Over 75 years, a lot has changed for the Sisters Rodeo, according to the queens who ruled it. But there’s one thing that remains: The connection they feel to rodeo life.
Saturday, in the sunshine, 33 former Sisters Rodeo queens and courts rode in the parade, seated on hay bales in their cowgirl hats, boots, fringe leather and turquoise, smiling and waving to the crowd. They’d been rounded up to participate again for the 75th anniversary of the rodeo.
For the queens and princesses though, a lot of the fun came in between their appearances in the parade and rodeo, on the shady lawn of the rodeo grounds clubhouse. With ice teas and black and white photos spread among pop-up tables, the women sat and discussed memories from when each of them were chosen.
Each of the women wore lanyards with their first and maiden name, title and year.
Although many of them stayed in Central Oregon over the decades, one former queen, Cathy Maul Kaech, 66, traveled to Sisters from Midvale, Idaho. There, she said, she and her husband have a small hay farm in an area where cows outnumber the people.
Back when Kaech lived in Redmond, she did barrel racing. Around 1964, her parents bought her a 2-year-old wild mare at the Redmond auction. Kaech was able to train the horse, Sapphire, on her own.
“She went from wild to very responsive. … It was very fulfilling,” Kaech said. “I think girls today can learn a lot from those kinds of examples.”
In 1966, Kaech went to the Sisters Rodeo grounds, then downtown, to practice with her horse. The judging for rodeo queen was going on, but Kaech wasn’t planning to compete. She ended up winning anyway.
On the day of the rodeo, her mom’s boyfriend took the horse to the grounds, and her mom drove Kaech, her siblings and their friends. Kaech said the old horse trailer was so beat up, she was surprised her mare’s feet didn’t fall through the bottom. On the way there, the car full of kids broke down.
“There I was in my white outfit standing on the side of the road,” Kaech said. No one was stopping to pick up the mom and bunch of children. Finally a driver towing a boat pulled over and told them to climb in. So Kaech rode to her rodeo parade in the back of a boat. She laughed recalling the details, realizing both her and Sapphire had a bit of a traumatic experience making it there that day. Still though, she got there in time, white outfit unharmed, ready to ride and wave to the crowd.
Kaech doesn’t rodeo anymore, and hasn’t for a long time, but she still enjoys attending them.
“I’m down to a slow donkey,” she said .
Patty Hammack Hall-Toll, rodeo princess in 1963, said she came from a rodeo family, and passed rodeo down to her sons as well.
“I just loved rodeo all my life,” said Hall-Toll, 67. She lives in Redmond now but still feels the connection to Sisters living on Sisters Highway (U.S. Highway 126). Her best friend, Suzie Lowery Tewalt, the 1963 Sisters Rodeo queen, lives down the road. The women, who attended first through 12th grade together, remained close through the years.
After marrying a rodeo man, Hall-Toll became a rodeo clown and barrel lady from the late ’60s to early ’70s. To teach her how to withstand a bull hitting her in the barrel, at home her husband would hit the barrel slowly with a pickup. Hall-Toll said she learned how to tense up her neck to get ready for the blow. Her clown name was “Bloomin’ Idiot” because she wore a big flower on her hat.
The 1945 Sisters Rodeo queen, Helen Filey O’Brian, 88, of Bend, was also happy to be back at the rodeo. Her connection to Bend, and to Central Oregon, goes way back.
Her son, Steve Cornelius, was there supporting her for the big day. Cornelius explained his mom grew up in the Old Mill long before it was a shopping district. O’Brian’s dad was the barn foreman at the Old Mill for Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Co., where he worked for 25 years. O’Brian had to borrow a bay horse when her big day came for the parade in 1945. Her horse was with foal.
“It was 70 years ago!” O’Brian said, raising her arms in celebration.
Fast forward more than 50 years, and Amorita Patterson Anstett was the one chosen to be queen, in 1998. Anstett, 35, grew up in Prineville and Madras and now lives in Redmond. She still barrel races but didn’t compete in the Sisters Rodeo events. She helps with that rodeo and was the one who planned the reunion of so many past rodeo queens for Sisters’ 75th year. Her main tool to start finding and contacting people?
“Facebook,” she said. She began searching in August 2014. Saturday, her husband and 18-month-old daughter joined her for the fun. Fingers crossed, Anstett said, her daughter will continue the rodeo tradition. Antstett loves the culture and was excited to get so many past rodeo royalty to return. Out of the 121 queens and courts, Anstett located and invited 56 women; 33 made it to the 75th parade to join Mikaela Koellermeier, the 2015 Sisters Rodeo queen, in the festivities.
Another one of the newest queens, Whitney Richey, from 2013, traveled one of the farthest distances to make it back to Sisters. Richey, 25, now lives in Hermiston, so it took her about a four-hour drive. To her, it was worth it to feel connected to the other women.
“We all share something,” she said, then stopped to remark on how old she’d be at the 100th anniversary of the Sisters Rodeo. “I’ll be 50!”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325,