Learn how the largest Fourth of July rodeo in the United States got its start and why St. Paul Rodeo claims to be “the Nation’s Greatest Fourth of July Rodeo.”
Thirty miles southwest of Portland, Oregon sits the tiny farming community of St. Paul, population about 425 people. Yet despite its diminutive size, this town hosts the largest Fourth of July rodeo in the United States, lending proud residents to dub the St. Paul Rodeo, “the Nation’s Greatest Fourth of July Rodeo.”
The 2022 edition of the St. Paul Rodeo—its 86th—kicked off on June 30, 2022, with the first slack and continues with six total performances and fireworks every.single.night.
The St. Paul Rodeo Arena is one of the most unique and challenging in the sport but conquering it is more than worthwhile thanks to the $284,400 total committee purse which breaks out to $35,550 per event.
Here are some fun facts about the St. Paul Rodeo.
In the Beginning
The St. Paul Rodeo was the brainchild of eight local farmers who wanted to bring a celebration in the midst of the Great Depression. The first rodeo was held in 1936 and has been a generational inheritance of the town ever since. In fact, five current Board members are grandsons of the original founders.
The first rodeo was held in the city park and had 50 contestants in bareback riding, steer riding, and roping events. The rodeo’s founders actually supplied bucking horses from their own farm strings. One of first President Bill Smith’s horses enjoyed bucking so much that he went on with the Christensen Brothers stock contracting company for many years and was known as St. Paul Special.
Its Own Stadium
The first grandstands and bleachers were built in 1945 and had a capacity of 9,000 spectators. Additions through the years have left the arena capable of holding more than 10,000 per performance with covered seating surrounding the oval shaped arena.
By the Numbers
The astounding thing about the St. Paul Rodeo is its size relative to its host community. The town of St. Paul has one stoplight; the St. Paul Rodeo Association has almost as many members as there are residents at 400 and another 300 volunteers each year help produce the rodeo. Approximately 50,000 people attend the rodeo, parade, carnival, western art show and other events during the run of the rodeo.
Through its St. Paul Rodeo Foundation, the rodeo gives back to the community and surrounding areas. The Foundation has awarded more than $200,000 in scholarships and, more broadly, the rodeo donates to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, National High School Rodeo Association, Wounded Warriors along with local veterans and first responder groups and supports local schools.
Go Ahead and Celebrate
The Tack Room Saloon is found on the southwest corner of the arena and is just a bit famous . . . it was named one of the “Top 20 Cowboy Bars in the West” by American Cowboy Magazine. In 2022 the Tack Room Saloon is celebrating its 50th anniversary with its customary raucous good time and live music.
Cowboy Christmas Trees
One of St. Paul’s most unique features are the evergreen trees that are situated along the outside edge of the arena. Originally planted to be markers for the track for the many races held during the rodeo, today they are simply tradition. Actually called arbor vitae, the three foot trees are planted for the rodeo each year and occasionally become part of the rodeo action.
Down the Alley
The setup in St. Paul is truly unique. Apart from the trees along the outside edge, the arena is quite large, leaving all three barrels a big distance from the fences. Missing the corner on the right barrel might get a barrel racer up close and personal with one of the trees.
In addition, the alleyway leading to the barrel race is not for the faint of heart. It’s narrow, travels under the old wooden grandstands, kind of leaving one feeling like they may be traveling in a mine instead of heading for a rodeo. There is a sharp right turn just before you hit the mouth of the arena. Adding to the test, the alley is dark and during bright afternoon performances it can be a challenge to convince a horse to run all the way back into the tunnel.
The Grass is Greener
The day after the rodeo ends each year, volunteers work to plant grass in the arena, transforming the rodeo arena into the football stadium for the St. Paul High School Buckaroos in time for football season in the fall.
In the WPRA barrel racing, the format is just one head spread across the six performances and two slacks (June 30 and July 1) with a limit of 105 entries. Also singular to St. Paul, the barrels are the last event of the rodeo before the fireworks show.
In addition to putting up a ton of money, the St. Paul Rodeo offers a great hospitality tent for contestants, featuring hot meals every performance and streaming the live feed of the arena action. The rodeo also dishes out some cool awards: event champions get a buckle, the All-Around champ receives a $500 cash bonus and buckle, the high money winning contestant from Oregon gets a rifle plus there are special bronzes for special achievement in the tie down and bareback riding.
Who’s Running in 2022?
Reigning champion Stephanie Fryar is back to defend her title and will compete in the second performance. Other past champions on the contestant list are Amberleigh Moore (2019) and Nellie Miller (2017). Miller is the only WPRA World Champion competing this year.
Charmayne and Brittany, Who Else?
It’s not surprising that two of the WPRA’s winningest cowgirls are also the tops in St. Paul. Charmayne James and her great horse Scamper won the St. Paul Rodeo six straight years from 1989-1994. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi has five St. Paul titles to her credit including back-to-back wins in 2006-07 and 2012-13 along with a win in 2009. Although records are incomplete, Pozzi Tonozzi’s 2006 winning time of 17.08 is one of the fastest single runs put up in St. Paul when a WPRA-standard pattern has been used.
Hall of Fame
The St. Paul Rodeo Hall of Fame was created in 1998 and just two barrel racers have earned induction: Charmayne James and Jerri Mann. Mann, an Oregon native, won three titles at the rodeo in 1977 and 1981-82.