Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Main Street Cowboys exemplify Round-Up spirit

“Pendleton has lost its Round-Up spirit,” Mayor-elect Morris Temple told the Junior Chamber of Commerce June 14, 1950, in a plea to return to the spirited community celebrations of the old days and away from just a commercial show. He asked the Jaycees and the senior Chamber of Commerce for their opinions and support on bringing a community show to downtown Pendleton during the Round-Up.

Temple felt that the Round-Up had become too commercialized, and that community support was lacking. Happy Canyon had changed from its Wild West show beginnings to the current pageant, and moved away from Main Street (to property now housing Western Auto and Baxter Auto Parts at Southwest Fourth and Emigrant), so out-of-town visitors had fewer reasons to visit downtown merchants after the rodeo (except to patronize local bars). He proposed bringing back the original idea of Happy Canyon: a place where visitors could go after the rodeo to get a taste of the Old West town that Pendleton used to be and kick up their heels a little with free, family-friendly entertainment.

The original idea, according to current Main Street Cowboys president Don Harsch, probably started in 1949 with conversations between Temple, Monk Carden, Dan Bell and Ray Gilham. In 1950, a group of Pendleton businessmen headed by Temple and including Gilham, Jack Fuquay, Willard Ormsby, C.W. (Swede) Fox, Dr. R.L. Whitford, Tex Bolton, Willard Crawford, William E. Hanzen, Bud Kalley, Del Brown and Lloyd Crawford made a plan to close down Main Street between the Bowman Hotel and the Pendleton Hotel to automobiles from the end of the Westward Ho! parade on Friday, Aug. 24 through Sunday, Aug. 26, allowing only horses or horse-drawn vehicles to operate. Burros, oxen, pack strings and other early transportation exhibits were to be on display, blacksmithing and other early settler skills would be demonstrated, and a German band would entertain the crowd both before the Westward Ho! parade and on Saturday morning. Stores decorated with slab-wood false fronts and staffed with store owners dressed in western garb from the early 1900s would display merchandise from the era. On Friday and Saturday nights a block-long square dance was planned in the 300 block of Main Street, an old-fashioned medicine show would set up in the 200 block with a barker, spieler, magician, western music and dancing girls, and a wide variety of musical entertainment with everything from a barbershop quartet to country crooners and accordion squeezers would serenade onlookers. The Main Street show would close by 10:30 p.m. to accommodate those who wanted to attend the Happy Canyon pageant.

Harsch provided copies of notes from the first year’s show, including a list of performers, a proposed uniform for the Main Streeters (western pants, a straw or cowboy hat and a “loud shirt”), a detailed accounting of the hours worked to set up and tear down the show (65.5 hours for the three-day show, plus two days of clean-up, paid at $1.75 per hour), and a balance sheet that shows the group actually came out ahead the first year, with a profit of $226.54. The show was a rousing success, and the Main Street Cowboys were off and running. They filed their incorporation papers with the state of Oregon and set about creating “The Greatest Free Show in the West.”

In the beginning, the Main Street show was held on Friday and Saturday only, but gradually the time frame was expanded along with the offerings. For many years a mock shootout was staged downtown, complete with outlaws, fast-draw artists and “victims” falling out of windows, but this was eventually phased out. Commercial vendors have since ousted the pioneer displays, but the musical entertainment continues with stages on every block and music for every taste. And the group’s eye-catching chartreuse-and-purple shirts mean friendly assistance and a welcoming smile are a cinch to find, even in Round-Up crowds.

The group also provides decorations for the downtown area, including flags, signs and banners, and they sponsor the annual Dress-Up Parade that kicks off Round-Up week each year. And the signature benches painted in Main Streeter colors grace many a community event.

The Main Streeters for many years also served as a welcoming committee for Pendleton. Celebrities, politicians and other dignitaries stepping off a plane at the Pendleton airport could be suddenly surrounded by a group of whooping cowboys on horseback, guns blazing (with blanks), to be “arrested” for various infractions and hauled away to whatever official business they were about. While this function now rests with city government and the Chamber of Commerce ambassadors (sans gunfire), Main Streeters and their female counterparts, the Side Saddlers, continue to serve as ambassadors for the Round-Up City, taking their signature calliope to parades and events across the Northwest to promote Pendleton and its iconic rodeo.

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