The annual rite of summer unfolds before thousands in the tiny Marion County town

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the St. Paul Rodeo returned to action on Wednesday for a five-day run culminating on the Fourth of July. As state restrictions were eased earlier in the week, thousands witnessed the annual rite in the tiny Marion County town.

For the five days leading up to and including the Fourth of July, the little town of St. Paul, Oregon becomes rodeo central.COURTESY PHOTO: HOOT CREEK - Baker City steer wrestler Jesse Brown is having the best year of his young rodeo career after finishing 13th in the PRCA world standings last year.

More than 600 rodeo cowboys and cowgirls from 26 states and three provinces descend on St. Paul to vie for more than $375,000 in prize money at what is billed as the nation's greatest Fourth of July rodeo.

Four hours east of St. Paul is the town of Baker City, home of the number four steer wrestler in the PRCA world standings.PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - All manner of wares, including custom made cowboy boots, are for sale on the rodeo midway.

Jesse Brown, of Baker City, is having the best year of his rodeo career.

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Not all of the thrills are inside the rodeo arena, a youngster learned on Wednesday. Last year, the 28-year-old finished 13th in the PRCA world standings, having competed at his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the pinnacle of the pro rodeo world.

Brown never competed in rodeo until he was in college.

A football player at Washington State, he didn't see much playing time and itched to compete in something.PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Rodeo clown J.J. Harrison entertains during an evening performance of the rodeo on Wednesday.

So he quit football and began steer wrestling, learning from the Knowles family, a long-time Oregon family of steer wrestlers.

Last year, he squeaked into the Wrangler National Finals in fifteenth place, barely getting in on Sept. 30, the last day of the rodeo season.

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Cowboy hats are always a favorite among the wares for sale in the carnival midway. Brown hopes to qualify for the National Finals in a much higher spot this year. The last days of the 2020 season "were pressure packed and it made things interesting. That being said, I'd rather make it sooner."

This is the third time the steer wrestler has competed at St. Paul; he finished in seventh place in 2018. PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Kids and kids at heart enjoy the rides in the carnival midway on Wednesday evening.

All of the 2020 PRCA world champions are scheduled to compete in St. Paul. They include all-around and bull riding champion Stetson Wright of Beaver, Utah; bareback rider Kaycee Field of Genola, Utah; tie-down roper Shad Mayfield of Clovis, New Mexico; saddle bronc rider Ryder Wright of Beaver, Utah; steer wrestler Jacob Edler of Alva, Oklahoma; team ropers Colby Lovell of Madisonville, Texas, and Paul Eaves of Millsap, Texas; and barrel racer Hailey Kinsel of Cotulla, Texas. PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - A saddle bronc rider employs his best technique in order to earn points and possible purse winnings on Wednesday evening.

Seven of the nine champions from the 2019 St. Paul Rodeo are scheduled to compete: bareback rider Trenton Montero of Winnemucca, Nevada; tie-down roper Jake Pratt of Ellensburg, PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - A competitor prepares for the saddle bronc competition on Wednesday evening.Washington; steer wrestler Riley Duvall of Checotah, Oklahoma; team ropers Erich Rogers of Round Rock, Arizona, and Paden Bray of Casa Grande, Arizona; barrel racer Amberleigh Moore of Keizer and bull rider Boudreaux Campbell of Crockett, Texas.

 PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Limbering up before a bull ride is important.

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - The forces exerted on arms and shoulders by bucking horses and bulls are extreme, requiring riders to take every precuation to stay healthy.

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Hungry rodeo-goers have their pick of many tasty treats in the carnival mideway, including giant roasted turkey legs.

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