Let’er Buck!

Bareback Air

“Let’er Buck!”

These two words can awake and excite a soul like no other.  My thought of what I wanted to be when I grew up is forever linked with these two words: a cowboy who would win the All-Around Championship at the Pendleton Round-Up

Realistically, there was a better shot of me becoming the President of the USA, as the road of a Round-Up champion takes a special & courageous soul to travel.

Big dreams at the Pendleton Round-Up, a big stage for any cowboy: if you win here, you have made it on the rodeo circuit.  The Pendleton Round-Up is one of the oldest and most respected rodeos in the world.

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Dreams of Larry Mahan, Lane Frost, Mike Currin, Mike Beers, Ty Murray and Bobby DelVecchio, great cowboys who have electrified the rodeo world with their art, still churn in my head.  Such dreams find the minds of many young rodeo fans in Eastern Oregon, all in anticipation of one day riding in the world-famous Pendleton Round-Up.

Yet, it is not just the big names that kids dream about…it is the ranchers and farmers of the area that make this show (and dream) so close.  Heroes, who one day are working the fields of their farms and ranches, and the next day are dedicating their time both as participants and key figures in making the Round-Up successful.

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Favorite events of steer wrestling, saddle-bronc and bareback to the riding of the Brahma bulls will see local and international cowboys show-off their skill.  While they often end up with just a mouthful of dirt and grass to show for their efforts, they’re always buoyed by the applause and support of the crowd.

In someway, all of us in the crowd are on the field sharing our dreams with cowboys as they ride.

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Of course, dreams of young men are never complete without visions of a goddess or two to steal away his time, and the Round-Up has more than its share of such beauties.  While every rodeo has numerous ‘buckle-bunnies’ it takes a special woman to make it to the Round-Up, especially the role of Round-Up Queen and her Court of Princesses.

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The Queen and Her Court can take me away from whatever I am doing, and along with everyone else watch them glide into the arena, flying in on their steeds with a grace that would make Pegasus jealous.  There have been royalty a plenty over the years: Jody Gugin, Ellen Kilkenny, Sara Mautz and my all-time favorite Mary-Lou O’Rourke (Lazinka) back in the 1960s.

Mary Lou’s husband (Bob O’Rourke) taught me the joys of fishing and the spirit of living in the area…while her brother Bob Lazinka had land on Butter Creek and in the mountains outside Ukiah, an ideal place to spend a lot of time elk, Chukar and pheasant hunting with my Dad (a past Round-Up Director as well…very proud).

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The call of “Let’er Buck!” still echoes in my head, no matter where I am.  These simple words create a wonderful sense of emotion for any Pendletonian, anywhere in the world and at anytime of the year.

These are the words of freedom, of hard work, of taking risks and knowing you have a whole community of people with love behind you.  It is at the heart of what made the West a great part of US history.  The stuff little kids dream about…even kids in their 40s.

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The Round-Up is a conglomerate of the spirit of the surrounding communities of Eastern Oregon (Heppner, Helix, Pilot Rock, Athena, Hermiston, Enterprise, Baker…to name just a few).  An event created over 100 years ago to celebrate the life of the West and to commemorate the harvest season and communal support for the farmers and ranchers.  And, of course, to put on a show…

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Many people have asked me how & why I speak so often of my family, and the answer is simple: because I come from Pendleton.  Knowing that after 25 years of being out of contact, I can show up at the doorstep of any friend in Pendleton, and we can pick-up our conversation as if it was yesterday as they warmly take me in.

The spirit of the West and the spirit of the people of Pendleton are the backbone of the Round-Up.

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While I love my adopted cities of Hong Kong and Seattle…the roots of Pendleton taught me the essentials of life.  The phrase ‘salt of the earth’ is often thrown around, but come to Pendleton and you will see and experience this quality first hand.

~ The Westward Ho Parade ~ Unique in that there are no motorized vehicles allowed

~ The Westward Ho Parade ~
Unique in that there are no motorized vehicles allowed

The Round-Up is an annual calling around world.  Friends from all across the globe will come to this small town in Eastern Oregon and join the ‘wild & free’ spirit that makes the rodeo what it is today.  While it is an event that brings together a rich history of the life of cowboys and the West, it also strongly wraps itself up in the history & culture of the Native Americans who have always been at one with the land.

