Round Em Up
story: Beth K. Maxey
Saddle Up For The 2009 Red Bluff Round Up
The annual Red Bluff Round-Up draws top cowboys from all over the world and thousands of rodeo fans, and it has a huge financial impact on Tehama County.
And it all started with a picnic.
It was 1918 and spring in Tehama County – time to move the cattle from the valley to the mountains. Ranchers got together at the A.H. Clough Ranch to celebrate with a picnic and watch the ranch hands challenge each other with bull and bronc riding, roping and races.
“It was a play day after the actual rounding up of cattle,” says Kathy Sibert, administrative assistant for the Red Bluff Round-Up Museum and Round-Up Association.
An informal bronc riding and roping event in 1919 was so successful that organizers decided to make it a regular event, beginning in 1920 with the Vina Festival. That year also saw the establishment of the Northern California Round-Up Association.
That October, the first Red Bluff Round-Up was held in conjunction with the Tehama County Fair, says Sibert, and in 1926, stockholders decided to reorganize it into a two-day spring show. It’s been held in April ever since.
This year marks the 88th annual Round-Up, says Dave Ramelli, president of the Red Bluff Round-Up Association.
“It’s just a big family party,” he says. “If we look back at history, at one point most of us trace our roots back to rural towns.”
Names from the earliest years are familiar even today: Clough, Stroing, Froome, Growney, Owens and more. Many current members of the board of directors came as children with their families, notes Sibert, whose father Jim Froome was Round-Up president for some 35 years.
“We are a corporation, but earnings go back to the community,” says Ramelli. “All 18 directors are 100 percent volunteers. What other corporations can run multi-million dollar operations on volunteers?”
Ramelli estimates that 325 to 350 volunteers help during the week-long event in April, many taking vacation time to do so.
“One thing sets us apart from other rodeos: there is a lot of action,” he says. The three-day rodeo includes horse racing, Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) acts, specialty acts, and every day ends with the Wild Horse Race.
“There’s a lot of tradition in that,” he says.
A 4,000-square-foot building near the Tehama District Fairgrounds houses the Association’s offices and the Round-Up Museum. It was built in 1997.
“It was Dad’s dream,” says Sibert. “The majority of the material was donated – supplies and labor. The board of directors was out there doing whatever they could do.”
The museum is open from 1-5 pm Thursday through Saturday, and visitors can capture the flavor of the early days through detailed photos of bronc riders, the Clough Ranch picnic in 1918, auto caravans and much more. Intricate and unique saddles, banners and chaps bring the history of the event to life.
Sibert points out a 1950 photo showing John Wayne watching one of the Round-Up events.
“A lot of stunt people (in the movies) were also trick riders in rodeos,” she explains. “Often the movie starts would go with the stunt people and watch the rodeo.”
Round-Up week 2009 gets under way Saturday, April 11, with a chili cook-off, car show and other events in downtown Red Bluff. Other features include cowboy poetry reading on April 15, the Round-Up mixer on April 16, and the pancake breakfast and 54th annual parade on Saturday, April 18.
Rodeo fans can watch slack events beginning Wednesday at no charge – competition that pares down the 600 or so contestants entered from the United States, Australia, Canada and Brazil, among others, to the top 36.
“We can’t run all 600 in our rodeo, so it’s the best of the best in front of the people,” says Ramelli.
The rodeo begins at 7 pm Friday, April 17, and continues Saturday and Sunday beginning at 1:30 pm. At Sunday’s Wild Ride event, the top cowboys appear in outrageous costumes.
“No place else will they dress up and ride like this,” says Ramelli, “on very rank, nasty horses. It takes a lot of effort to be part of something like this.
“Some of the best entertainment is here in northern California,” he adds. “We live in one of the best places in the world; we put on one of the best shows, bar none.”