world looks a lot different than it did 100 years ago.
Back in 1910, only the richest people had cars and airplanes
were still a new invention. Rodeo was a relatively unorganized
exhibition of cowboys trying to outdo one another.
The world has changed dramatically
and the sport of professional rodeo right along with
it. Today, two major professional organizations, the
Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and the
Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA), govern
the nation-wide sport. Cowboys and cowgirls drive their
own trucks and trailers, or jump on a vast array of
commercial airlines to get from one rodeo to the next.
They enter rodeos on their cell phones and get information
on rodeos and standings via the World Wide Web.
However, in two arenas in the West,
time has somewhat stood still since 1910. The California
Rodeo Salinas and the Pendleton Round-Up were each "born"
in 1910 and are still a favorite stop of rodeo athletes
looking for big paydays.
One hundred years is a long time to put on any event,
particularly one run almost entirely by volunteers.
That is exactly what the California Rodeo Salinas and
Pendleton Round Up have done since the beginning.
The California Rodeo estimates that
it takes 1,200 volunteers, serving on 500 separate committees
to produce "Big Week" each July. At Pendleton,
the planning and execution of four days of Round-Up
in September takes over 20,000 volunteer hours. Both
committees boast of volunteers who stay on board for
Two of rodeo's best and biggest
events have a lot in common besides their birthdates.
Both rodeos began as exhibitions or Wild West shows.
Pendleton's first rodeo was billed
as "a frontier exhibition of picturesque past times,
Indian and military spectacles, cowboy racing and bronco
busting for the championship of the Northwest."
In Salinas, locals began their Wild West show to boost
the local economy, filling bucking events in between
races at the Sherwood trotting track.
Although both rodeos are celebrating
their 100th Anniversaries in 2010, neither is actually
producing its 100th rodeo. In Salinas, the Rodeo and
Big Week Celebration was not held in 1915, due to the
Pan Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, nor in 1924
due to the outbreak of hoof and mouth disease.
Both rodeos went dark during World
War II. In fact, the War nearly claimed the California
Rodeo as one of its casualties. Only the efforts of
local businessmen, who raised $7,000 to bring the rodeo
back, kept it from becoming a piece of history.
More than Rodeo
The California Rodeo began as bucking events held in
between the Pacific Coast Trotting Horse Breeders' Association
races; however, the trotting association soon folded,
leaving the rodeo to fill the void in the community.
What was first billed as a Wild
West show soon became so much more. In 1911 a horse
parade was added to the events of Big Week. The parade
soon morphed into the El Comado del Rodeo, "the
Colmo," the only horse parade held at night west
of the Mississippi. In its heyday in the 1930's, over
1,000 horses took part in the parade. The Colmo was
a feature of Big Week until 1988 but will make an appearance
in 2010 for the celebration of the centennial. The tradition
of the Big Hat BBQ began after locals got together to
cook food for the out-of-towners who came to see the
Up north in Pendleton, the Round-Up
also grew beyond its Wild West show roots. The Westward
Ho! Parade marches through downtown every year. Native
Americans are integral to the Round-Up to this day with
the Happy Canyon night show, Indian relay races on the
track, and the Indian village which boast some 300 teepees
Facilities and Prestige
Part of the allure of the California Rodeo and the Pendleton
Round-Up is in their facilities. Both are used by the
local community throughout the year: the Salinas Sports
Complex hosts football and soccer, amongst other events,
while Round-Up arena doubles as a football stadium.
The California Rodeo started out
at Sherwood Park, the local trotting track. Over the
years, the leadership of the Rodeo has gained ownership
of Sherwood Park and adjoining land and made constant
improvements. The huge arena and track give Salinas
the opportunity to run events simultaneously throughout
their performances, adding to the Wild West atmosphere
that still prevails.
The Pendleton arena is famous on
its own. Truly the most unique in the sport, the center
of the arena is the football field with a surrounding
dirt track. However, unlike Salinas which removes the
grass each summer for the Rodeo, the Round-Up is carried
out on the grass. The conditions are unusual, and coupled
with the large numbers of committee and cowboys who
stay out on the grass while events are in progress,
creates a wild atmosphere all its own.
Few rodeos in the nation carry the
prestige that the California Rodeo and Pendleton Round-Up
do. Cowboys and cowgirls alike make it a professional
goal to come home with championships from these two
events. In Salinas, the winner walks away with one of
the most unique and coveted buckles in rodeo. Handcrafted
by master California silversmiths, the buckle is made
of sterling silver, 10 and 14 karat red, yellow, and
green gold, and sports white diamonds to boot. Championship
buckles from Salinas are copyrighted-they cannot be
copied or bought, only won.
Few experiences in a professional
rodeo athlete's life compare to a victory at Pendleton.
Along with a gorgeous buckle of their own, bearing the
Let 'Er Buck bucking horse and cowboy, and Severe Saddle,
made right in Pendleton, champions are required to take
a victory lap around the track. No ordinary pass, the
lap is a wild ride in front of thousands, with plenty
of obstacles in the way.
