August 07, 2002 11:00 pm
Gladys Nobles ().
Gladys Nobles ().

By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

ENTERPRISE — Gladys Nobles says she feels honored to have been selected as queen of the fourth annual Redneck Rodeo.

For nearly half a century Nobles has lived on a Century Farm, 10 miles northwest of Enterprise in the Leap area.

"I'm not a town person," Nobles said. "I have lived a different kind of life out there, enjoyed it and I still love it today.

"I love my horses," she said.

Nobles remembers her first horse "Brownie." Her grandparents homesteaded in the canyon. Gladys grew up on the Imnaha River midway between both grandparents, Albert and Rowena Morgan and Charlie and Nancy Crader.

As a child she walked four miles to the Craders. Her grandfather asked if she'd like to have a horse to ride back home.

"I had a lot of fun playing with her," Nobles said. She'd hitch Brownie to a stone boat and drive her around her parents Jess and Inez Crader's farm.

Nobles, too little to throw a harness over Brownie's back, stood on nail kegs. Not tall enough to put on the horse collar, she would put it on upside down and get on the horse to fasten it.

A long-time rodeo fan, in 1946 Nobles walked up to the rodeo atop the Wallowa Lake moraine. She hasn't missed a Chief Joseph Days Rodeo since. The parades went right past her parents' Main Street home.

She's also attended all the Redneck Rodeos and has long been active in the Wallowa County Fair, both being held this week.

Nobles was a 4-H livestock class instructor. She feels fortunate to have raised her four children on the ranch. The youngsters showed 4-H and FFA livestock at the fair.

The boys, JD of Enterprise and the late Eddie, played ball. Jim and Gladys attended virtually every Enterprise game at home and away. She still does.

Her daughters inherited their mother's love for horses. Debbie Gilbert of Enterprise was a Chief Joseph Days queen, and Tammy Sundin of Pendleton was on the Elgin Stampede Court. This year's Elgin and Baker City parades included Gladys representing the Redneck Rodeo.

"She's always helping kids," said Redneck Rodeo organizer Evelyn Lovell. She buys their livestock at the fair auction.

"I had more kids than my own call me ‘Mom,' " Nobles said.

Most of the children she's known have been good kids, she said. If they weren't, "we talked to them a lot. ... We got them involved with something they liked — like 4-H and FFA. We made pretty good kids out of 'em."

The Nobles kids' extracurricular activities had to accommodate the ranch work.

"I drug the kids along," Nobles said about working side by side in the fields with her late husband, Jim. "By the size of them, it didn't hurt any of them.

"I've always been an outdoor person," she added. Instead of playing with dolls, with a gallon can she'd patiently empty a section of her dad's irrigation ditch, catch trout by hand and haul them in a bucket of water to a fresh water pond she built.

"That was fun to me," she said. "Kids do different now."

Born in 1931, Gladys was the middle of two sisters, Norma Barton of Joseph and Nadine Henry of La Grande.

"We lived different than nowadays. We did not have to live so fast," she said.

In 1943 the family moved to Barton Heights in Joseph, where she finished school.

During high school summers she'd drive a team and a buck rake for farmers.

"You didn't have equipment then like now. Everything was done with horses."

The first summer after high school she was back down on the Imnaha driving derrick to stack hay for her grandparents, the Craders. The loose hay stacks were tapered to shed the water of storms and reduce spoilage.

In 1955, she married Jim Nobles. They built a one bedroom house on the farm his grandparents homesteaded more than 110 years ago today.

By the time the couple's third child was born, they had moved into the large farm house, previously occupied by Jim's sister Marge McGraw and her family.

Neighbors got together for things like branding. They built more than 11 miles of their own phone line in the late '50s.

The neighboring ranches would hire Marvin Lovell to shear their sheep.

"I don't care where we start, but we have to end up at Gladys' for lunch," Lovell would say.

Gladys would prepare the meal, put it in the oven and then go out and tromp the wool in a sack, until it was time to clean up and serve the meal.

"I was more of a hired hand than a housewife," Gladys said, "But, I didn't do anything I didn't like to do."

Reach Gary Fletcher at

gfletcher at or call 426-3255.