Morrow County Chronicles
September 1982 Vol I
Morrow County Historical Society
EARLY DAY RODEO
Some of the people who took part in the early day rodeos were Jack Ayers, Billy Straight, Eddie Sheridan. They were the ones who promoted them, I think. They had them down in Woodward’s barnyard where Lena used to be. They rode broncs and used their own saddles. They took up a collection here, and Ad Moore sawed the two by sixes. I don’t know who furnished the timber. They built three corrals, one large one and two small ones up where Hughes’s grain elevator is now. Then the rodeos, I guess, kind of petered out here and they had them in Heppner, far as I can remember.
The first ones were at the stockyards. There were no corrals or fences. They brought the horses down and turned them loose. No eight second rides those days. As long as they bucked, you rode! When they quit bucking, they shot the gun and picked them up. After the bronc riding, in late afternoon or evening, they would have races right on Main Street (Heppner). They called them match races. I suppose somebody was betting on each horse. I believe the street was just dirt.
Next, they started the rodeo where the grounds are now. I don’t think they had any barns then. Probably some lean-tos until the late 1920’s. It was very primitive with maybe a fence. After the CCC was in there and left, they turned some of those buildings into barns. The first saddles they used for bronc riding were their own. The first broncs were saddled “in the arena” as best they could. Sometimes flat on the ground with the feet tied. The rider got into the saddle and the horse was let up. The first saddles were their own. In the 1930’s sometime, the Heppner Rodeo Association had saddles made by Gene Noble. They were Association saddles, as known now. The first two the Association had made, I remember.
Herb French rode one that summer and I rode the other one to limber them up for the rodeo that fall. If somebody had a bad horse, they’d bring him in and pay someone $5 or $10 or whatever to ride him.
Then Heppner went to purchasing their own horses. They had quite a number at one time. Johnny Kenny would keep them in the spring and summer and work them. They’d bring them in for the 4th of July rodeo at Ukiah, then again in the fall for the Heppner rodeo, and then they’d take them to Pendleton for the Roundup. Heppner at one time had some pretty good horses. I remember a black horse, and one they brought out of the John Day country they called, “Colored Boy.” The people sat on the hillside to watch.
The Indians used to come over and ride and rope. They brought race horses from the reservation.
At first they just had bronc riding. Then they had steer roping, and then calf roping. Eventually, after they got these Texas Longhorn steers, they went to bulldogging.
From the time the rodeo was moved out to where it is now, up until the last of the 1930’s, Len Gilliam was the secretary and treasurer. McNamer was the president of the rodeo for several years. There’s something I’ll never forget about McNamer. If the cowboy came to town and didn’t have any money to get to the next rodeo, he would give him money.
Recorded by Jerry Brosnan
Submitted by Inez Erwin
(submitted for Morrow Co. US Gen Web by Berniece Thornton)
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