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As mentioned in my earlier post of the beauty of nature: no one owns the water, the sky or fresh air, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are reconnecting modern society back to the roots of nature. Chinook salmon have returned to the Umatilla River through the relentless work of the Confederated Tribes working with farmers and irrigators.  Working with Mother Earth is a way of life in this region.

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The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation host an amazing tribal village, with over 300 teepees consisting of Indians from around the Northwest.  Here they share their cultures with all travelers, and during the week tribes from the Pacific Northwest gather in the village to visit with friends and relatives.  One of the most mesmerizing and refreshing sights you will see at the Pendleton Round-Up.

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The days of dreaming of becoming a cowboy maybe out of reach for me these days, but then again, as I strap on my chaps, put on my Stetson and an old belt buckle from riding days past…it is a dream I get to relive every September at the Pendleton Round-Up…the grandest of all rodeos.

Let’er Buck!

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60 Comments on “Let’er Buck!

  1. Ridiculously great post and photos. Growing up it was the “suicide race” at Omak Washington that captivated my imagination. I would picture wild horses ridden by skilled people of the land, racing across the dusty hills. My younger brother is one of the remarkable people you write about. Honesty beyond comprehension, ethics to match. He “witches” for water, his accuracy astounding, his compensation just as remarkable. He doesn’t have a set fee, instead he charges according to his needs and impressions. An uncanny judge of character he might simply ask for a seat at the dinner table or maybe the forgotten fence posts in a corner of a property.Arrogant or condescending people pay hard cash. Thank you for reminding me of a fading way of life.

    • What a great comment. The Omak suicide race is intense…have you ever seen the movie “The Man from Snowy River” they have a scene that shows a great horse & horseman that makes me think of that race. You sound like a great sister saying such kind things about your brother…and you are correct, men like him are too few. This way of life sure does seem to be fading away, but in small towns around the globe ~ I think it will aways remain strong.

  2. Amazing photography (of course)…..loved the behind the scene photo of the riders getting ready (belts not allowed?). You also have a way of drawing the reader into your story……..home and good friends can definitely be defined by that feeling of belonging despite how long you have been apart.

    • Thank you very much, places like the Round-Up have so much to see (and shoot) ~ makes it much easier.

  3. You make our Rodeos here in H-Town sound like kids play, at least from the perspective of a bench warmer 🙂
    Oh Randy these photographs are amazing!
    This is the sense of family on a different scale captured so beautifully, it goes to show deep down, we all have endearing qualities which connects us like it or not. A community comes instantly to live at the call of a passion shared by all.
    I like the weaving of your Pendleton ,even more the belles who command all attention that even Pegasus falls short before their grace.

    You have a way with words friend 🙂 the salt surely looses it’s savor when too much or too little, but here in your town, everything is seasoned to perfection. Men,women,animal and nature.
    My best photo here is number 18, she makes me proud! The richness of this country continues to mesmerize me,and the beauty not only lies in nature,but in ordinary things many seem to have forgotten. Things like small town spirits,family,youth and innocence and the glory of past heroes of many kinds. A forty something year old kids exuberance has painted a picture so wonderful, I’m reminded once more just how beautiful the human mind is.

    • Thanks Dotta, this reply is truly a piece of art…kind words and introspective thoughts about communities and how they are woven together. The people of Pendleton are truly ‘salt of the earth’ and as you said ~ just the right amount.

      Knew you would like photo #18… 🙂

      Writing this post was easy, as Round-Up is such a magical time…soon I will leave for Pendleton to join in the festivities and I feel closer to the city & event than ever before. It is good to be introspective at times, as it brings out dreams and things that are important in life. I’d love to give everyone in Pendleton a handshake and thanks for all they’ve done and all they continue to do.

  4. Mind-blowing photographs, Randall! They, together with, “Many people have asked me how & why I speak so often of my family, and the answer is simple: because I come from Pendleton” capture the essence of Pendleton, family, friendship and rodeo wonderfully! 🙂
    I can imagine everybody cheering together, all at once … great energy! … Great post! 😀

    • By the way, that panorama on wiki is so cool! And this has been active for 103 years?! Awesome!

