Inducted in 1998
The Ferguson family created and hosted what was probably the first rodeo ever held in the Kittitas Valley at the family homestead four miles east of Ellensburg. The family went on to play a significant role in the creation and growth of the Ellensburg Rodeo.
Elizabeth McEwen (b. 1851) and James Ferguson (b. 1839) were both Iowans who migrated West with their families over the overland trail. They met in Washington Territory and were wed in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1867. Elizabeth and James first arrived in the Kittitas Valley in 1872, building a ranch near Naneum Creek on what is now called Ferguson Road. Their ten children were Olive, John, Emily, James, Lottie, Addie, George, Lillie, Benjamin, and Bessie. James Ferguson died in 1917. The connections of the Fergusons to other Pioneer Rodeo Families is evident in Elizabeth’s maiden name (McEwen) and Lillie’s marriage to Thomas Jefferson Morrison. Much of the Ferguson family history has been researched and written by their great-grand daughter with another famous valley surname, Sandy Thomas.
The Fergusons earned their living herding cattle and wrangling wild horses from the Columbia River plateau. This naturally led them into bronc riding and rodeo. Soon, young men from all over the Kittitas Valley came to “Grandma [Elizabeth] Ferguson’s” to break and ride wild horses with the Ferguson boys. Soon the weekly riding became a “Sunday rodeo” as Ben Ferguson explained in a 1970s interview for the Ellensburg Public Library Oral History Collection: “We had all them horses and my brother and a couple of friends put on a rodeo…My brother, he just wanted to have some fun. Just got a neighbor boy or two here, went out and rounded them [cattle and horses] up. They got a wagon load of poles and made the corral and made the arena [and] chutes.” During the early 1920s the Fergusons staged rodeos “every other Sunday” and it was not unusual for 100 to 300 spectators to attend.
The economic potential of all this activity did not go unnoticed. Ben Ferguson remembered that several townspeople saw “that we was having a big time” and began to discuss the possibility of staging a rodeo in the Ellensburg city limits. Sometime around 1922, a group came to ask the Ferguson brothers to assist in staging the first Ellensburg Rodeo: “They [the townsmen] come out and got us to go in there and furnish the horses.”
The Fergusons and their relatives were thus central to the creation of the Ellensburg Rodeo. They supplied horse and manpower for construction of the rodeo grounds, and Elizabeth supplied some of the bucking stock. Several of the Ferguson men and women became rodeo volunteers and competitors. George was a pick-up man, and he and Jim bred horses and raced in the flat and relay races. (Jim later took up professional horse racing with his cousins, Harvey and Eddie McEwen). Ben worked behind the chutes and also as a pickup man and horse racer. He and his son Bud later raced at the Ellensburg Rodeo, Puyallup, Portland, and many other race tracks. Ben also trained race horses. Grandma Ferguson raced her thoroughbreds in Ellensburg, Walla Walla, Portland, and Vancouver BC. Equally talented was George’s wife Mayme (Wyatt) Ferguson, who consistently scored victories in the Ellensburg Rodeo ladies’ flat and relay races on her and George’s prized horse “Buzz.”
At the same time, the Fergusons were enthusiastic participants in the Ellensburg Rodeo Night Pageant. This event was a night-time equestrian drama akin to Pendleton Oregon’s Happy Canyon Show. Like Happy Canyon, the Ellensburg Rodeo Pageant traced the development of the American West, from the time of Indians to the first white explorers and finally to the civilization brought by the ranching and agricultural settlements. George played the role of a U. S. Army cavalryman in a “battle” with the Yakima Indians that recreated the historic Yakima Indian Uprising. In the drama, George rode to the rescue of Mayme and their daughters, Thelma and Phyllis. Ida Nason, a respected elder of the Kittitas Band, played the role of Sacajawea in the pageant.
In retrospect, the Fergusons helped to originate early Kittitas Valley rodeo, transform it into the famed 1923 Ellensburg Rodeo, and then nurture its growth in the years that followed.