PENDLETON -- A hundred years ago, who could imagine a sleepy little town like Pendleton would organize a rodeo that would one day become one of the world's most popular cowboy events?
It was 1910 when pioneer Roy Raley thought Pendleton should have its own rodeo. And he was bound and determined it would not be an ordinary Wild West show.
And it never has been.
Famous and not-so-famous cowboys pile into Pendleton each year to compete in the world-class rodeo, which has earned the reputation as a place "where the chutes are made of wood and the men are made of iron."
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The Round-Up, which kicks off Sept. 15, continues to draws huge crowds, some of the most famous names on the rodeo circuit and a bevy of celebrity rodeo fans.
There are perhaps more tall tales about the Round-Up than there are tumbleweeds blowing across Eastern Oregon on a fall day. Some are true and others a bit embellished, but all are entertaining.
All the famous cowboys of yesteryear, including Buffalo Bill, Yakima Canutt, Jackson Sundown, George Fletcher and Lee Caldwell rode the Pendleton Round-Up.
And though you won't see any women bronc or bull riders at Pendleton anymore, there were plenty in the old days.
There was Kitty Canutt, the wife of bronc rider Yakima, who some say was even tougher on horseback than her old man.
But it was Bonnie McCarroll who was perhaps the most colorful bronc rider of her day. Her reign came to a tragic end in 1929 when she was knocked unconscious when her bronc took a spill and her foot got caught in the stirrups that were tied under the horse's belly.
The horse jumped up and continued bucking, slamming Carroll's unconscious body repeatedly to the ground. She died 11 days later, and the rodeo board never allowed women to compete in those two events again.
More recent famous rodeo cowboys familiar to the Pendleton crowd are Larry Mahan, who made history back in the 1960s when he won five titles at the Round-Up.
And then there's country music icon Reba McEntire's father Clark, who surprised rodeo fans at the 1947 event by winning the top prize in steer roping and the all-around categories. That was long before Reba even was a twinkle in her daddy's eye.
Reba sang at the Round-Up's Happy Canyon nightly show in 1985 before going on to international music fame. She and her family still attend the rodeo most years, said Carl Culham, the publicity director for the rodeo board.
From the beginning, the Round-Up also presented the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Cayuse Indian tribes the opportunity to do what their ancient cultures had always done.
"Indians saw the Pendleton Round-Up as a time to gather with family and friends they hadn't seen for many years," said Cedric Wildbill, a member of the tribal council.
The Nez Perce, Yakama, Warm Springs and Colvilles joined the Round-Up festivities a year later, which was the first time all the Confederated tribes were allowed to congregate together because the government was fearful the tribes would band together to start a war, Wildbill said.
"This was the time frame when Indians were being forced to assimilate by becoming farmers (and) Christians, and Indian children were going to school," Wildbill said. "The Round-Up kind of went against what the government was trying to do, which was turn the Indians into farmers, (but) the Round-Up always allowed the Indians to be who they were."
To honor the 100-year milestone, Pendleton went the distance to ensure this centennial year will be a memorable rip-snortin' Let 'er Buck event.
That includes an $8.6 million upgrade to the rodeo grounds, with a covered west end grandstand, state-of-the-art livestock pens and a digitally enhanced scoreboard.
"With all we've done, this year's Round-Up will definitely be a better experience for spectators, contestants and the livestock," Culham said.
Pendleton, a town of about 17,000, is expected to be mob-bed by more than 70,000 visitors during the four-day rodeo.
What's kept the Pendleton Round-Up so successful is the town's devotion to staying true to its beginnings, Culham said.
"Tradition is very important to the people of Pendleton," he said. "And we plan to keep it that way."
Some of those traditions include a ban on advertising banners in the arena, keeping the bucking chutes made of wood, retaining the grassy area in the arena's middle and having the entire event still man-ned by an army of volunteers.
During the Wild West days, rodeos were about the only entertainment other than the local barn dance in small towns.
It's really how the whole rodeo thing started, and it's how the town wants to keep it, although advertising banners would bring in substantial cash, Culham added.
Talk to almost anyone in town, and they'll tell you the same thing.
"You better believe the reason this Round-Up stays alive is because of the volunteerism," said Tim Hawkins, another rodeo board member. "We pride ourselves with keeping this a traditional event."
The town has spent the past three years preparing for the expected record crowds for its 100th rodeo. Hotel rooms have been sold out for a year, commemorative artwork has been completed, businesses are sprucing up their storefronts and renowned saddle maker Randy Severe is putting the finishing touches on the trophy saddles for the winning cowboys.
Severe is from the famous Severe Brothers Saddlery family, which was started by his father and uncle in the early part of the last century.
A gracious and soft-spoken man, Severe said he never gets tired of the rodeo.
"This rodeo always brings me a deep swell of pride that rises all the way up here," Severe said pointing to his throat. "It's a time of year when company comes and I can take my grandchildren to the same rodeo I went to as a kid."
There were good years and bad years for the rodeo, but the only thing that ever postponed the event was in 1942 and 1943, when most of the cowboys went off to fight in World War II.
"We've survived a lot of tough times," Culham said. "It's what we've always done and will continue to do. I just wish I could be around when this rodeo celebrates its bicentennial, which I know it will."