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California Rodeo Salinas and Pendleton Round-Up Celebrate their 100th Anniversaries
by Jolee Lautaret
7/12/10

The 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.

The Beginning
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 decades.

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 rodeo.

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 each year.

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.

Turning Professional
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 the circuit.

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 the experience.

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 Brittany Pozzi.

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.

2010 Event
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.




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