Those familiar with Happy Canyon’s annual gaming tables know that you can’t bet with real money — you have to buy Happy Canyon Bucks to fund your fun. During World War I these souvenirs of the annual Pendleton Round-Up after-rodeo festivities became common in care packages from home for the soldiers stationed in Europe. And a group of Pendleton locals were able to use their hometown funny money to finance a night on the town when their coffers ran otherwise dry.
A group of Pendleton’s finest formed Troop D, cowboys recruited to the war effort after the United States joined World War I. Several hundred locals were sent a few Happy Canyon Bucks, along with other Round-Up memorabilia, and the fake money soon became a high-value exchange item that was often was used in the place of cash in craps games. The French were familiar enough with American money that Happy Canyon Bucks couldn’t usually be passed off as real money. But in Germany, a group of soldiers was able to finagle a night on the town using only the souvenirs in their wallets.
John Kelley and a group of friends were part of the occupation forces stationed on the Rhine River in Germany, an out-of-the-way posting, and were seldom able to score real money. During a liberty outing in the winter of 1918 the group traveled by train to a small village where there were no American troops stationed, and were pleased to find a group of attractive young German ladies at the station.
The Americans soon exhausted all the cash they had buying drinks for the ladies, and were scrambling to find more money to continue their outing. Kelley happened upon a few of the 10 Buck Happy Canyon bills in his pockets and, nonchalantly, passed them along to the proprietor of the establishment. The Germans were surprised to see the Americans spending so freely and gladly took the Bucks as payment, not realizing the soldiers weren’t using real money.
Kelley and his crew declared that, even on the Rhine, the Bucks lived up to their slogan: “Good for nothing but fun.”