Sedro-Woolley Riding & Racing Club - Home of the 3rd and 4th of July Rodeo since 1944
Compiled from Betty Antone’s notes, rodeo entry lists, and the files of the Courier-Times
By Kathy Peth
For rodeo fans, it all looks familiar, their regular Fourth of July landscape at Sedro-Woolley. Arena, chutes, announcer’s stand, bleachers, grass, mud… But the grounds have gone through a lot of changes in its years. The bucking chutes remain much as they were when sited in the ‘40s when the Sedro-Woolley Riding and Racing Club first developed their new home on Polte Road, but the surrounding race track they built has disappeared; the roping chutes used to be at the concession end of the arena; there were contestant stands (a little stretch of 3-high bleachers) between today’s announcer’s stand and the bucking chutes. And the announcer stand has gone from a platform with half-hearted railings above the bucking chutes to a little house with steep steps to today’s stand near the timed events area. The fence itself has been updated and up-painted many times.
The weather has always been dicey on the 4th. Sometimes the neighbors complain of the big clouds of dust, sometimes it’s dry but rain at the end of June has made the arena into a morass that feels as if it could drown entire cowboys, and their horses. Too often, the last rain of the summer comes on the first days of July. Many an arena manager has turned gray by July 2, coordinating loaders hauling out mud and graders smoothing new sand, only to worry again the next year. Sometimes S-W is the start of summer, sometimes it’s the end of winter. The fans, equipped with sunblock and blankets, turn out anyway.
The history of rodeo here is the history of rodeo itself. The blending of Sedro with the rival town of Woolley was barely 15 years old when, in 1912, local businessman Charlie Bingham saw the third-ever Roundup in Pendleton, Oregon. That spectacle fired him up and by 1914 he was promoting a local wild west-type show, with as many horses – tame and otherwise – as he could talk folks into bringing to town.
Rodeo itself was in its formative stages, moving from the “I can ride longer than you can” dare of an event, with an open-field arena fenced with Model Ts, to a series of contests with standard rules. In 1929, the Rodeo Association of America was formed for rodeo producers, and by 1936, after some accusations of rodeo committees putting prize money into their own Levis, the contestants themselves organized the Cowboy Turtles Association, the precursor of the Rodeo Cowboys Association (1945) which in turn became the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Assn (PRCA) in 1975.
Back in Skagit County, Bingham was still promoting rodeo play days, John Peth held unofficial rodeos at his ranch on D’Arcy Road in Bow, and in 1930 the first organized rodeo was held at the old Skagit County Fair Grounds in Burlington, where Fred Meyer is now. There were rodeos at Puget Ball’s west of Mount Vernon (at the corner of Farm to Market and Fredonia Roads) and for the cowboy who wanted to travel, there were rodeos in Bellingham and Ferndale.
By 1930, Charlie Bingham and Porter LaPlant were putting on the June playday-rodeo AND a 4th of July rodeo, both at the Ball Field in Sedro-Woolley. Bay View stockmen Art Bell and Harvey Sorenson furnished the bucking horses and John Peth brought the cattle stock – calves for roping, bulls for bucking, and steers for bulldogging. In 1931, the local newspaper reports more than 2,000 spectators for the “First Annual American Legion Roundup” held at the “rodeo grounds near Allen” on Sunday, June 14. There were races and most of the timed and judged events that are common to rodeos today. Local contestants included George and Archie Peth of LaConner, Bill Walton of Clear Lake, Joe Antone of Sedro-Woolley, and 8-year old Rodney Junquist of Bow, with his Shetland pony.
The 1934 show included “minstrels, midgets, and a Rodeo Parade,” and promised “some of the finest riders and ropers in the west.” Sixty wild horses and forty wild steers were expected to be needed for the three-day rodeo, offering “hundreds” of dollars in prizes. There was trick riding, Brahma Bull Riding, calf roping, barrel races, hide races, trick roping, and “tub riding” by the rodeo clown, O. K. Fox of LaConner. There was a 3-legged race, a shoe race, and a ladies’ nail driving contest.
In 1935, Jim Hulbert of LaConner was arena director, Ben Boone of Seattle and John Peth of Bow were judges. The parade would have 75 saddle horses, and in the rodeo was a buffalo riding contest (John Peth had buffalo for a time). The fastest time in the calf roping was “about 26 seconds.” By 1937, the payout, including added prize money, had grown to $2,500, and the rodeo was being promoted as taking its place beside Ellensburg and Pendleton in presenting “a great western rodeo.” All three rodeos are still produced.
Tickets cost 50 cents, the bucking horses were sometimes saddled in the arena instead of in the chute, the committee bought oil cloth and safety pins each year for the contestant’s shirt numbers, and there were still the full complement of races: chariot, chuckwagon, pack saddle, and surrey races, and there was a businessmen’s calf tying contest. In 1941 the stock contractors were Howard Merrin, a former bronc and bull rider of Seattle, and Glen Betts. Californian Bob Hill came up to be both rodeo clown, and trick roper.
