Queen Genevie recalls Western lifestyle and first Stampede rodeo
Genevie Belle Wells, 85, lives with her husband, Waide, in a quiet neighborhood in Elgin. They’ve shared life together for the past 63 years and raised two children, Mark and Janice. However, in 1946 when the first Stampede rodeo was organized, Gen and Waide were just high school sweethearts. Looking back over the past six decades, Gen wonders where all the years have gone, but among them, the first Elgin Stampede holds fond memories.
Gen is the daughter of Carl and Rula (Stowe) Long. She was born Oct. 27, 1924, on the 1,500-acre Long ranch on Cricket Flat. Her younger brother, Glenn, was born in 1926, and with their parents, they enjoyed an active ranching life filled with livestock and chores.
“We raised cattle, pigs and chickens,” said Gen. “We had eight to 10 milking cows and raised 200 baby chicks each spring. Mother sold the eggs and cream, and that paid for our groceries. Mom made her own butter from the cream, and I remember churning the butter — seemed like half a day of churning.”
Gen’s father raised and sold red and white Pintos. He introduced Gen to riding horses when she was 2 years old. By the age of 5, she was riding alone bareback and herding the livestock home.
“Right after I got home from school, I took off my good shoes and rode bareback to the pasture 1 1/2 miles away to bring the milking cows back to the barn,” said Gen. “We had some registered Hereford stock and some Holsteins and Jerseys.”
The Longs had 720 acres in pasture on Clarks Creek and another 580 acres on Stubblefield Mountain. Once a week, Gen rode nine miles, a 1 1/2-hour ride to the pasture on the mountain to check on the water supply in the carved-out wooden water troughs.
“I rode behind Dad at first,” said Gen. “Then I got my own gelding, Old Ginger, a red horse with a black mane and tail.”
Gen also learned to hunt on the ranch. Since the age of 8, she has wielded a gun, and nearly every year since then, she’s been bringing deer and antelope home to the dinner table.
“I’ll be 86 this coming October, and this old gal is going elk hunting this year,” said Gen, who just received her elk tag.
Besides a rich heritage of riding, ranching and hunting, 9-year-old Gen also learned to play a guitar. Her father was a fiddler, and together they played at grange hall dances. A collection hat was passed around, netting her about $2 — a pretty good wage for a night of music.
The Long family also enjoyed riding, camping and fishing trips along the Minam with the Stampeders riding club. All of these ranching families were talented riders and rodeo enthusiasts, so it came as no surprise that they began talking about holding a rodeo in Elgin. After all, Pendleton had been holding rodeos since 1910, so the local cowboys and buckaroos thought it was time to have their own.
In 1946, a meeting was scheduled and area ranchers, including the Longs, Stowes, Follettes, Tuckers, Coes, Gilliams, Hibberds, Gutherys, Hindmans, Stringhams, Smiths and “most of the people on Cricket Flat” met to talk about the details of the rodeo and to vote for a rodeo queen.
Gen was 21 then and thought her friend Lorena Evers would make a good queen. She encouraged her father to vote for her at the meeting. When he came home from the meeting, though, he told Gen, “They didn’t vote for her. They want you.”
Gen recalled how scared she felt. She told her father, “I don’t know anything about being a rodeo queen.” But he answered, “You can learn, can’t you?”
So her Aunt Edna Stowe took her to Hamley’s Store in Pendleton, where Gen was measured for a riding shirt, a leather vest with white fringe, a skirt, boots and a hat. The entire outfit cost the Longs $150, which was quite expensive in 1946.
The rodeo was sponsored by the Elgin Chamber of Commerce, and it was held at the Bill Moore baseball field across from the present day Stampede grounds. The rodeo was held Friday and Saturday nights and during Sunday.
“The clown who was hired for the first rodeo was called Cherokee Bill, and he also acted as a bullfighter,” Gen said.
Queen Gen was introduced to the rodeo audience, dressed in her new Hamley outfit, riding her 6-year-old mare, a red and white Pinto named Jacket.
“My duties were to ride around the arena, lead parades, give out ribbons and awards during the rodeo and attend the dances every night,” she said. “By the time the dances started, I was getting a little tired. It was a grueling schedule to keep up with.”
Gen recalled that her extended family were all involved with the 1946 Stampede.
“I come from a family of horse people — the Stowes,” said Gen. “Uncle Ed and Bert trained horses to do tricks. At the first rodeo, Uncle Bert was a gate man and Uncle Ed was the pick-up man. Dad organized the parade that year.”
It’s hard to believe that exciting rodeo weekend was 64 years ago, but with each passing rodeo, Gen is reminded of that time in her life and how it exemplifies the Western lifestyle that defines her and which she loves so dearly.