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CLIFF KAYNOR (1887-1979)

Inducted in 1998

“This rodeo is to the Indian a continuation of their old potlatches, feasts, races, and sports which they held in this valley for hundreds of years before the white man came. To the long-hair, the primitive Indian, the Ellensburg Rodeo is a continuation of sacred rights.”
-Cliff Kaynor, Editor and Publisher, Ellensburg Evening Record

Newspaperman Cliff Kaynor was a founder of the Ellensburg Rodeo and a tireless booster of the rodeo for over five decades of his life. Born in Ames, Iowa, February 20, 1887, to Henry G. and Sarah Ann Stamp Kaynor, Kaynor learned the newspaper trade as a young Iowa reporter. He moved West in 1907 and worked for the Seattle Times, Yakima Daily Republic, and Seattle Post-Intelligencer while attending the University of Washington. He married Bessie Belle Howard, of Yakima pioneer lineage, in 1908. In 1909, Kaynor and a colleague bought an Ellensburg newspaper, The Localizer, which he later renamed The Evening Record and the Ellensburg Daily Record. He became very active in issues and debates revolving around the economic growth of the Kittitas Valley. Cliff Kaynor was an early promoter of the High Line Canal project and, of course, the Ellensburg Rodeo.

Kaynor, alongside Leonard Davis (ERHOF ’97), Doc H. E. Pfenning (ERHOF ’97), Phil Adams, Harry Anderson, George Cooke, Lou Richards, Lou Sharp, and others, literally created the Ellensburg Rodeo in 1923. John Ludtka writes in The Tradition Lives On, that Kaynor organized and orchestrated the ‘town connection’ so vital to the rodeo’s creation; he served on the city parks committee and was President of the Chamber of Commerce (Davis and Pfenning, meanwhile, organized the rural folks to help build the grounds). Together they raised money, cultivated politicians, helped organize their fellow citizens, built the rodeo and fairgrounds, and organized the first 1923 Labor Day Weekend rodeo. Subsequently, Kaynor became a longtime Rodeo Board member (‘27-’47) and President of the Ellensburg Rodeo Board in ’45 and ’46.

It was in his role as editor and publisher of Ellensburg’s Evening Record that Cliff Kaynor accomplished his most important work in promoting the Ellensburg Rodeo. Kaynor’s vision was to build and improve the rodeo so as to “one day make the words rodeo and Ellensburg synonymous.” In hundreds of articles and editorials he promoted the rodeo, touting its Yakima Indian village as “a resurrection of the old days of the Wild West” and prodding locals to support the rodeo with their pocketbooks and volunteer work. It was Kaynor who worked with Lon Cook to gain the Milwaukee Railroad’s support, annually launching special “rodeo trains” to Ellensburg. He promoted these endeavors in the Record and other papers as well; he was a force in the state newspaper association (the publisher’s group). And Kaynor’s promotions evidently knew no limit: for years he took out classified advertisements in literally hundreds of American newspaper dailies, lauding Ellensburg and the merits of its ‘famous’ rodeo! One important testament to Kaynor’s national stature is found in Clifford P. Westermeier’s book Man, Beast, Dust: The Story of Rodeo. This book, one of the most important ever written on the subject, fully acknowledges Cliff Kaynor and his role in the growth of, as well as the preservation of the history of, North American Rodeo.

One of Kaynor’s greatest legacies still plays a prominent role in each Ellensburg Rodeo performance, for it was Cliff Kaynor who wrote the narrative story told as the Yakima Indians descend Craig’s Hill and enter the arena. Kaynor was a talented amateur anthropologist and folklorist. His narrative is no doubt romanticized and popularized (professional anthropologists might well dispute his use of the Coastal term “potlatch” below, for instance). Yet it nevertheless remains the authoritative version of the Indian and Euro-American oral traditions from which the rodeo grew. “The word Kittitas in Indian language means land of plenty food,” Kaynor wrote in the narrative so familiar to generations of Ellensburg Rodeo fans. “Here, as far as the memory of the Indian elders, were held each Spring and Fall the potlatch for all the tribes of Central and Eastern Washington. So at rodeo time hundreds…came back to the land…for their potlatch and they participate in numerous [rodeo] events.”

The above story, transcribed from Indian oral tales by Kaynor, has had considerable impact on the heritage and self-concept of Central Washington Indians and non-Indians alike. Many were, and still are, moved by Kaynor’s conclusion the “the name Kittitas took on a broader meaning until it became known as the valley of peace and contentment as well as the land of plenty.” To this day, many Kittitas Valley residents see their community and its environment in exactly these terms. Thus local pride finds sustenance in a Yakima Indian tale told seventy-six years ago by Cliff Kaynor.

For over fifty years, Cliff Kaynor’s restless energy and work ethic found expression in myriad community and professional endeavors. As John Ludtka notes, Kaynor was President and Board Member of the Ellensburg YMCA (1914-44); President of the Chamber of Commerce (’23 and ’33); Chairman of the School Board (’17 and ’18); a founder of Rotary (’22); President of the Ellensburg Parks and Playground Association (which built the community’s first outdoor swimming pool); a 30-year member of the Episcopal Church vestry; a charter member of the Golf and Country Club; and a founder of the Snoqualmie Pass Highway Association.

In addition, Kaynor earned a national reputation as a community journalist. The Ellensburg Daily Record was a pioneer rural subscriber to the Associated Press; Kaynor served as President of the Washington State Newspaper Association and the National Newspaper Association (in 1965 he received its coveted Amos Award for community service); he was a founding inductee to UW’s Sigma Delta Chi Journalism Honorary Society. And in 1975 Cliff Kaynor was inducted to the Washington State Journalism Hall of Fame at WSU in Pullman.

As time passed, Kaynor somehow retained all of his original enthusiasm for the rodeo. There are pictures of him nailing up rodeo posters, and he even conducted oral interviews of pioneers for the oral history collection of the public library. He retired in 1959, the fiftieth anniversary of his purchase of the Daily Record. Twenty years later, after a long life of professional success and community service, Cliff Kaynor died in Ellensburg on July 19, 1979.