The rodeo opened with royalty at a dead gallop. Four Pendleton Round-Up princesses and a queen tore around a grass arena that draws tens of thousands to Eastern Oregon every year.
The announcer’s voice boomed through the stands: “Welcome to the Pendleton Round-Up!”
Then he revved up the crowd with a longstanding motto: “Let ‘er buck, boys! Let ‘er buck!”
The call was met with a chorus of shouts. Bareback bronc riding was the first of many events to draw about 700 competitors across four days of showmanship and competition for about $500,000 in prize money.
More than 1,000 volunteers pitch in to run the rodeo with a small staff. It’s a real family effort, said Randy Thomas. He serves on the Round-Up’s board of directors, and said he hasn’t missed a Round-Up since 1960.
“I grew up in Portland and I came here on purpose, because I really loved the rodeo and I loved the lifestyle here,” said Thomas.
That was 40 years ago. Now, Portlanders often ask him a quintessential, urbanite-to-ruralite question: ‘What do you guys even do here?’
“And it’s just generally the wrong question,” Thomas laughed. “The question in Pendleton is: ‘Who are you going to be with?’ It’s never about what you’re going to do if you’re with the people you love, and you’re with family.”
This week, the families of Pendleton swell, and there’s no shortage of things to do together.
“More people come in my family for round-up, than they do for Christmas,” said Charla Simons. The 20-year-old grew up in Pendleton, and is a Round-Up princess this year.
The crowds in town for Round-Up events have peaked at 50,000 people in years past, tripling the population of Pendleton. Downtown streets are closed to cars to make room for vendors, live music, and a horse parade.
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