Stampeders finally get ropes around Rich Cason

June 19, 2013 01:51 pm

ELGIN —The Elgin Stampeders will honor Stampede Legend Rich Cason as Grand Marshal to preside over the 2013 Elgin Stampede Rodeo festivities during July 11-14.

The Stampeders have had their lassos circling overhead for the elusive mountain man for quite some time.

“Yeah, they got me this time,” said Cason with a subtle smile on his face.  “They have been trying for the past 10 years to make me Grand Marshal, but I didn’t feel old enough for the honor.  This time, though, they finally got me.”

Though he’s not one to talk about himself much, Cason is a man of many accomplishments: a teacher, a quiet philanthropist, a licensed pilot, a horseman, a guide, stock breeder and trainer — the stuff western legends are made of.  

In his own voice, his message machine will tell you, “I’m out riding the range and following my dream.”  

He has been following his dream for the past seven decades, and except for the years he spent teaching public school students, his home has always been Elgin and its surrounding mountain ranges.

Cason was born to Paul and Wilma Cason in a house a stone’s throw away from where he lives today on Fourth Street along the Grande Ronde River. He likes to sleep most nights on his open porch under a buffalo-skin blanket, where he finds peace listening to the sound of the endlessly flowing river and watching the fascinating wildlife that it brings with it.   

His 78 years of life have been like that river, fast flowing and full of life, much of it centered around the Elgin Stampeders. 

“In 1947 when I was about 12 years old, my family joined the Stampeders at the Langden Lake picnic grounds,” said Cason. “We used to meet there and then at the old Legion Hall by the elementary school. I remember the tickets to the first crab feed cost $1.50 per person.” 

Cason’s youth was strongly influenced by one of Union County prominent horseman and cattle ranchers Dick Hibberd. 

“A lot of what I know about horses I learned from Dick Hibberd. I used to ride for him,” said Cason. “Dick was an old jockey at one time.  He raised me for 15 years. Dick put up the money for the Stampede grounds. The club sold shares to build the first hall, and it was paid off by 1957. The Stampeders were still nailing down the floor on the east corner when they had their first dance.”

But before that, Cason said they held their first rodeo at Moore Field, which had been a regulation baseball field (dedicated May 23, 1940). It was located at the present day Elgin Industrial Park. Moore Field was a spacious property, having enough room for 1,000 cars to park.  

“We had our first drill teams there. There was so much room that we easily had 30 to 40 horses out there. There was so much interest in the drill teams that we also had a junior drill team. My two brothers and I were in that for about 14 years.”

Cason served as drill master for 4 years.  “We had some young kids who were really good riders like Linda Moore and Donna Follet.”

When Moore Field was sold in August 1943, its new owner Ralph L. Smith had no interest in paying taxes on a field of dreams that produced no revenue, so baseball games eventually ceased being held there. 

Ernie Adams of Elgin was hired to supervise the dismantling and removing of the grandstands from the property. 

“We moved (part of ) the grandstands to the Stampede grounds,” said Cason. “Dick Hibberd rode on the roof of the grandstand as it was being moved. It took four CATs on each section to move it.” 

Two-thirds of the Moore Field grandstands were moved across the highway to the north end of the Stampede grounds. It was a day Cason never forgot.

“Lots of people (about 40 men) put in lots of sweat that day,” he said. “They served breakfast and worked all day long.”

Cason’s affiliation with the Stampeders, like his parents’, has been lifelong and one of dedication. He has served as president of the Stampeders in 1958, and he’s been on just about every Stampede committee that was ever formed. 

“In 1958 there was no board of directors, so what the president said was how it went,” said Cason. “The Stampeders today are a lot better organized than they used to be.”

He has also participated in many of the riding events. He rode in the chariot races, baton races and quarter horse races. 

He also drove most of the grand marshals in my buggy in the parades. This year, someone else will drive the buggy, and he’ll mount his horse.

“I’ll be riding my running quarter horse, Turbo,” he said.  “My brothers Darrell from Beaverton and Dallas from Corvallis are going to ride with me. My daughter Kathy Barch of Cove and my son Kenny Cason of Snohomish, Wash., will ride my buggy in the parade.”

Cason has raised horses for as long as he can remember, but it was in 1970 that he began to raise paint mules. With pride Cason recently learned that one of his mules that he raised and sold to the Lane Ranch in Lancaster, Calif., won the 2012 World Class Championship and the 2013 Reserve World Class Championship for working mules in Bishop, Calif.  The winning mule had four stocking legs up to the knees, said Cason. Four other mules he raised also won first place awards at the same show.

His love for working mules traces back to his packing days when he worked at Red’s Horse Ranch, 20 miles east on the Minam River.  There he met actors Burt Lancaster and Peter Ustinov, and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.  

“I used to pack a lot of funny things to and from Red’s,” said Cason, “including an old dump rig, airplane wings, green two-by-twelve 20-foot long boards in tandem, a pump organ and a dead man from Umatilla Canyon.”   

Since 1970, he’s won many ribbons for his mules and horses, showing them off in the Elgin Stampede parades for the past 60 years and at the Pendleton Round-Up for the last 58 parades.

It’s with good reason that the Stampeders have wanted to honor Cason. 

Stampeders’ president Monty McIntosh said, “Cason is about the oldest living Stampeder I know of, and he’s very deserving.  He’s worked at just about everything in the organization, and he’s really a nice person.”