: Robbie McClaran

Find Your Cowboy and Cowgirl Roots in Pendleton

August 17, 2021

You may have heard about the world-famous Pendleton Round-Up — a don’t-miss event for rodeo fans that packs the house during the second week of September. But you may not know that the city of Pendleton plays host to its authentic cowboy roots every Saturday all summer long as well. 

History buffs, Western-culture fans, families, rodeo enthusiasts and anyone else looking for seriously authentic flavor can find something to enjoy in Pendleton during the city’s Get Wild Saturdays, held between June 4 and Sept. 4, 2021. (If you’ve missed this year’s events, plan for next summer.) During these summer Saturdays, Pendleton pays homage to its Native and Western roots with cultural events, hearty meals, live music and even a Prohibition-era-inspired speakeasy in the city’s famous underground. 

Here’s how to get your taste of the Wild West in the heart of beautiful Eastern Oregon, just three hours east of Portland.

Learn about rodeo pioneers and Native American culture at the Pendleton Round-Up tour.

Get Immersed in Round-Up Culture

Located on the west end of town, the Pendleton Round-Up grounds are rich with history and accolades. The event has been named “Large Outdoor Rodeo of the Year” seven times by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, hosting some of the biggest names in rodeo. There have been many iconic moments including in 1911 when George Fletcher, a Black saddle-bronc rider, was crowned the People’s Champion. In 1969 Fletcher became one of the 10 original honorees inducted into the Pendleton Round-up Hall of Fame, paving the way for future Black rodeo riders. You can soak up more of this amazing history at one of the summer tours of the Round-Up. 

The tour offers a taste of the historic rodeo arena and world-famous wooden bucking chutes, with a closeup view that rodeo spectators rarely get from the back of a wagon. The wagon takes visitors around the track and allows for photo ops that only the contestants have ever seen. The wagon then takes a turn into the what’s known as the World’s Oldest Outdoor Indian Pageant and Wild West Show venue, which visitors get to see during a performance of the Happy Canyon Night Show — a partnership with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation held each evening during Round-Up week.

The live show depicts the settling of the American West, beginning with a portrayal of the Native American way of life prior to the arrival of the white settlers and continuing through the arrival of Lewis and Clark and Oregon Trail pioneers. It concludes with a reenactment of the rowdy frontier town’s rollicking main-street mishaps. There are live horses, wagons, oxen and even pheasants, making it fun entertainment for all ages. A live band scores the event, sometimes on horseback, with a narrator who brings to life the world of a Pendleton of days gone by. 

If you’re not able to catch the Happy Canyon show, you can get a glimpse of it during a summer Round-Up tour at Pendleton’s infamous Let ’Er Buck Room every Saturday throughout the summer. After you jump into a horse-drawn wagon, the tour offers a brief history of the rodeo grounds and the partnerships that make the Round-Up the largest Native American and cowboy gathering in the country. If you’re of legal drinking age, you’ll even get a shot of whiskey on the tour.

See a costumed reenactment of the Wild West days (and have a shot of whiskey) at the Pendleton Underground Tours.

Pop Into the Underground

Experience what it was like to drink underground in the late 1800s at the Shamrock Card Room & Saloon. Here, staff dress in period clothing and pour unique drinks named after the working girls and old proprietors that once resided upstairs. Visitors can dive into the experience each Saturday during the summer from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Pendleton Underground Tours, named Eastern Oregon’s No. 1 year-round attraction. Those over the age of 21 can book a 5 p.m. tour, which includes a drink and other tasters along the way. 

Established in 1989, nonprofit tour company offers year-round tours of Pendleton’s historic underground and red-light district. A guide walks visitors through, narrating the history of Pendleton’s murky past of gambling, Chinese opium dens, bootlegging, prostitution and more.  Despite the subject, the tour is entertaining, educational and interesting for visitors ages 6 years and older. Tours fill up fast, so reservations are needed in advance — call 541-276-0730 for tour times and reservations. Ask about their annual fundraiser, “Comes to Life,” in which 75 live actors help bring back the past. 

Pick up some handmade Western wear in town for an old-fashioned wagon ride or horseback ride.

Take a Horse or Wagon Ride

What would an authentic Western adventure be without some authentic horsepower? Family-friendly downtown horseback rides on Saturdays between June and the first weekend of September are a great chance to put your cowboy threads to the test. At $10 per ride, they’re available between noon and 5 p.m. near the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce. If riding isn’t your style, jump into one of the wagons roaming the downtown blocks between noon and 3 p.m. on Saturdays, and see the streets of Pendleton as they would have been a century ago on an old-fashioned wagon ride

Live music makes everything more fun. Look for it every Saturday evening downtown in the summer.

See a Show and Hear Live Music

Pendleton knows how to throw a party, so join in on the live music downtown in the heart of Pendleton. Additionally, a live Wild West show happens every Saturday at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. June through September, so you’ll want to make sure you’re there early to snag a great view. For more information on all of the Get Wild in Pendleton events, visit TravelPendleton.com.

About The

Katie Schrock
Katie Schrock grew up in the heart of farming country in Oregon’s Mid-Willamette Valley, where she raises cattle, chickens and horses. An entrepreneur, she does marketing and communications for her businesses, Western Insights Media, as well as the Ag Leader Academy and her philanthropic project, Cowgirl 911.

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