64th annual Horse Heaven Roundup ready to kick off

August 20, 2013 

World champions Ty Murray, Trevor Brazile, Dan Mortensen, Joe Beaver and Tuf Cooper have graced the Horse Heaven Round-Up over the years. Not to mention world class bulls Dogface, Rapid Fire and Yellow Jacket, and three-time Horse of the Year Spring Fling.

But what about the years before the bright lights and high-tech protective gear hit the rodeo arena?

Sit back, kick your boots off and let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

The Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo is turning 65 this year, and the rodeo is a year behind at 64, getting started in 1949.

But rodeos in Kennewick started long before there was a county fair.

The early rodeos were held near Kennewick High School, and a few made their way across town to Hofmeister’s Field — near to where the Columbia Center Mall now stands.

“We used to have a rodeo when I was a little boy down at the high school,” said Dave Garrett of Kennewick. “Then came the War (World War II) and the boys were gone and the rodeo stopped.”

Though the rodeo joined the fair in 1949, it was run separately from the fair for many years.

The Benton Franklin Mounted Sheriff's Posse ran the rodeo, and unlike the fair, charged admission — $2 to $4 depending on where you wanted to sit — which didn’t make some patrons happy.

“We had guys climbing the fences,” said Garrett, who at 83, is the oldest member of the Posse. “One year, a 7-month pregnant woman climbed the fence and landed in a heap on the other side. We told her if she wanted in that bad, she should have asked.”

In 1949, most of the rodeo competitors were local, coming from the Tri-Cities, as well as Pendleton, Walla Walla and Omak. Any man who wanted to pony up $20 to ride or $25 to rope, could join the action.

After the first day of action, one Posse member was quoted as saying, “The bucking will be better tomorrow as the horses found that the ground was soft and wouldn’t hurt their feet.”

And the bulls, who appeared docile in their pens, took on a whole new attitude when they came out of the chutes.

“The kindness certainly has curdled in ‘em by the time they get into the rodeo arena,” another Posse member said.

In 1951, the rodeo action was held under the lights for the first time. Benton Public Utility District employees volunteered their time to hook up the lights.

In April 1968, the covered bleachers at the rodeo arena burned. Later that year, the Posse made plans to build a $150,000 grandstand "that wouldn't burn."

A new covered grandstands, featuring 1,300 seats, were in place in 1969.

The rodeo portion of the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo owes a debt of gratitude to the Posse, which ran the rodeo and maintained the grounds until the early 1970s, and to this day, provides perimeter security — among other duties — at the fair.

The Posse is a volunteer organization that has been serving the community since 1948.

Tonight, the rodeo begins its 64th run.

The Horse Heaven Round-Up is the newest member of the Big 4 Rodeos, which also includes the Walla Walla Frontier Days, the Lewiston Roundup and the Pendleton Round-Up.

The Big 4 Rodeos Association, which has been going strong since 1953, lost the Ellensburg Rodeo after 2011 and added the HHRU last year.

Thursday will be Tough Enough to Wear Pink night, and Saturday is Patriot Night and fans are asked to wear red, white and blue.

And for those wondering, there will be plenty of world champions competing over the four-day rodeo, including Brazile, 36, a 17-time world champion between, all-around, tie-down, team roping and steer roping, and Cooper, 23, a two-time champion in the tie-down roping.

Brazile ($159,313) and Cooper ($105,834), who are brother-in-laws, are ranked first and second in the PRCA all-round standings.

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