The first Pendleton Round-Up was to be “a frontier exhibition of picturesque pastimes, Indian and military spectacles, cowboy racing and bronco busting for the championship of the Northwest.” It turned out to be that and more.
Following a July 4th celebration in 1909 consisting of bronc riding, horse races by Indians and Non-Indians, Indian feasts and war dances, greased pig contests, sack races, foot races and fireworks, some community and area leaders conceived the idea of an annual event to be known as the Pendleton Round-Up. Also, at that time, the Let'er Buck slogan, which is symbolic of the Round-Up, was inspired.
It was decided to stage the Round-Up some time around the middle of September to allow the grain farmers time to complete their harvest, and the livestock people an opportunity to make a late summer check-up.
The Round-Up was incorporated as a non-profit organization with papers signed July 29, 1910. The corporation's original legal title was "Northwestern Frontier Exhibition Association." Roy Raley was elected as the first Round-Up president.
For the initial show, all stores closed. “The largest crowd in Pendleton’s history,” 7,000 strong, showed up for the first show on September 29, 1910, a newspaper writer reported. “The words ‘Pendleton’ and Round-Up’ are on the lips of thousands and will continue to be for months and years to come… The Round-Up is a whirlwind success.” Souvenir program from The 1913 Round-Up. Grow it did.
Til Taylor replaced Roy Raley as president after the 1911 show.
Early growth and acceptance of the Round-Up was beyond all expectations.
The old wooden grandstand and bleachers were completed in a few short years and were capable of seating over 20,000 spectators.
Two decades later, patrons showed up from 36 states and eight foreign countries. Following two years in which the Round-Up was not held, because of World War II, attendance climbed again, eventually reaching 50,000 or more for the four-day show. “Success bred success and Round-Up stayed in high gear,” as stated in the book “Let ‘er Buck! A history of Pendleton Round-Up.”
The key to the success of the rodeo and its many attendant activities is community participation through the efforts of its many volunteers. Indian participation has also been a strong attraction, whether in the Round-Up arena, at Happy Canyon, in the Indian Village or the Westward Ho! Parade. Long before women’s lib, the fairer sex got into the act at the Round-Up. Cowgirls in the early days of the Round-Up could be as tough as men. In 1914 Bertha Blanchett, wife of cowboy Del Blanchett, came within 12 points of winning the all-around title.
Through an agreement with the school district,
the infield of the stadium was turfed in 1951 for use during football
games. Also, in 1951, a new set of
by-laws was passed, limiting a director's service to two four-year terms. The president's term was limited to four
A new North grandstand and bucking chutes were built in 1957 following the election of Jack Stangier as president. This was also the first year the Round-Up was televised.
Midway through the Round-Up’s colorful history, a Eugene newspaper summed it up with a characterization that remains applicable today: “In good times and bad, Pendleton has gone on with the Round-Up."
"People over on the Umatilla have always been willing to take a chance. Maybe that’s the real cowboy spirit. Maybe it’s a little bit tougher brand of civic spirit. Anyhow, in Pendleton, the show goes on.”