Though its name carries a lot of hometown pride, the Pendleton Round-Up draws visitors and volunteers from towns near and far. Hermiston resident and police officer Will Jons has been one such die-hard, bearing the American flag at the Round-Up opening ceremony for the last 25 years.
This Saturday, Jons will complete what may be the most special ride of his Round-Up career, carrying the flag in for the 100th, and last, time.
For Jons, this tradition started before he was a police officer. He was working as a cowboy, and he was a volunteer at the Round-Up. Two weeks before the rodeo, someone asked him if he could carry a flag.
“I said ‘you bet, let’s try it out,’” Jons said.
He hasn’t missed a Grand Entry since.
One of five flag bearers that “run at the rail” each day of the rodeo, Jons rides a horse, which jumps into the Round-Up arena. Jons carries a large American flag, and rides a lap around the arena, waving the flag. At the end of the lap, he stands on the field for the National Anthem.
Jons said he decided that this year will be his last time as one of the flag bearers.
“One hundred grand entries — nobody’s ever done that,” he said. “My biggest fear is being the guy who stays too long.”
But others seem to think he’s leaving too soon.
“I seem to be the only one that thinks this is a good idea,” he said, adding that he’s leaving the door open to coming back.
In honor of his 100th Grand Entry, a group of Jons’ friends got together and commissioned a bronze sculpture. The statue, called “Reign of Freedom,” is almost 30 inches tall, and depicts Jons riding a horse and carrying an American flag.
The pieces were made by Rip Caswell, a bronze sculptor based in Troutdale.
Caswell will make 50 pieces. The initial price is $9,850.
Jons’ friend Kyran Miller said the sculptures are highly detailed.
“Right down to the types of spurs and shoes he wears, and the horse blanket,” he said. He added that those who have seen the sculpture recognize Jons, as well as Toes, the horse he has ridden for seven years.
Miller said Jons was involved with every step of the process in order to get the details right.
He added that Jons puts in a lot of work throughout the year to prepare for the event.
“He starts in April to get the horse ready for September,” Miller said.
Jons said that has changed over the years. When he was still working as a cowboy, he said he wasn’t as diligent about preparing for the Grand Entry. Now that it’s a hobby, he spends several months getting the horse ready.
The Round-Up Association was not involved in the commemoration, but publicity director Randy Thomas said they are proud of all their volunteers.
“Will is among those amazing volunteers, and what he’s done is truly worth appreciating,” Thomas said.
Jons said he was humbled by the sculpture, and has enjoyed his time with the Grand Entry. “It was an opportunity to help out in a very unique way.”
Jons said he’ll continue to volunteer.
“I’ve been there since I was 13,” he said.