For only the second time in its history, the Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon won’t take place here during the second full week of September.
And when you say Round-Up and Happy Canyon you leave out a lot. Those two all-encompassing names just don’t realize the immensity of the week.
The Indians add so much color and sound to the Round-Up and Happy Canyon that neither event would be the same without them.
Besides the Indian Village, which is an experience in its own right, there are two parades, two beauty pageants, horse races, competitive and ceremonial dancing and drumming, vendors in Roy Raley Park, a sobriety dance at night, and more. Some would add the tee-pee tavern to the list.
For family and friends, the Round-Up and the Indian Village have been a gathering place for generations, literally, and those reunions are what people are going to miss most. Few would argue that generations have been created in the Indian Village.
COVID-19 has kept everyone under wraps, mostly at home, all masked up, social distancing even outdoors. Kids aren’t going to school and people are working from their computers at home so sliding through another month like September won’t seem that different than the rest of the summer.
But the CUJ asked a handful of readers, including Happy Canyon Princesses Mary Rivera and Clarise Huesties, what they are going to miss about Round-Up this year anyway.
We received a lot of typical answers, but the questions prompted some folks to harken back to early days. Here are a few of their responses.
For Rivera and Huesties, the Happy Canyon year was a bust. The pandemic hit before the rodeo season began so their year of fun never started. Because of the COVID circumstances, the young women will get the chance to serve again as 2021 princesses.
Clarice Huesties, the daughter of Mylie Nash Huesties and Brian Huesties, is a Weston-McEwen High School graduate currently attending Ashworth College classes on-line. She wants to be a school psychologist, but she has enjoyed her summer as an apprentice in the Language Program of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Huesties and her family have long been active in Round-Up and Happy Canyon. Her biggest influences are her auntie Althea Wolf and grandmother Alvina Burke Huesties, both past Happy Canyon princesses.
Although COVID-19 was a spoiler, Huesties said she’s looking forward to next year.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “It’s exciting to think I get to do this again, especially since I was not able to do anything this year. I am really excited to see what I get to do next year.”
During the pandemic, Huesties has had time to ponder.
She said she’s learned to “get along with myself, learned how to enjoy my own company, how to adjust in solidarity. It’s difficult, but I made it this far.”
Mary Rivera, the daughter of Shawn and Nora Rivera, is an enrolled Little Shell of the Chippewa Indians. A Pendleton High School graduate, she is currently attending Central Washington University with on-line courses. She wants to be a dietician.
Rivera, inspired by her aunt, Drew Rivera, said Round-Up has always been a “big holiday for my family. It’s where everyone gets together.”
Rivera said she was looking forward to more opportunities to learn public speaking before COVID-19 reared its ugly head.
But she knows there’s next year.
“It feels great. Even though I was bummed out to miss this year I am super grateful to continue next year,” Rivera said. “And I’m grateful to have Clarise continue with me too. I’m ready to start.”
This summer, Rivera has kept busy taking care of her grandmother and working at her auntie’s day care – Little Einstein Day Care, and she moved home when college went on-line.
Now “I just have to be careful. I live with my grandmother. I just got to wear my mask and social distance,” she said.
Tessie Williams, always a fixture in the Indian Village, at the ceremonial dancing on Saturday morning and at the Junior American Indian Beauty Pageant, where she has been a judge for at least a couple of decades, found it easy to reminisce while sitting in her backyard under an umbrella Aug. 27.
She had on a black felt top hat with an Oregon Ducks beaded band and was wearing a long-sleeve fleece sweatshirt in her favorite “healing” color of green, plus green-toned beads on four necklaces.
“I’m going to miss everything,” said Williams, who started her Round-Up life on a baby board carried by her grandmother nearly 90 years ago.
She remembered helping Mary Hines as a Happy Canyon chaperone and dealing with those girls.
“There were problems here and there, but it all worked out,” she laughed, recalling “only one misfit.”
She met Mort Bishop of Pendleton Woolen Mills and made a lasting friendship. He invited her to parties all over Umatilla County.
She’s been a mainstay in a judge’s chair in front of the young girls who parade onto the grass stage at Roy Raley Park on Thursday morning of Round-Up and said she’s honored to be there.
“I’ll judge as long as people ask me,” said Williams, who has been honored as Pendleton’s First Citizen and is in the Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon Hall of Fame for “who I was, whoever I am.”