      • That panorama shot really makes me feel proud of Pendleton… The family of farmers 100 years ago that started this rodeo are mostly still present (almost 5 generations removed), and I see land that is pretty much unchanged. The Westward Ho Parade is really incredible ~ all horses, oxen, Texas Longhorns pulling beautiful wagons and lumber as well as the many and men & women riding horseback…then the kids, the Native Americans and the music.

        A small town of Athena just outside of Pendleton originated with a large Scottish community, and keeping to their culture, their high school has an INCREDIBLE Scottish bag-pipe band that has always been the highlight of the parade for me ~ except of course for the rodeo queens & princesses that also ride in the parade 🙂

      • Mm… I can imagine what it must feel like; in true, beautiful colors. 🙂 Thank you.

  5. What an exciting day! How lucky to have been able to capture those amazing moments with your camera. I’ve never been to a rodeo, and had actually never thought about them, but your post has definitely made me want to put it into my “to do” list 🙂

    • My guess is you would enjoy yourself much more than you imagine…the people at rodeos are genuinely kind, the animals beautiful and of course the action can be breathtaking. I hope you make it to one in the future, and I hope it is the Pendleton Round-Up 🙂

    • Thanks Mark, really appreciate your comments. Filled up a few cards at the Round-Up, off to Pendleton again in a couple days (although this time as a spectator).

  6. One of my friends from high school has really gotten into rodeo in the past ten or so years. I guess he was always a bit of a cowboy, but now he does it for a living, and I’m always amazed by his photos! I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s competed in Pendleton, or if he hasn’t yet, does in the near future! Amazing photos, Randall, and it’s neat to see how near your hometown is to your heart. I grew up in a small town, too, where I still feel close to many of the people I grew up with even though I’ve been very far away for quite some time…. And I know I already said “amazing photos,” but that is not enough. I’m with Mark. Your work is stunning and each image has an incredible life and energy of its own. I love it!

  7. Thanks Jess for the kind words, very nice to hear. There is so much life within a rodeo, such a great experience. If your HS friend ever makes it up to Pendleton, you will need to come on up and check it out…it is a small town with a big heart, so no doubt you would love it!

  8. The article is so nice. By the way, I learned a little bit horse riding and was so scared on the horse at first. Even when a horse sometimes ran a little bit fast, My bum hurt. Haha. It was such fun though, and now I can manage a little bit. I miss it actually and want to learn it more in advanced course. How can the people manage to ride such wild horses? So incredible. 🙂 Your photos are outstanding. Thank you so much for sharing your talent with us. 🙂

    • Thanks Kyo, riding a horse is a great rush of freedom and also being one with such a beautiful animal. I too admire the cowboys & horsemen of the world who have such a great connections with these animals. I’m happy you liked the photos. Have a good evening & happy week!

  9. Awesome photos – we are off the rodeo circuit right (waiting for the mare to season) but seeing pictures of friends and fellow cowboys – thanks! Ya gotta bring ur camera to Crow Fair next year – give me a yell – I will be the guy chiropracting horses

    • Crow Fair next year…great idea ~ I would love to shoot this rodeo & travel to Montana again. I am usually back in the States in August too, and would be great to meet up with a horseman.

  10. Great Photos. It looks amazing for me. I have a complete different life. I want to see a real Rodeo. And i want to be a Cow_Girl too. 😉

    • Thank you, glad you enjoyed the photos. It is great that you too have the dreams of a cowgirl life… 🙂 There is something special about the life of ranchers/farmers and the rodeo is a great place to begin that dream & understanding. Cheers!

  11. Fantastic post and amazing photos. I am an HC Director and the social media person for Round-Up & Happy Canyon. Would it be okay if I post a link to this on our respective Facebook pages? Would it also be okay if we used some of your photos in our social media? We would leave your watermark on, of course. -Corey Neistadt

  12. This is beyond perfect! I love every shots in this post especially the last three series..! You’re amazing!

    • Very nice words, thanks Coco… The Round-Up is amazing. Wish you and your little one the best 🙂

  13. Hey Randy, Awesome tales and incredible pictures!!!! You are an extremely talented young man 🙂 I am an old Pendletonian at heart too, thanks for sharing this!!!! Kris Hudson lol!

