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As It Was-Champion Horseman Encounters Racist Rodeo Judges

Life was never easy for African Americans in early Oregon, and George Fletcher’s life had its ups and downs.

Fletcher rode in many Oregon rodeos, including the Rogue River Roundup of 1916.  In its coverage of the contest, the Ashland Tidings said Fletcher, “sat in his saddle like a bronze statue...,” but that day he only took third place. The newspaper didn’t mention racial prejudice on the part of the judges, but fairness was not always on Fletcher’s side.

Many felt the judges were biased against him in the Pendleton Roundup of 1911 when Fletcher, a Pendleton native, failed to win first place for an outstanding performance.  The incensed sheriff raised more money in a collection than the winner’s prize and before a cheering crowd he declared Fletcher “the people’s champion.”

Fletcher’s family had settled in Pendleton in the 1890s, where he learned horsemanship from the Umatilla Tribe.  Wounded in WWI, Fletcher discontinued his bronco riding career and became a ranch cowboy.

Before he died in 1973, he had been inducted into the Pendleton Roundup Hall of Fame.  In 2006, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma added his name to its roster.

Sources: "Details of Rogue River Round-up." Historic Oregon Newspapers, Ashland Tidings, 13 July 1916, oregonnews.uoregon.edu/. Accessed 23 Jan. 2020; "George Fletcher." Oregon Black Pioneers, www.oregonblackpioneers.org/blog/black-pioneers/george-fletcher-pendleton-oregon/. Accessed 23 Jan. 2020; “The Greatest Fourth of All.” The Table Rock Sentinel, vol. 7, no. 5, May 1987, p. 23; "The Murphy Family of Ashland." The Table Rock Sentinel, vol. 7, no. 4, Apr. 1987, p. 27; Morrison, Zoe. "George Fletcher: 1890-1973." Oregon Black Pioneers, 24 Feb. 2016. Accessed 23 Jan. 2020. Path: Oregon black pioneers; George Fletcher.   

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.