The back room of the clubhouse at the Sisters Rodeo grounds is filled with about a dozen men and women, all wearing blue jeans and work boots; volunteers who run the Sisters Rodeo. They are debating whether there is more drinking at the annual Sisters Quilt Festival or the Sisters Rodeo.
"Definitely the quilt," announces one of the men who wears a bushy mustache that looks borrowed from Yosemite Sam.
Or, says another, adding to the debate, "hunting season?"
"That's a scary thought," laughs one of the cowboys.
When the Sisters Rodeo started in 1940, the city of Sisters was 75 years old—started first as Camp Polk, a way station for the U.S. Army, and later re-established as a primary post office for Central Oregon, a functioning building that remains in the same spot it has occupied since 1888.
Now, that exact same amount of time—from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to 1940—has passed since the first Sisters Rodeo. And yes, a lot has changed for the event. There is a big-screen replay in the stands, for one. And probably more important, in 1988, the event joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).
"We went from the minor leagues to the majors," explains one of the organizers about becoming a sanctioned, professional event. That change allowed them to attract riders from across the country, not just local riders (although, local riders are a pretty impressive bunch themselves, with Culver home to Bobby Mote, who holds four world titles for bareback riding). The change to a professional rodeo also has stepped up the game for the event's production. Four-time PRCA Announcer of the Year Wayne Brooks emcees the event each year, and one of the circuit's most popular barrel clowns, J.J. Harrison, has become a regular performer in Sisters as well.
Yet, in spite of Sisters Rodeo's recent maturity and increasing popularity, so much about the event has stayed the same. It is still run by volunteers, and that humble down-home approach to the internal operations accounts for a lot of the event's charm. The hosts—for one—act like, well, hosts: They feed the cowboys, and provide good parking, which is more than just a perk when driving a double axel trailer.
The organizers also boast about their grounds, which a year ago were voted "best grounds for barrel racers," the ultimate compliment for a rodeo venue as that event requires deft and sharply maneuvered corners, moves that, on a hard surface or misplaced rock, could easily twist a horse's ankle. Six years ago, the organizers removed the top 18 inches of dirt from the stadium, and trucked it a few hundred yards away where they sifted out all the rocks and hard pebbles. It was the type of work that serves as just one example of their dedication.
"We also offer the most prize money that weekend," pipes in another one of the old-timers, pointing out there are 15 other rodeos that same weekend.
While those perks may not directly mean much to spectators, the attention to hospitality by Sisters Rodeo translates to competitors who return each year.
Wednesday, June 10 - Sunday, June 14
67637 Hwy 20, Sisters