    • Hey Kris, thank you very much, there is something about Pendleton that will stick with us forever. Enjoyed seeing the photos of your Dad during R-Up, and hope we can catch up again soon (I think the Rainbow was the last place!). Cheers.

      • Yes the Rainbow was the last place I saw you, probably 2008, 2009 or 2010? I have to say it was so much fun with Sandi, and Tami and all of us acting like teenagers again 🙂 Your photography is so “spot on” and moving, (if that’s even close to what I’m trying to convey here), but your writing makes the photographs even more compelling and makes them come to life (for me anyway) – who knew that Pendleton contained so much greatness!? Thanks Randy, and I look forward to more of your photos and blogs, and a beer someday! Until then – happy trails!

      • That was a great time, and we need a repeat performance, so look forward to the beer & whisky 🙂 Hopefully at the next great R-Up…

  14. Love your photos! Drama, beauty, it’s all there! But the last two photos weren’t taken in Pendleton. They isn’t any advertising in the Pendleton Round Up arena, one of the things that makes Pendleton so unique. Let ‘er Buck!

    • Hi Wendy, thank you, and you are correct that the last 3 photos were not at the R-Up grounds, but rather across the way at the Happy Canyon arena for the PBR…such an amazing setting. I do not think there is a better PBR venue in the world 🙂

  15. I guess I should have said not taken in the Pendleton Round Up arena, maybe PBR?

  16. A great photo essay, wonderfully captured. Here is life and energy, and interaction – and action. I love the almost illuminating colours. Simply beautiful.

    • Thanks Otto, one of those times where everything (photography & writing) comes together pretty effortlessly, with the incredible subject being the main reason.

  17. Love your photographs! There’s some really great action shots here! I’ve never been one for the rodeo scene but the Native American culture and costumes I’ve always found stunning!


    • Thanks Rakhi, if you enjoy Native American culture you would definitely love the Pendleton R-Up…so much to take in. Cheers, Randy

      • In the future I hope to be lucky enough to travel all 50 states of the U.S. and I’ll definitely have to look into the Pendleton R-Up when I stop in Oregon:-)

  18. what remarkable rodeo pictures! We lived in Kansas and in Arizona….and we love the rodeo!

  19. Absolutely magnificent photos and commentary. Loved them all. Really especially like that profile of the little girl. Beautiful, and pensive.

    • This one is my favorite post, as it is Pendleton/home…really just the best place on Earth. Let’er Buck!

  20. OMG, the things big boys do for fun. The photos look like a load fun but dangerous. Are you one of them cowboys with no guns, I hope.

    • Just relived those photos as I’ve returned back from a week of countryside, rodeo and old friends. Nothing quite like it 🙂

  21. Pingback: The Wolf You Feed ~ A Native American Story | China Sojourns Photography

  22. I can totally feel the excitement through your post. I have never seen rodeo in real life, but your photos well presented the “wild & free” spirits that rodeo has. In fact, it is crazy to see this. I have no idea how they handled the horses and how they took the courage to do so. My grandma and I are both horse lovers, but I can never imagine myself riding on these horses. But, I guess my grandma would love to if she wasn’t 90 something now. It reminded me the time she insisted riding on a fast horse during her trip to Japan when she was 70 something. That horse wasn’t as wild as these ones, but still pretty wild. These shots are beyond perfect – well captured the moment of excitement and the essence of rodeo. I don’t know what kind of effect you did on these photos, but i really love the colors of it. It seemed a bit different from the photos I have usually seen from you. Good job! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  23. What an absolutely marvellous gallery! And an insightful local perspective on the rodeo. Your pride in your roots shines through in every frame and word Randall.

    • It is an event that I do treasure – and spending a full week in my home town with family and friends, taking part in all aspects of the rodeo was incredible. Made this and other posts on the Round-Up/Pendleton much fun to write. Cheers and take care.

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