Vale’s 4th of July Rodeo has storied past

Vale residents doff their hats in respect for the flag as the 4th July rodeo gets under way. (Photo from the Library of Congress)

VALE – Vale had been celebrating the Fourth of July for more than a century, before starting up its iconic 4th of July Rodeo in 1914. 

As Vale prepares for this year’s festivities, one way to honor the town’s tradition is to take a look back at what was going on over the 4th in past years. 

A look through archives of the Enterprise as well as a revealing photo gallery from 1941, courtesy of the Library of Congress, provides a historical snapshot of 4th of July festivities in Vale.

The Enterprise began business in 1909, but the earliest reference to the celebration was in an issue dated Saturday, July 9, 1910.

In the issue, a front-page headline read: “Best Fourth Ever Held in County.” The article that followed detailed “the largest crowd ever seen at a Fourth of July celebration in Malheur County” where early the previous Monday, crowds of people meandered “their way to the beautiful grove on the Thebaud ranch, three miles south of town.” 

According to the story, the Vale Concert Band sang “Our Nation’s Pride” “after which over 1,000 people joined in for the largest basket dinner ever seen in this county.”

The orator that day was attorney George Hayes of Vale, who proclaimed that, “The Declaration of Independence breathes of freedom,” before paying tribute “to the pioneers who were present and extended praises for their work in subduing this new land…making it possible the settling of the Malheur valley.”   

In an issue from 1913, one year before the iconic rodeo was established, the news of the day was that the highly anticipated hot-air balloon ascension expected in Vale over the holiday wouldn’t be happening after the aeronaut somehow “lost his balloon in the Puyallup River near Tacoma.” 

However, that didn’t stop the town from holding a series of races as part of the celebration. 

In 1919, less than a year after Germany surrendered and World War I ended, a $7 prize was offered to the “best animal representation” as well as a “pocket knife by Vale Trading Company,” and a “fishing pole by Vale Drug Store” for the winner of the sack race. 

In 1922, Vale celebrated the Fourth with two days of baseball matches, first between Westfall and Ironside and then between Vale and Ontario. The events also included band concerts, dances and a free lunch.

In 1941, the final Fourth of July celebration before the U.S. entered World War II, which cancelled the rodeo for the next four years, Russell Lee, happened to be visiting Vale. He was a photographer working for the Farm Security Administration.

Lee took photos of the 165th Independence Day celebration in Vale, capturing the town’s personality and patriotism. 

A family gathers for a picnic during an early celebration in Vale. (Photo from the Library of Congress)

Reporter Joe Siess – [email protected] or 913-909-6133

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