Inducted in 2004
Born in southwestern Minnesota in 1930, Bob Swaim moved West during the Depression, first to Los Angeles, and then to Oregon in 1938. Swaim matured in the rodeo country of northeastern Oregon and the Palouse—Madras, John Day, Pendleton, and Lewiston, Idaho. He went to work as a cowboy at age 13 and joined the RCA (Rodeo Cowboys Association, predecessor to today’s PRCA) in 1949. His first professional rodeo competition was in Warm Springs, Oregon.
During a nineteen-year professional career as a bulldogger and bareback bronc rider, Bob Swaim won day money, event championships, and all-around championships throughout the Pacific Northwest. He won the bulldogging, bareback bronc riding, and the All-Around in Joseph (OR), Grangeville and Couer d’Alene (ID), Moses Lake, (WA), and other venues. In addition, he competed in the famed annual New York City Madison Square Garden Rodeo. Swaim first entered the Ellensburg Rodeo in 1952 and earned the Reserve Championship in 1955. He retired from active competition in 1968.
In the meantime, Bob Swaim had begun work in the field of record-keeping, earning the job of “Rodeo Secretary” in several venues. Swaim was the Ellensburg Rodeo’s Secretary for a record twenty-three years, from 1958-1980. As Secretary, he orchestrated the many complicated transactions taking place “behind the chutes” that rodeo fans never see. The Secretary is in charge of the registration and processing of all cowboy contestants, insuring they know when and where they will compete and what animals they draw.
Swaim welcomed and recorded all entrants, collected their fees, and administered the stock drawing, placements, day money, and final “payouts” to the cowboys and cowgirls. “Everything was done in a spiral notebook back in those days” and “most of the activity was cash,” Swaim remembers. “Nowadays it’s all done with computers and faxes, mostly in Colorado Springs (headquarters of the PRCA).”
Throughout his career, Bob Swaim worked at trucking and ranching in addition to his rodeoing. Shirley Swaim worked rodeos with her husband for over two decades, and Bob credits her “tremendous help” in his career.
Swaim has many good memories of Ellensburg, and once told the Daily Record “We love to come here and see all our friends.” As a contestant in 1950s, he remembers sharing expenses and rooms in the Old Antlers Hotel on Sixth and Pine. “That was quite a place,” he recalls. “The Ellensburg Rodeo,” he stressed, “is every bit as good as other rodeos, including Pendleton.” Swaim worked as Secretary for several other shows, including Omak, Spokane, Grangeville, Las Vegas, Nevada, and the Pendleton Roundup, from 1963-1980.
Bob Swaim retired as Ellensburg Rodeo Secretary in 1980; the Saturday show that year was dedicated to him. Today, he still attends many Northwest rodeos when he can spare time from raising cattle and quarter horses on his and Shirley’s White Swan ranch.
Over the years, professional cowboys have consistently ranked Ellensburg among the nation’s best rodeos for its professionalism and treatment of cowboys, and no small share of the credit for that goes to Bob Swaim. Typically, Swaim gives credit to others: “The Ellensburg Rodeo’s (volunteer) organizers,” Swaim noted, “always drew the best competitors and still do.”