Pendleton Round-Up

by Eline Lybarger, Staff Writer

September 13-16

It is time to make reservations for the Pendleton Round-Up.

In my past work with Oregon’s Hearing Conservation Program, we were lucky enough to work in Pendleton the week before the Round-Up. Of course, we stayed for the rodeo.

Fortunately, we had an “in” for housing then as it can be very, very difficult to find unless you book early. For us, though, our friend Burl Grilley, a speech therapist in the local schools, had a big old five-bedroom house where she generously offered us a place to stay. (Usually only two or three of us.) She was quite the lady. From an old Pendleton family, widowed, children grown, she loved what she did, and she always supported the Round-Up. In the morning she was up before anyone else, making a buffet breakfast that was ready when we were. She often left early to rehearse for Happy Canyon, a performance unique to the Round-Up. Both the roles and costumes had been passed down for 50 years. Each participant wears the remains of an original costume under the current version. The performance story is the history of Pendleton, beginning with a live deer trotting across the stage. There are also Pony Express riders on real horses, a full-sized stagecoach with horses and the final scene is an old saloon. Then the back of the stage-saloon opens, and the audience can walk across the stage into a dance hall, bar, and gambling area, where everyone is in Western costumes.

The events are scheduled throughout the day. With your entry fee you can also go to the Letter Buck Bar under the grandstand. It exists only during Round-Up and is a wild, strange place. It’s dark with no windows and hot, despite fans trying to circulate air and expel heat. The fragrance is definitely sweat, beer, and cowboy. There are no tables, and the place can be so crowded that you couldn’t fall over if you tried. There are waitresses, but the only way to get a drink is to fight your way to the bar and not leave until you get served.

One day of riding and roping was my personal limit. For the rest of my time, I would go exploring. Downtown there was Hamley & Co., an authentic Western store with alligator-skin cowboy boots, saddles, pearl-button shirts, cowboy hats with silver bands, and so much more. It has been there since 1905. Other Western stores are Tecovas Handmade Boots, Cabender’s Western Wear and Staplemans Custom Cowboy and Cowgirl Boots and Shoes. Around the corner is Good’s Candies. At the time, it was the only candy store with a particularly irresistible peanut brittle. Today there are different candy stores to choose from. Another unique food store is the Hill Meat Co. They make all kinds of bacon and sausages, including one sausage with seasonal, wild mushrooms. Just out of town is the Pendleton Woolen Mills, open since 1863. Inside there are floor-to-ceiling bolts of the most beautiful wool fabric, blankets, sweaters, and a few ready-made items. Today they have expanded their merchandise, while maintaining the quality that made them famous.

The Indian Village is another popular place to visit. It is set up like a traditional Indian campsite, with teepees, costumes, and dancing. You may also be able to purchase some hand-made items.

There are all kinds of restaurants; however, if you eat after 4 p.m., you will stand in line—but that, too, is fun. After dinner, if you didn’t spend the evening at Happy Canyon, there was live music at the Elks. Not being an Elk didn’t keep us out. We simply went to the doorman and said, “I’m with Burl.” Even if she wasn’t there, we got in.

Today, evening activities have been expanded. There are concessions, music, places to sit and watch the world go by. A pleasant place to spend some time in the evening.

When we visited, Sunday night was crash night: it was time to pack up our rodeo clothes. Monday we would check out with the local Health Department and drive back to Portland.

Get your tickets now! For those of you interested in going to this year’s fabulous festivities, tickets can be obtained here:

But whatever you do, don’t forget to arrange for housing! Otherwise, you might find yourself sleeping with the livestock.