To get a clear picture of why the first pioneers started to county fairs and began a horseracing program, we would have to remember that most of the pioneers were raised where fairs were the only entertainment they had.
In 1878, a couple of men purchased 40 acres of ground in Mt. Vernon and started a "Race Meet" which was the start of our county fair. They named the organization the Grant County Agricultural Association and shares were $1 each and they sold enough to get the celebration underway. Some of the names who participated included: E.H. Brent, H.K. Johnson, Leslie Holland, Frank Oliver, Herman Oliver, Sam Keerins, Johnny Farley, Orin L. Patterson, Harold Patterson, O.L Duchens, F.J. McCallum, E.J. Bagley, Core Fry, R.E. Belshaw, Albert Halsteud, W.H. Moore. A. Begg, L.A. Porter, J.W. Hamilton, H.F. Herburger, C.W. Cassidy, C.M. Timms, H.S. Stone, Stanley Coverhill, John Cranely, Annette White, E.B. Moore, George Gilbert, Dan Gleason, Claude Tracy, C.G. Carl, Veraillran and Little, Tourist Garage, J.G. Slife, Elmer Stathern, Belle Bogard, Fon Clung and Minnie Hermen.
Race horse supporters continued to have a meet at Mt. Vernon and Long Creek until they moved to John Day in 1909. As the years passed, the race meet was the main attraction, but they added a complete fair with exhibition of livestock and vegetables, fruit and handiwork. Later, the rodeo was added and for years was classed as one of the best in the country.
Early Grant County Fairs were held the latter part of September, as the horses came from the Oregon State Fair and then traveled on to Burns. We had race horses and folks from around the Northwest come to our fair, which was outsanding entertainment. This was the last race meet of the year, so there was a good turnout of horses.
Some of the early-day horse owners were Jack Parker, Jack McMann, Trowbridge Ranch, and Jessy Jones, who was a Umatilla Indian Chief and always put on a good show.
As with all competition, the horse races were not without some disagreements and hard feelings. Even today you will get different opinions about who had the fastest horse. I recall several times where a jockey "pulled his horse" to let some other horse win. The fist fights that ensued provided some lively entertainment.
It required a minimum of 50 stalls in good working condition to put on a race meet. As the years went by, it was hard to maintain the fairgrounds and keep the barns in working order - a challenge which eventually put a stop to the horse races.
C.A. Trowbridge and friends from other counties spent some time at the Oregon State Legislature and finally got some funding from the par mutual betting to keep the county fair going. This money was used by small fairs for operations. After the lottery began in Oregon, betting on horses declined, which had negative effects on the financing for horse racing and county fairs.
Now we have to be content with our memories of yesteryear and the great horses that we loved to see run.
Bud Trowbridge lives between John Day and Mt. Vernon with his wife of Savilla. Although now retired, they ranched in the Fox and John Day areas for many years.