Thursday, September 23, 2010 Sunny and 72 degrees
Pendleton, OR, just hosted its 100th annual Round Up and Rodeo. It is one of the largest events of its kind in the country with 85,000 attending in a city of 16,500. A parade opens the four days of festivities. Native people in their traditional clothing lead the parade, accompanied by cowboys and cowgirls on horseback, and a float with the rodeo princess and her court. Many events are held including bull riding, calf roping, and barrel racing. According to locals it is either an event to be embraced or one to be avoided. In other words it can be rowdy. Tonight we are in Baker City, OR, 95 miles away, and fans of the sport were traveling between here and there all four days of the event. Real fanaticism.
This morning we took an underground tour of Pendleton for a look at its infamous and entertaining past. The underground extends under the old parts of the city. Constructed as a means of protecting merchants' goods from thieves, it extended from the railway station to their stores. During this time Chinese came to the US to earn money so they could return home as rich men and purchase land of their own. They worked in gold mines, fish canneries, and in railroad construction. Because of their appearance, language, and customs, they faced severe discrimination. To escape daily harassment, they moved into the underground, digging out cellars and reinforcing the store floors, streets, and sidewalks, to create a city of their own.
The Chinese lived underground and operated laundries and baths, an opium room, etc. They governed themselves including operating their own jail. But eventually other businesses also moved underground: a meat market, ice house, ice cream parlor, a bar, a duck pin bowling alley, and a card room. When Prohibition came to Pendleton, secret passageways were created so that those imbibing at the card games could escape the law.
Pendleton's "entertainment" occurred above ground as well. Our tour took us upstairs to one of the city's 18 bordellos, the famous "Cozy Rooms." Stella Darby operated a flourishing establishment, providing employment for young women who were sent to the city to earn money to help their families during the Depression and World War II. While Stella took 50% of their earnings, she taught her girls skills, such as accounting and operating a telephone, so some day they could be employed legitimately. She taught them social skills and graces as well so they would be accepted into society. She even provided a chapel where the girls were ministered to spiritually. Prostitution continued until 1957 when an ambitious preacher patrolled the streets, writing down the names of the men frequenting the brothels. When he threatened to read the list in church, the city council finally---and reluctantly---agreed to close them down. Except for Stella's. In addition to being a madam, she also was a skilled accountant for many prominent businessmen in the city, and to keep her services, they allowed her to continue her operation until 1967. So the Wild, Wild West lived up to its reputation in Pendleton.
In the afternoon we visited the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute just outside of Pendleton. It houses exhibits that present the story of the Westward Expansion from the perspective of the Native People who live in eastern Oregon. Their story is told in a compelling manner through exhibits, informational panels, artifacts, photo displays, sound and video. They tempered what must be very strong feelings of resentment and sorrow at the loss of their homelands and the near extinction of their language, and customs.
Afterwards we were back on the road, continuing eastward to Baker City. We immediately began to climb into the Blue Mountains, and trees began to reappear. But not for long. Soon we were headed back down into the prairie, and now we are in a valley, encircled by mountains off in the distance.
Tomorrow we expect to be at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center or in Hell's Canyon.
TODAY'S ROUTE: I 84 E from Exit 209 to Exit 304