The Sedro-Woolley Riding and Racing Club formed October 22, 1943. Bert Woodruff was the first president, and Charlie Swett was Veep. They met above the club’s new director Sam Henderson’s tavern on Metcalf Street, and soon the new SWR&RC was producing both the June and the July rodeos. In 1945, under President Art Moors, the club bought 10 acres on Polte Road for $3,000. The membership loaned the club from $25 to $100 each and used proceeds from previous rodeos (and donated sweat) to retire the land debt and build the arena, race track, and chutes. The club paid back its member-loans, and has been self-supporting ever since. In the next few years, bleachers, a club house made from the old McRae School House, and a camp building from Scott Paper serving as a caretaker house completed the necessaries. The club has been making improvements ever since.
By 1943 the rodeo offered five regular events and five or six races – no team roping or barrel racing yet. Events changed according to the stock and contestants available – steer riding was often substituted for bull riding, steer roping occasionally cropped up as an “added event,” with an all around paycheck offered for cowboys competing in at least two of the main events: calf roping, bulldogging, barebacks and saddle bronc riding, and some sort of bovine riding.
In 1946, LaConner’s one-armed trick roper Red Jackson brought his “educated horse Jo” to please the crowd, and there was live between-event music provided by two singers, June Sharpe and Betty Lockhart, and Lois Extine, a yodeler. Stock contractors were John Peth, of Bow, and Mack Woods of Everett. Pickup men were Marsten Ball and Art Bell; Joe Antone and Del Gorrell ran the chutes, while paperwork was handled by Mrs. Marguerite Moors, Mrs. Betty Antone, and Mrs. Zelda Henderson. The SWR&RC boasted 72 members, up from the 18 founders in 1943.
The first rodeo at the new grounds on Polte Road opened to capacity crowds in 1947. “Buzzy” Peth, 10, put on a display of calf roping to the delight of the crowd. Bud Botta of Olympia won the All Around title, and other winners were Jerry Peth, George Brookings, Joe Antone, Norm Trapp, Buck Nordhorst, Ted Peth, Willie Harmer and Oscar Peterson.
Nationally, the Rodeo Association of America and the Cowboy Turtle Association had morphed into the Rodeo Cowboys Association in 1945, and the 1948 S-W rodeos were RCA sanctioned. June 6 brought a Cowboys Play Day Rodeo with contestants John Conrad, Ed Avery, Ralph Walter, Norm Trapp, Jerry, Wick, Ted and John Peth of “Allen,” (now considered from Bow). By this time John Peth was collecting Brahma bucking bulls, so the bull riding looked pretty western.
The July 4th rodeo of 1948 was the first combined with Sedro-Woolley’s logging extravaganza, and named the LoggerRodeo, a term that has caused some fan-confusion over the years. By 1950 the SWRC dropped racing and their June date in favor of spending their energies on improving the 4th of July spectacle.
Many well known local and national rodeo champions have competed in Sedro-Woolley’s arena. The 4th of July is the holiday known as “Cowboy Christmas” and contestants haul in from the U.S. and Canada to compete. Hometown cowboy and S-W contestant Wick Peth is a legendary rodeo bull fighter, having fought bulls at the National Finals Rodeo 11 times. NFR bullfighter Karl Doering was also a S-W regular. Team roping champions Bucky and B.J. Campbell cut their dallies in this arena. Buz Peth, Mike Beers, Shane Proctor, George Aros, Leo and Jerald Camarillo, and Shane Erickson, all rodeo champions, have strapped their spurs on behind the Sedro-Woolley chutes. Eight-time world champion Dean Oliver roped calves here.
Sidebar: In 1946, the Skagit Valley Riding Club drill team, under the whistle of Les Mayer: Vern Egbers, Murry Conn, June Sharpe, Betty Lockhart, Melvina McFarlane, Bill Marlow, Yvonne Kerr, Viola Eitrem, Connie Callahan, Ralph McKibben, Eugene McFarlane, Gloria McFarlane, Sam McFarlane, Doris Vercoe, Jim Callahan, Milton Kalso, Shirley Kalstrom, and Willard McKee.
Sidebar: Members of Skagit County Sheriff’s Posse 1965: Bob Galbraith, Keith Gordon, Dick Bargewell, Matt Hesseltine, Del Berner, Sam Eaton, Keith Emerson, Henry Whitney, Jim Beernink, Les Masonholder, George Osborne, George Taylor, Burl Seay, Russ Thurman, Del Fox, Ed Fagan, Hank Ploeg, Bob Allen, and Ernie Dahl
Sidebar: More contestants through the years: Kirk Jefferts, Sonny Kelsey, Jim Zumwalt, J.D. Sherman, Dick Morris, Lyle Moody, Terry Goodrich, Brad Goodrich, Billy King, Wayne Marshall, Sherdy Wharton, George Prescott (also the announcer), Billy Eggleson in the Saddle Broncs, Loren Dahl, Jack Sullivan, Tuffy Morrison, JP Roan, Don Drake, Ed Knutzen, Earl Peth, Danny Green, Knight Smith, Jim Posey, Bud Botta, Bo Longo, and Sam Willis.