What better way to spend a sunny afternoon than relaxing in the shade of the grandstand while listening to a little Johnny Cash or Hank Williams, lunching on frybread topped with melted butter and huckleberry preserves, and watching some of Indian Country’s top cowboys compete in rodeo events? The White Swan Rodeo on the Yakama Reservation provides that dream scenario every summer during their Treaty Days observance.
This is a big event with roughly 500 contestants entered and more than 40 bull riders. All the traditional events are included during the three days: junior bull riding, breakaway roping for men and women, senior break away roping, wild cow milking and the wild and woolly wild horse race. Add to that a one-lap race for both men and women riders, and one of the wildest events in rodeo, the relay race. The exchange of horses at the end of each lap may seem like an accident waiting to happen and the horsemanship of riders riding bareback showcases their riding ability.
Tie down calf roping at the White Swan rodeo
Elimination rounds precede the final day’s action in some events to reduce the number of contestants in the final round. These are also open for the public to watch, and the entire rodeo is free.
One can only marvel at the courage of some of the younger bull riders. The animals are not as large as the Brahma’s used for the adult riders, but they’re far beyond the “mutton-busting” category. Injuries occur in rodeo events, particularly the bucking events, but none of the young riders showed any hesitancy in climbing down into the chutes, pulling the bull rope tight around their glove, and nodding to open the gate.
Wild horse races aren’t as common as they once were, but certainly add to the excitement.
Three-man teams attempt to saddle an unbroken horse which they get from the chute with only a lead rope. Trying to get the saddle on is only the first step. Then, the team member chosen as the rider must get on top and ride the horse across the finish line. All teams compete at the same time, so with eight chutes available, that puts 24 cowboys and eight horses in the arena at the same time. Things can get pretty western!
Wild cow milking is another one of those events not seen at every rodeo.
This is also a team event where the rider has to rope a cow. His partner then runs on foot and tries to hold the cow reasonably steady – not easy to do as many find while being drug through the dust! The rider then dismounts and must get milk from the cow into a bottle and then run back to a finish line. But there’s more. A judge upends the bottle to verify there is enough milk that it will drip out and the other partner must get the rope off from around the neck of the cow. Failure in either aspect disqualifies the team. At this point, the crowd is often roaring in laughter.
A rider grabs the rope seconds before his ride
Here are the winners: Bull riding, Cody Johnson; saddle bronc, Fran Marchand; tie down roping, Nolan Conway; bareback, Buck Lunak; senior breakaway, Victor Begay; ladies barrel racing, Dana Whitford.
Next year will be the 160th Annual Yakama Nation Commemoration of the Treaty of 1855. If you’re an Indian, cowboy, or simply a fan of all-Indian rodeo, start making plans to attend.