TWIN BRIDGES – Nationwide, rodeo is a high-powered cash cow for top competitors riding before crowds of thousands. In the Salmon River country, the sport remains close to its traditional roots where generations have pitted their work skills and courage against the clock or hundreds of pounds of frenzied hooves.
“It’s not a moneymaker,” said Toni Baker, organizer for the White Bird Rodeo. “We’re here more for entertainment for the kids and spectators.”
This year is the 30th for the rodeo, and takes place this Friday and Saturday, June 14-15, at the arena south of White Bird at Twin Bridges. Along with eight main events, and three novice events, this year’s rodeo will feature mini bulls competitions, a new offering cycled in to keep the offerings fresh.
As of press time Monday, the two-day event was looking to have nearly 90 entries for both days, which Baker said is down about 50 from prior years.
The White Bird Rodeo Committee manages the annual event, a 10-member board for the 501c3 nonprofit that works year-round to pull together and promote this community sport. Its origin, Baker explained, was as something to complement the annual White Bird Days celebration.
“They wanted something else to do during White Bird Days,” she said. “People come back to town to visit or for family reunions, but they wanted another draw, so they decided on a rodeo.” That year, 1990, it was quickly organized, so much so they didn’t have time to set up a rodeo queen, which since has been an essential part of promoting and celebrating this local event.
The White Bird Rodeo faces the standard small-town challenges of getting enough draw of competitors, finding and maintaining sponsors, and keeping the enthusiasm going of a small core of volunteer organizers.
“From my standpoint, the challenge is just to maintain the sport of rodeo,” Baker said. She noted there is a big decline in the rough stock events – bull riding, saddle bronc and bareback – and the thinning competitor base looks uncertainly to the upcoming generation to take their places in these “mom and pop” rodeos.
“Someone needs to be following in their footsteps,” she said. “The older cowboys are finding they don’t bounce like they used to, so they’re getting out of it or they just don’t want to anymore. Unless you’re born into it or want to do it, unless you have a son or daughter to follow you, there’s no one to take their places.”
The rodeo has gone through changes during its 30 years. It first started at Hammer Creek Campground outside White Bird, but several years later it was able to relocate to the Twin Bridges property, which is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. This was a significant move, Baker explained, as the group could not keep permanent structures at Hammer Creek – these would have to be built and dismantled before and after each rodeo.
“Now, we can leave it open to the public for use year-round,” she said, which allows for other uses including high school rodeo, 4-H groups, “and, when the weather is not good up here [on the Camas Prairie] and you want to go ride, you can trailer your horses there and ride. Or, someone wants to get their horses used to the arena or the barrels, we leave it set up so they can.”
Organizers stress this is a family-friendly rodeo, with something for everyone. No beer garden on site – not in their lease and “we don’t want one,” Baker said – but attendees are welcome to bring in their coolers, blankets and lawn chairs, and enjoy the Father’s Day weekend event that, she said, is unique among rodeos.
“It’s the small-town rodeo with the Salmon River as your background,” she says. “It’s a very pretty place where it sits.”
It’s also one that people plan their vacations around to attend, Baker said. It’s location, visible off the highway, has been a draw for travelers who bring in their trailers and motor homes, and for the past three years has been a stop for a motorcycling club.
“You see them coming in down from the top, in their leathers, a couple with long beards,” she said. “Just a nice group of guys. They come in, watch the rodeo, mingle with everybody, and then leave.”
What is something that stands out for Baker about the White Bird Rodeo?
“I like watching the kids’ faces; they just have the biggest smiles,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re playing in the dirt, on the bleachers or running barrels in the arena.”