A rich history
The origins of the Crooked River Roundup can be traced back to the early days of Crook County's history.
According to records kept by Roundup officials, "bucking horses, roping steers and racing were very popular in early Crook County."
"The corrals at Pringle Flat near Camp Creek and ranches near Paulina and Post were the early scenes of many early day roundups as the area's ranchers and cowhands pooled their efforts to gather their cattle and separate them before winter," a document highlighting the Roundup's first 50 years explains.
Horse racing, meanwhile, originated in Prineville as far back as the 1880s. During that time, a half-mile track had been built south of town, although Carey Foster said that races sometimes took place directly down Third Street.
Around 1900, a mile track was built east of the current fairgrounds where Crook County High School now stands, and three years later, a track was built on nearby land that is now home to the fairgrounds. But by 1915, the county fair sold half of the grounds, and the track was reduced to the half-mile track that is still in use today.
Desire for a top-notch rodeo, which hadn't happened during the World War II years, prompted a group of local ranchers to take action in the mid-1940s. Jess Cain, who has become known as "the father of the Crooked River Roundup," lent the group $1,000. Max Barber was originally contracted to provide rough stock, but two weeks before the rodeo, he sold his stock. As fortune would have it, the group of ranchers found another contractor, Pat Fisk, who was able to provide stock for the rodeo for $1,500.
The rodeo proved to be a big success, bringing in a profit of $850 and encouraging founders to launch what would become the Crooked River Roundup. Concluding they needed a permanent site for the annual event, they purchased the present-day grounds from owner Warren Raymond in 1945 for $11,000. On Sept. 2 and 3 of that year, the first Crooked River Roundup and 4-H Club Fair took place.
During the early years of the Roundup, the rodeo facilities saw a series of upgrades. In 1946, new bucking chutes and fences and a new foundation for the grandstands were added as well as covered seating for nearly 5,000 spectators.
A suggestion for arena lighting in 1947 to enable night football games for the local high school as well as nighttime rodeo performances spurred the installation of lights the following year. Also, in 1948, the Roundup Board issued another 100 shares of stock, committing the proceeds to rodeo grounds improvements.
For much of its first decade, the Roundup and Crook County Fair were held together, but that changed in 1954 when leaders of the two events decided to split the events. The fair board and Roundup leaders signed a 50-year lease for the 4-H corner of the Roundup grounds. Under the agreement, each group could use the other's facilities rent free as long as their activities didn't interfere with high school sporting events.
Splitting the events created financial challenges for the Roundup during the late 1950s and early 1960s, as rodeo attendance declined and cash flow became a big problem. However, another event later joined the Roundup in 1966, marking a big year for the event.
Horse racing — the Sport of Kings — made its official debut to the Roundup, offering pari-mutuel wagering with tickets sold through windows cut into the back of the grandstands. The races differed from the current version of the event with pre-printed tickets sold and sales hand-calculated by volunteers that manned the betting windows. The tote board, now operated digitally, was instead updated by volunteers on a large chalkboard.
Characterized by Roundup officials as another bold move, the grounds were deeded to Crook County. The decision came because of changes made in state law that required nonprofit organizations to pay property taxes on whatever land they owned.
"What was facing the board was certain bankruptcy unless something was done," Roundup history documents stated.
In return, the Roundup was provided five free years of rent, and the community would receive the grounds to develop and operate on a year-round basis.
Perhaps the most noteworthy moment of community maintenance and volunteerism on behalf of the Roundup grounds occurred in 1979. Thanks to grant funding, the county built an indoor arena, which would allow for more events and year-round use of the grounds.
But while the design was taking place, dry rot was discovered on the outdoor grandstand, leaving it liable for collapse. So the Crook County Court, under the leadership of Judge Dick Hoppes, decided to tear down the grandstand and scale back the seating at the indoor arena to pay for construction of a new outdoor grandstand.
Early that year, the old grandstand was torn down, and work began on its replacement in the early spring at a frantic pace. County organizations worked together to build a new jockey's room, paddock and pari-mutuel building.
"Snoden DeBoard, Duaine and Mike Mizer, Art and Doug Smith, Jerry Sitzman, Pete Sturza, Von Thompson and many other directors and volunteers worked every night and every weekend for what seemed an eternity to try and get the facility in shape," Roundup history document recount. "They were doing well, but the show was getting close, too."
Work went down to the wire, and on a Saturday two weeks prior to the Roundup, a work party was held with a request for community help. About 50 people showed up, including retired Crook County School District Superintendent and community leader Cecil Sly, who was said to have shown the energy of someone half his age.
The job came down to the wire — quite literally — as Prineville Electric finished the wiring of the grandstand just before dark the night events commenced.
For nearly another 20 years, the rodeo and races took place during the same Roundup week, however in 1997, the event once again split. Event leaders felt the Roundup had grown to a point where the rodeo and races were taking away from, rather than helping each other.
"This was not an easy decision for the board," Roundup leaders recall. "There were some tempers that flared and many ideas were discussed before the final decision was made. Since that time, the rodeo has taken place in late June with the races following in early July.
Entering present day, the Roundup schedule remains one in flux. The Board decided that in 2018 and beyond, the rodeo will take place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening, rather than Friday and Saturday evening and on Sunday afternoon.
"Sunday rodeos are kind of dying," said Roundup Board President Jason Snider, citing a continual decline in attendance as the primary reason, a decline he attributes in part to hot afternoon weather that peaks at 100 degrees or hotter.
"If it is 100 degrees, nobody wants to come out," he remarked.
The decision, Snider said, was not made after one hot summer afternoon, but it has in fact been brewing among board members for the past three to five years.
"We have to identify a way that we can create an opportunity for as many people to be in that grandstand and buying tickets as possible," he said. "The cost to put on these rodeos is forever increasing."