celebrating cowboys and indians: the "pendleton roundup” rodeo … my perspective …
a cowboy (that’s “bull rider” to you slickers) interfaces with an 1800 pound bull with his butt clad in denim and his left hand wrapped in the very tight loop of a rope wrapped around the chest and shoulders of the bull, sitting on cow hide. an indian (brave) relay race rider interfaces with 900 pounds of horse with his butt clad in not very much at all, and his two legs around the horse, heels buried in the horse’s front “arm pits,” sitting on horse hair: he rides “bare back,” with no saddle, no cinch and just a halter for “steering.” the bull rider mounts the bull is a very ginger process, in which he descends into a chute in which the bull waits, sits astride the bull and wraps his hand in the loop, and nods to the gate worker that he is ready for all hell to break loose, and the gate is opened: what happens next is 8 seconds in which the rider flirts with injury and death, and struggles to stay on the back of a very antagonistic foe. the indian riders enter the arena and come onto a track from a gate under the stadium, ride toward the start line opposite the direction of the race, cross the line and attempt to turn their excited mounts in the right direction, and somewhere in the milling around a rodeo official mounted on a horse pulls a six gun from a holster and fires a shot in the air, and it seems to matter little if the horses are pointed in the right direction or if “milling around” best describes their posture.
the culture of the western cowboy, be he vaquero or buckaroo (which is obviously the same word when you say them aloud, but the cowboy cultures are different, from dress, to rigging, to hats, to rope preferences, to methods of conducting the cattle business), is still very much alive in the west and north west, and the culture of the american indian is still very much alive. the rodeo, and the roundup in particular, reflects the vitality of the two cultures, and also strives to preserve them. the rodeo celebrates the craft of the cowboy, and the events are the tasks a cowboy performs on the open range, which is everywhere a cow is, that is not a feed lot: cowboys still rope calves for various reasons, including branding, and they still wrestle steers but use a little known practice of taking the bull/steer down with a single rider roping the steer over the horns, getting the rope on the far side of his neck, and then flipping him all from the back of a horse: it’s impressive, when you see it done right. they do not generally ride bulls during routine work, unless succumbing to a suicidal urge. the indian culture lives in the old practices of food gathering, work with leather and beads, and in the indian dance and ritual culture, as well as efforts to preserve the use and integrity of language, though i am not too sure just how successful this is, nor am i convinced that very many successful speakers of the native tongues exist.
both are cultures of great independence, physical vitality and vigor, great risk taking, stoic suffering, lustful exuberance and the preservation of manly and womanly virtues as understood running centuries back. these cultures, and rodeo involving these cultures especially, are enterprising, but not the cultures of “doing” business, or the staid existence of the middle class, but a rollicking and raucous celebration of life, and accepting the darker side of things associated with such risk taking behaviors, perhaps the closest thing we have in our world to the spanish bull fight. the cowboys and the indians who participate in the matters described herein are pretty close to the knight errant, doing things for the love of the things done, much as don quixote loved the pursuit of the safety and chastity of the fair dulcinea, thought cowboys at the rodeo and braves at the pow wow do not openly pursue chastity as a virtue.
it is the world of men, based on muscle and guile and the embrace of risk to bring terror to the ordinary burgher, and it is the world of companion womanhood as alluring as only a high slung rump and long legs stuffed into denim jeans w/ a white linen blouse tucked into those britches over a flat belly and breasts spilling from a low buttoned bodice can be. there is nothing like a cowboy in his duster bedecked in a cowboy hat and high heeled boots w/ pointed toes, with a cowgirl tucked under his armed, suitably accoutered with butt cheeks struggling to get loose from those jeans, and the pride and perkiness of youthful breasts tucked under his arm, in a matching pair of tooled leather uppers and high heels to turn the head in frank admiration.
it is sexy, it is elemental, and it is exuberant and raw. and, did i mention sexy?
and, this celebration of the cowboy and the indian life in the "pendleton roundup," a premier event in north america, has involved both cowboys and indians for the last 100 years. when the promoters of the roundup first staged the event in 1910, the members of the umatilla tribe and their confederated tribes, the yakima, the warm springs, the walla walla and the cayuse were invited to the rodeo as participants, to put forth their skills and attributes. the umatillas considered the matter, decided to accept the invitation and attend the rodeo, to show the larger white community that even though they had suffered defeats and degradation, and even though they had ceded vast lands in “exchange” for confinement on the reservation, that they had survived and still existed with their mores and customs intact. and so they came, and set up an encampment of teepees on the rodeo grounds, and lived there for the duration of the rodeo, according to their customs, one of which involved the “whip man” who enforced discipline on children who did not obey their rules, just as the name implies. and the umatilla nation and their confederated tribes have been there every year since the first rodeo.