Both Salinas and Pendleton's rodeos outdate the sport's
professional associations. However, soon after its formation
in the 1930's, the Cowboy Turtles (later the PRCA) sought
and gained sanctioning with both. The Girls Rodeo Association
(later WPRA) was formed in 1948 but took a bit longer
to gain a footing into the most prestigious rodeos on
While cowgirls played a role at
the California Rodeo and Pendleton Round-Up from the
first year it was not until much later that they became
a WPRA sanctioned event. In the inaugural year at Salinas,
famed cowgirl Modoc Lil rode her bronc to a standstill
and also rode a bull. The early years featured Cowgirl
Bucking contests, Cowgirl Relay races, and the Cowgirls
¼ mile dash. Other women's events included a
potato race, where four women teams raced to spear potatoes
and place in a basket, all horseback. The winner pocketed
$15 each day.
Pendleton is even more prominent
in rodeo cowgirl history. While women and men competed
against one another for some years, the Round-Up held
one of the most important women's bronc riding events
of the era. Nearly every early twentieth century cowgirl
in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame rode in Pendleton. In 1914,
Bertha Blanchett came within 12 points of winning Pendleton's
All Around crown, competing against the men. In fact,
cowgirl competitor Mabel Strickland was the Pendleton
Hall of Fame's first female inductee in 1973.
Fans of cowgirl history may also
mark an incident that occurred at Pendleton as nearly
being the death of professional rodeo cowgirls. In 1929
Bonnie McCarrol, whose famous photo bucking off the
horse Silver in 1915 is a legend, was tossed from a
bronc and killed. The incident sparked a growing feeling
that cowgirls should not be competing in the arena and
was a major contributor to the forming of the GRA/WPRA
two decades later.
In the modern era, cowgirls in the
arena of professional rodeo are primarily barrel racers.
Barrel racing began at Salinas as a track event in the
early 1960's. Among the early champions were 1965 WPRA
World champ Sammy Thurman, who won her Salinas buckle
that same year.
Being held on the track to this
day has made the run at Salinas much different than
the regular rodeo. Cowgirls begin down the track, turning
the first barrel and making a very short distance to
barrel two, barely two strides of the horse. It challenges
the most seasoned of equine athletes to be ready that
quickly. A longer run to the third and a horse race,
literally, down the track to the finish line complete
Though the event was not held for
a few years in the early 1980's, it has been a major
stop on the way to championships for past Salinas champs
like Charmayne James, Sherry Cervi, Kappy Allen, and
At Pendleton, the history of barrel
racing is much shorter, due primarily to the grass arena.
Barrel racing was tried as an open exhibition in the
1960's without success. It was just too dangerous to
try to turn a barrel on the grass.
In 2000, however, the Round-Up wanted
to join pro rodeo's Wrangler ProTour but was required
to hold a WPRA-sanctioned barrel race to do so. With
mutual desire to find a solution, the Round-Up leadership
and the WPRA Board of Directors approved a plan to create
the biggest barrel racing pattern in the nation. Setting
the barrels on the dirt track and asking the horses
to run the straights across the grass infield resulted
in a pattern that was 288 feet between barrels.
With held breathe, the leaders on
both sides watched Cathy Staff of San Gregorio, Calif.,
make history as the first WPRA barrel racer to compete
at Pendleton. The race was hugely popular with the fans
and cowgirls have since lined up on the side of loving
it or hating it, but the race has gone on ever since.
In 10 years, just six ladies have been crowned champion,
including two who won in their rookie years (Gloria
Freeman, 2000, and Maegen Reichert, 2005), three Wrangler
NFR qualifiers (Kelli Currin, 2001, Charmayne James,
2002-03, and Jolee Lautaret, 2004) and one who has stood
above them all: Linzie Walker who has not been outrun
on the grass in four years, beginning in 2006.
The California Rodeo Salinas will celebrate 100 Years
of Tradition, July 15-18, 2010. Big Week will be bigger
than ever this year offering something for every member
of the family and a chance for the entire community
to participate in the California Rodeo.
The Rodeo itself is designed to
operate like a two-ring circuit with each rodeo performance
featuring events that occur in the arena and on the
track simultaneously. While the classic event of saddle
bronc riding bucks out in the arena, a horse race speeds
by on the track.
For more information on this one-of-a
kind event that annually boasts more than 50,000 spectators
over four days visit www.carodeo.com.
The Pendleton Round-Up Rodeo, which
annually has been held during the second full week of
September since 1910, will host its 100th Anniversary
weeklong event September 11-18. The rodeo brings roughly
50,000 people every year to the city of Pendleton and
they are expecting record breaking crowds this year
for the centennial event.
For more information on this year's
event visit www.pendletonroundup.com.
With the strength of the community
involvement, both rodeos are likely to enjoy another
100 years of success. Without doubt, as long as a rodeo
takes place at Pendleton and Salinas, cowboys and cowgirls
will be there as well.