Despite changing times, Roundup still ropes us in

May 08, 2007 11:00 pm

You could get pie and coffee at Sonora's Gem Cafe for two bits, TV was black and white and ranching really was a way of life in Tuolumne County.

The year was 1958 and the decade-old Sheriff's Posse had an idea its members thought just might catch on.

For a county of 20,000 whose economy was driven largely by the cattle industry, reasoned the Redshirts, a parade and rodeo were naturals. So the first Mother Lode Roundup was set for May 10 and 11 — Mother's Day Weekend — in the tradition of spring rodeos that dated back to 1916.

That debut Roundup was a huge success for entertainment-hungry Sonora. "More Than 7,500 Watch Huge Parade Spectacle," trumpeted the May 12, 1958, Union Democrat, which also carried stories on the success of local cowboys in an amateur rodeo that packed the brand-new arena stands at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds.

Although charter posseman Marion Sanguinetti said that first rodeo cleared only $75, the event's success was no surprise. Tuolumne, after all, was a cow county with scores of ranches and thousands of cowboys who actually made a living in the saddle.

That the Mother Lode Roundup has survived and prospered in a community whose economy and population have changed dramatically makes the event all the more impressive.

Most county residents today aren't wranglers anymore. Fewer and fewer know much about horses. And the guy moseying into the Western wear store to buy a Resistol hat or a pair of Justin boots is more likely to be an accountant, lawyer or real estate agent than a cowboy.

Now Tuolumne County has 60,000 people and a marketplace dominated by tourism and government.

Ranching? It seems like almost an afterthought as developers covet chunks of pasture with an eye toward division and luring the next wave of equity immigrants from Mountain View or San Leandro.

But the Mother Lode Roundup remains more popular than ever. Saturday's parade, as it has for decades, will draw a throng of 20,000 or more to Washington Street's sidewalks. And the rodeo sessions, now drawing some of the nation's top professional cowboys, will also pack in crowds.

Credit the Sheriff's Posse, whose membership has also changed profoundly as nearly three generations have passed. The posse, now more business owners and professionals than cowboys, have fine-tuned the community's biggest celebration while not tampering with its essence.

The parade, which once invited TV stars and Sacramento politicians to be grand marshals and recruited novelty acts and bands from the Bay Area, is now a rolling community showcase featuring a home-grown grand marshal leading scouts, 4-Hers, veterans, firefighters, bikers, bands, rangers, wranglers, twirlers, tumblers and, of course, cowboys and cowgirls.

No, most of us can't be back in the saddle again this weekend because we were never there in the first place. But even the most bookish among us enjoy seeing a cowboy hanging onto a half-ton bull for dear life.

The bottom line is that the Sheriff's Posse have over a half century shaped the Roundup into a colorful, entertaining and appealing celebration of our community and its heritage.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board — Publisher Geoff White, Managing Editor Patty Fuller and senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.