A rowdy group of Pendleton people was out in force in August 1924 when Hoot Gibson, star of Universal Pictures and the first all-around champion of the 1912 Pendleton Round-Up, arrived with a crew from the California studio to shoot the outdoor scenes for two movies. One, “The Ridin’ Kid from Powder River,” was staged on Emigrant Hill near Meacham, in the Blue Mountains east of Pendleton. The second movie, “Let ’er Buck,” would use the 15th annual Round-Up as its backdrop.
Accompanying Gibson were the movie’s director, Edward Sedgwick, female lead Marion Nixon, and Josie Sedgwick, who had the “sympathetic lead” role. The company also included Tommy Grimes, who won the steer roping contest in the 1923 Round-Up; Tommy Sutton, winner of the 1923 Northwest bucking contest; and many other notable cowboys and cowgirls. Pendleton locals Herbert Thompson and Mrs. James Sturgis also were chosen by Sedgwick to play small parts in “Ridin’ Kid.” Round-Up president Henry Collins and James Sturgis earned bit parts in “Let ’er Buck,” and many of the scenes for the second film were shot not only at the Round-Up Grounds but in Pendleton’s streets, with locals as extras.
Action scenes for “Let’er Buck” were shot during the rodeo’s daily performances, but the film crew had to follow strict rules. Nothing is allowed to interfere or slow up the competition during Round-Up competition. Nothing but the actual competitions are allowed in the arena, which is kept clear of everything but the competitors. Gibson and his company, in order to film the action of his story, had to take the action of the Round-Up as it really happened, with no specially arranged stunts. Where the story called for footage of Hoot or any of his company in the Round-Up events, they had to participate as actual competitors, and his cameramen had to take the results as they actually happened. But the “gang” was eminently qualified, as all were past rodeo champions.
As an added bonus for the troupe, Josie Sedgwick was chosen to serve as queen of the Round-Up during the 1924 celebration. Edward Sedgwick was made an honorary “Pendletonian” during the crew’s time in the Round-Up City. And Gibson was presented with Mrs. Wiggs, a bucking horse that tossed him in 1913, who was retired after 12 years as part of the Round-Up’s famous bucking string.
In 1912, Gibson drifted into Pendleton with not much more than the clothes on his back, and walked away with the rodeo’s highest honor. When he returned in 1924, he gave back something to the town that helped him get his start, spending a reported $80,000 in cash during the movie shoot. “Pendleton treated me right when I was flat,” said Gibson. “It never forgets the cowboys that helped put the Round-Up over when it was young, and I just wanted to show that the boys never forget Pendleton either.”