The 74th annual Chief Joseph Days Rodeo in now in the record books. The cowboys’ big horse trailers with living quarters have left. We can cross the street in Joseph again. And getting a meal at your favorite restaurant doesn’t require a long wait. Finally, we can all relax.
Oh, wait. The fair starts this week.
For most of us, Chief Joseph Days is one of summer’s most eagerly anticipated events. For some, that’s because it’s the time they choose to go backpacking to be far, far away from the traffic, tumult, and madding crowds. For others, there’s joy and camaraderie when the cowboys come to town. For the volunteers—and it’s all volunteers—there’s hard work and long hours, and a rodeo too-often witnessed only remotely—courtesy of the announcer’s voice on the loudspeakers. For Terry Jones, there’s a whole lot of exercise and fence-climbing every time he opens one of those chute gates. It’s a midsummer community party, albeit sometimes a raucous one, that celebrates the ranching roots of Wallowa County.
Like virtually all rodeos, Chief Joseph Days honors the American flag and celebrates patriotism. On Saturday, many in the sold-out stands quietly joined in with Jessie Borgerding’s beautiful and inspiring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. The preceding PRCA video recounted the long and proud tradition of our military’s defense of the American flag. But for all its good intentions, the video fell a bit short. Those who gave their lives were not defending just a flag. They were defending the people of the United States and specifically the precious freedoms guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence — that all men are created equal — and the U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights which specifies the right to free speech, a free press, to freedom of religion, and the right to peacefully assemble. Those freedoms importantly include the right to bear arms, the freedom from unwarranted arrests, and the right to due process of law.
This is a lot to include in a three-minute video. And it’s likely that we are all thinking of these things while we are standing hands over hearts, remembering, what the American flag really stands for.
As a nation, and even as a community, we are no strangers to divisiveness. But we have overcome divisiveness in the past and we can now and in the future. The American flag is a symbol we all revere, We need only remember what it actually stands for.
Rodeo announcer Jody Carper expressed this well when he said “The trouble with Congress is that they are too busy being Democrats and Republicans and they’ve forgotten that they are Americans.” We are, after all, a nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.