Our little town has a long history of celebrating the Fourth of July in a big way. I talked about the parade in my last post and now I will talk about the rodeo. I'm not exactly sure, but I believe that Vale has had a 4th of July Rodeo for over 90 years. It has something for everybody, a Pro Rodeo for those folks who spend their summer going to rodeos and try to make a living out of it and amateur events for the local cowboys and cowgirls. Fuel prices have put a real crimp in the Pro's plans, especially if they compete in events that require they bring their trained horses. They have big pickups, often diesel, and pull a 4 or 6 horse trailer often with a small living space for them in the front of the trailer. With diesel prices soaring it often takes more money to fill the tank than they have won at the rodeo!
A long standing event of the Vale 4th of July Rodeo is the Suicide Race. Contestants race on horseback from the top of the butte down to the flat ground where the town and rodeo ground sit, across an asphalt highway, across the Malheur River, over the dike protecting the town and into the rodeo arena to finish. Twenty years ago an animal rights group protested the treatment of the horses in the race and demanded they be allowed to monitor the treatment of the horses. The Rodeo Board welcomed the attention, it made the national news and was free advertising. After the finish of the race the monitors declared that there was no mistreatment of the horses, but that some human rights group might monitor the treatment of the riders because of the punishment they took in the 5 minute race! I have taught most of the winners over the past 40 years and I've always thought it strange that they showed no sign of mental illness in the classroom, but anyone who would race down that steep hill (over 1000 vertical feet in less than a mile) MUST be crazy! People love it and they line the course to watch. Oh yes, I almost forgot, the race is started with a dynamite blast from the top of the hill. You see the smoke of the explosion several seconds before you hear the blast. In years past the explosives expert who started the race with a blast would also wake the entire town at 6 AM on the fourth with another blast in his yard. No one complained.