She said she doesn’t like to talk about herself because “people get upset with me, tell me I’m a showoff,” but she’s a good showoff.
Williams, who has a great-great grandson who just turned 1, said she will miss seeing all the tots running around at Round-Up.
“In a way I’m happy and sad because they won’t get to do things, but they’ll be safe,” she said.
Williams’ days don’t change much these days, with or without COVID-19.
“I sit and watch the trees. I watch the leaves fall and watch the birds fly around. Winter comes in and then I watch the leaves come back. It’s beautiful,” she said. “When you actually watch things blossom it’s fascinating.”
Williams said she was looking forward to seeing her “precious” grandchildren again. She was going to take a ride and honk as they drive by her great-great grandson’s house to celebrate his first birthday.
How old is Tessie?
“I’m 88. I’ll be 89 in December. Isn’t that wonderful?”
Debra Croswell, a former Round-Up and Happy Canyon Princess, will miss the big event, but not as much as she’ll miss her father.
“What I’ll miss most about 2020 Round-Up time is my Dad,” she said. “He passed away shortly after last year’s Round-Up and this will be our first Round-Up and Happy Canyon without him.”
Jerry Weathers was a devoted Round-Up volunteer for 50 years, driving steers and calves out of the west end chute for ropers.
“He took pride in being a backstage crew member at Happy Canyon, helping for decades to load the travois onto our horses as we entered the stage and jogging to the other side to take them off as we exited,” Croswell said.
Irma Totus has been going to Round-Up since she was a baby. She hadn’t missed a Round-Up or Happy Canyon until a couple of years ago when she injured her arm.
She’s a lead singer for Amakay (Yakama spelled backwards), a mostly all-women drum group, that performs in the arena during the matinee dance performance, at the Saturday morning ceremonial dancing sponsored by Pendleton Woolen Mills, and in the park for the competitive dancing. Her family a few years ago sponsored a well-received war bonnet special and she said they may do it again.
She’s had parts in Happy Canyon since she was 8 years old when her aunt gave her a position as a berry picker on top. She gradually moved to help Mildred Quaempts sing the welcome-dance song and has added the song where the children are sent out of the arena after a warrior is killed.
Because of COVID-19 Totus and Amakay haven’t been able to sing at any events this summer.
“It’s been crazy because nothing is going on,” she said. “You can’t go anywhere. I’ve got home and I’ve got work. We would be performing at Ellensburg and Joseph, but they’ve been cancelled.”
Totus said she’ll miss seeing her family from Yakama and Idaho who stay in the village.
How many usually show up? “It’s hard to keep count. Us Indian people have a lot of family.”
Ron Pond and his daughter, Lona, plus Curtis Bearchum and his wife, Phyllis, met at The Saddle Aug. 29 for a chat about Round-Up.
The conversation went back and forth.
Bearchum said he’d normally be in preparation mode, rearranging his set-up for the Indian Village where he camps Sunday through Sunday.
“It’s family time together,” he said.
Ron said Round-Up is a place that brings friends together from all directions. The Ponds have family and friends from the Colville, Nez Perce, Yakama and Warm Springs reservations that they see annually in September. Friends from Warm Springs often leave their tee-pee poles at the Pond’s house.
Ron remembered when he was a boy living up Thornhollow when a dozen or more kids would ride horses to town for Round-Up. It was an adventure, he said, feeding the horses, walking, riding and camping.
Lona talked about a more contemporary Round-Up and her role as whip woman in the arena and in the Indian Village, at times helping the Round-Up chiefs maintain control. She noted that her brother, Amos Pond, moved away last year after 44 years as a CTUIR whip man.
Lona recalled working with Lou Levy, Dr. Koch and John Williams to form good working relationships between the Indian and cowboy communities. She lamented the fact that the Indian part of Happy Canyon has been trimmed from about 45 minutes to about 17 minutes.
“Every time there’s a new director the show changes,” she said.
Ron was too young for the first Happy Canyon, but when he was about 8 or 9 years old he remembers the burning wagon that was pulled up the hill toward the Mormon Church. He remembered the loud music that would play before Happy Canyon to get the show started. He recalled the men would “hoot and holler up and down the streets to bring people to the show.”
Next year, Lona said, there will be a COVID-19 honor dance.
The Indians will come together again and laugh as they’ve done for more than a century.
“And if they told us today we want to go tomorrow we’d be ready, we’d all be there,” she said.