Back in early-20th-century Oregon—before dams slung their nooses on the Columbia River—the dusty town of Pendleton defined true grit. Walk-by shootings rattled the streets, and establishments of ill repute (18 brothels; 32 saloons) sizzled at all hours. In short: it was the perfect site for a rodeo. The Pendleton Round-Up, inaugurated in 1910, quickly became one of the most notorious in the country. A century on, the Round-Up is a decidedly more sober affair run by upstanding volunteers. Its appeal—Americana with a capital A—is so strong that it will be getting $460,000 from the federal government this year. The Wild West might be marketed to death, but this is no hokey spaghetti western. For one week each September, 50,000 spectators descend on this town of nearly 17,000 to watch barrel racing and calf roping; wander through 300 tepees pitched by members of the Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Cayuse tribes; and stare as tough-bodied young men tumble off bulls onto even tougher earth. Pendleton’s lessons were always taught the hard way, and ring truer than ever today. As the motto from the 1911 exhibition read: “When things do not go right with you, when the circumstances seem to be against you and Fate deals you a blow between the eyes, remember what the cowboys say in the great Northwest. ‘Just grit your teeth, get another hold and let ’er buck!’”
The Pendleton Round-Up runs from September 12–19; 800/457-6336; pendletonroundup.com; tickets from $14.