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Bulls and Broncs in their Blood
St. Paul, Ore. (June 6, 2016) – Get the Smith family from St. Paul together, and you’ve got a whole lot of history.
And it’s not just the history of the family who settled down, farmed, and still lives in the small community thirty miles south of Portland, but also a history of the St. Paul Rodeo.
Three Smith brothers: Morris, Bill and Carl, were charter members of the St. Paul Rodeo in 1936, when it began, and later, a fourth brother, Claude, became a director alongside his brothers.
The sons of J.E. Smith, the boys “borrowed” their dad’s cows and calves for the St. Paul Rodeo, returning them after the big event every Fourth of July. J.E., also known as Jim, a county commissioner and head of the Oregon Works Project Administration, wasn’t very happy about his cows being ridden and roped at the rodeo. Claude was able to smooth things out with his dad, and the boys kept using their dad’s cattle.
Claude’s son Sam got his start with the rodeo at a young age. He rode his Shetland as a youngster, helping his parents with rodeo duties. In 1959, he married Claudia Ernst, another St. Paul resident, who had grown up going to the rodeo and whose dad ran Ernst Hardware. The couple’s involvement with the event continued.
Sam’s main job at the rodeo when he was younger was to run the livestock out of the arena on horseback. Claudia sold tickets, working the will call window. “Sam was a cowboy and a natural,” she says of her husband. And so the Smiths were always around the rodeo, always in the background helping in whatever way was needed.
Rodeo queens also run in the Smith family. Their oldest daughter Jennifer was queen in 1981, and her daughter, Jackie Crosby, was queen in 2012. Claudia’s aunt Virginia Ernst was the very first St. Paul Rodeo queen, in 1936, and again in 1937, mostly because the rodeo didn’t have enough money to buy a second outfit for the next year’s queen.
The rodeo, which attracts 50,000 people over its five day run, is produced by nearly all volunteers, mostly townspeople from St. Paul, population 400. It takes every person in town to put on a show for that many people, and everybody has a role: from the barbecue chicken cooked by the St. Paul Catholic Church, to parking cars, serving beer, taking tickets, ushering, and all the myriad duties that come with hosting a celebration of that size. The Smiths were right there with everyone else. “When we grew up, everyone worked for the rodeo, your mother and dad, everyone put in hours and hours of labor because they believed,” Claudia says.
“They bought the rodeo story,” Claudia said. “Everyone worked, but it was a big family reunion because everyone was there. Everybody was on every committee, and we had fun. We hired babysitters and went to work on those committees. It’s a wonderful story. It’s an intimate story about St. Paul.”
Claudia remembers, in her youth, working to save money for her rodeo outfit, new jeans and a shirt to wear to the rodeo. “You had to pick a lot of strawberries to get them,” she said, “and beans, and we worked on the hop picker.”
Even though Claudia and Sam are in their eighties, they still volunteer with the St. Paul Rodeo. They help with the annual Wild West Art Show, setting up the vendor spaces, organizing vendors, musicians and artists, and making sure things run smoothly. “We’re active in the Art Show, and I believe it has a value to the whole rodeo story. I think it’s one of the textures of the St. Paul Rodeo story.”
Sam and Claudia are not the only Smiths who continue to volunteer with the rodeo. Morris, Bill and Carl’s children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren are also involved. It’s not common for a family to stay with one group for that long, and Claudia is proud of her family. “In organizations, the family generations do not always stay committed, but the Smiths have, and we’re proud of it, and we’re good at it.
“I believe in our rodeo, and I want it to be bigger and better.”
In addition to Jennifer, the Smiths have three other daughters: Kay, Jeanne, and Stefanie, and son, Monte, who also helps with the rodeo each year.
This year’s St. Paul Rodeo is June 30-July 4. Performances begin at 7:30 pm each night, with a parade at 10 am on July 4 and a matinee performance on the 4th at 1:30pm. Tickets are on sale online and range in price from $16 to $26. For more information on the rodeo, visit the website at StPaulRodeo.com or call the rodeo office at 800.237.5920.