive a handmade trophy saddle, a Pendleton Woolen Mills blanket and jacket, trophy buckle, and many other prizes. It’s a fun family atmosphere, and for adults there’s the Mardi Gras spirit of the “Let ‘er Buck Room.”
But the Round-up is about more than just cowboys and cowgirls. Since 1916 the Happy Canyon Night Show has thrilled audiences and become the world’s most unique Indian pageant. Every year over 500 volunteers come together to portray the culture and traditions of local tribes, the coming of Lewis and Clark and the Oregon Trail pioneers, concluding with the fast action of a frontier town.
Round-Up visitors can also experience Native American culture at the nearby encampment where arts and crafts are sold along the Umatilla River levy as well as fry bread and huckleberry jelly. Native American pageantry is featured daily as part of the rodeo.
Pendleton Whisky is served in the world famous Let ‘er Buck Room. It may be bright sunlight outside, but the Let ‘er Buck Room under the grandstand is dark and always packed with people.
When founders held the first Round-up in 1910 the event coincided with the end of the farm harvest so farmers and ranchers could participate in the events. The cadre of volunteers who make the Round-up happen each year is strong and loyal, with some of them working on events for more than 50 years. They are all gearing up for the centennial of the Round-up in just two years.
This year’s events begin with Joe Nichols and Jason Michael Carroll in concert on Saturday, Sept. 6, at 7 p.m. The US Bank/Pendleton Pro Bull Riding Classic runs Monday and Tuesday night, September 8 and 9, starting at 8 p.m. Concert tickets go on sale July 17. To purchase tickets for these events or the Round-up itself call the
Round-Up at 1-800-45-RODEO (1-800-457-6336) or through Ticketmaster.
While in town for the Round-up take the time to visit the newly revitalized Hamley & Co., which has been making custom saddles and fine leather goods, since 1883 and which has a new outdoor store, restaurant and coffee shop. Several years ago I had an opportunity to tour the Hamley store (before the renovations and new ownership) with my good friend Ben Kern who used to work as a pickup man for the Round-up. We were given the grand behind-the-scenes tour.