George Fletcher and the Pendleton Round-Up

A True Pioneer

Public Domain,
George Fletcher, Wikimedia Commons image

It is almost September, which means it’s almost time for another Pendleton Round-Up.

The town of Pendleton is home to our original mill, and our company has been involved with the Round-Up since its very beginning, including the controversial saddle bronc competition of 1911 immortalized by Oregon’s Ken Kesey in his novel, The Last Go-Round.

It was around a sagebrush campfire in eastern Oregon that Kesey first heard the tale from his father – about the legendary “last go round” that took place at the original Pendleton Round Up in 1911. Hundreds of riders were competing for the first World Championship Broncbusting title, but it was one special trio of buckeroos that provided the drama: a popular black cowboy, George Fletcher; a Nez Perce Indian cowboy, Jackson Sundown; and a fresh-faced kid from Tennessee name of Johnathan E. Lee Spain. Who would walk away with the prize money and the silver-studded saddle? When the dust cleared, everyone knew they’d witnessed something extraordinary (

We’ve written before about Jackson Sundown. Today, we’d like to talk about another one of those three cowboys: saddle bronc rider George Fletcher.

George Fletcher

Fletcher was born in 1890 in Saint Mary’s, Kansas. His family came West on the Oregon Trail when he was quite young. He grew up near Pendleton, Oregon, working with horses at ranches and on the Umatilla Reservation. He entered his first rodeo at the age of 16 and went on to become one of the finest saddle bronc riders on the circuit.  

Fletcher is best remembered for his presence at the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up, where he was the first African American to ever compete in bronc riding. Judges awarded first prize (the winner’s saddle) to Spain. Second place went to Fletcher and third to Sundown.

By OSU Special Collections & Archives : Commons - George Fletcher, No restrictions,
George Fletcher, Public Domain

To put it mildly, the crowd did not agree with the decision. Witnesses said the enraged audience began to take apart the grandstand, plank by plank. In order to calm the crown, Sheriff Til Taylor tore George Fletcher’s hat into pieces. He sold the scraps to the audience until he had raised enough money to buy Fletcher a champion’s saddle, declaring him “The People’s Champion.”

Fletcher continued to ride, but he was not allowed to compete in many large rodeos. Other cowboys refused to compete against him, due to both his skill and his race. But he continued to display his skills. According to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, “Fletcher made exhibition rides on rank broncs, bulls and buffalos at Pendleton and elsewhere prior to his service in World War I. After the war he cowboyed for many years in Oregon…George Fletcher passed from the arena in 1971.” 


When the Round-Up began its Hall of Fame in 1969, Fletcher was among the first group of ten honorees. Learn more about the Hall of Fame here: Pendleton Round-Up Hall of Fame

In 2001, George Fletcher was inducted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame. See his entry here: George Fletcher at the Rodeo Hall of Fame

In 2014, the city of Pendleton erected a bronze statue of George Fletcher by artist Jerry Werner.

Bronze statue of George Fletcher
photo courtesy Travel Oregon

The statue is located the 300 block of Main Street as part of Pendleton’s Bronze Trail, which commemorates people and places in the town’s history. You can read more here: The Bronze Trail

In 2019, acclaimed children’s author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson published a picture book about Fletcher’s legendary ride. Learn more about it here: Let ‘Er Buck! George Fletcher, the People’s Champion

In 2021, Travel Oregon posted a feature on George Fletcher. Read it here: Pendleton Pioneers who Paved the Way for Diversity  

In 2021, the city of Pendleton unveiled a George Fletcher mural. See it here: Pendleton Mural Honors Cowboy George Fletcher

Learn more about the Pendleton Round-Up here: The Pendleton Round-Up

And if you’re ready for a wild and wooly (and fictionalized) deep dive, Ken Kesey’s novel is here: The Last Go Round

Let-er Buck!

Blue "Born in Oregon" logo

The Pendleton ’49er for Fall 2018

Quality Never Goes Out of Style

The Pendleton 49’er is a perfect illustration of the adage that quality never goes out of style.

A young woman sits on some wooden steps, wearing a Pendleton 49'er wool shirt jacket.

This American classic is still going strong after more than sixty years. But where did it come from?

A vintage Pendleton ad that shows a variety of Pendleton wool plaid pieces, including the Pendleton 49'er jacket.

49’er History

The answer starts with the changes for women in World War II, when American women proclaimed, “We can do it.” This iconic WWII image was used in countless posters and bond drives during WWII. A serious woman dressed for hard work with her hair in a kerchief, the image still fixes us today, gazing out at onlookers over a flexed bicep.

The Rosie the Riveter poster from WWII, with the caption "We Can Do It!" A woman on the assembly line flexes her arm to show her strength.

She was a symbol of women stepping up to fill the need for factory workers during wartime, but she was also part of the emergence of one of Pendleton’s most enduring items of womenswear: the 49’er jacket.

Pendleton’s success with men’s shirts had happened twenty years earlier, but during WWII, men were not the only people enjoying distinctive plaids and ombres in pure virgin wool. Women began to borrow men’s work shirts for both work and warmth. It’s possible that by wearing their husband’s shirts, women kept the memories of their husbands, fiancés and brothers close, though many undoubtedly needed some serious work wear that was simply not available for women at the time. Whatever the reason, women loved Pendleton shirts.

In 1949, when market research identified an opportunity for sportswear for women, Pendleton entered the market with their first women’s line. This was a test offering of classic skirts, jackets and shirt, to test exactly how the American woman would react to a branded line of virgin wool sportswear. The positive response was resounding, but no one could have predicted the enormous success of a single garment introduced that year.

Says Linda Parker, head of Pendleton Communications, “The first women’s line in 1949 was composed of five items.  It is amazing to me that out of such a limited initial offering that the ’49er would develop such an immediate following and reputation.”  The jacket referred to both the year of its introduction, and the California Gold Rush, in a nod to Pendleton’s Western roots.

The designer was Berte Wiechmann, a young woman who came to Pendleton from Jantzen,  another iconic Portland apparel company. Miss Wiechmann sewed the original samples herself, taking styling particulars from the Pendleton men’s shirt. The ’49er jacket featured discreet tucking at the yoke, and two bias-cut patch pockets near the hem. The boxy cut showcased Pendleton’s famous plaids, and larger iridescent shell buttons softened the look.

Miss Weichmann was very particular about these buttons. She insisted on a special black shell from Australia and Tahiti, supplied by J. Carnucci & Sons, NJ.

In 1956 alone, Pendleton would use $150,000.00 worth of these buttons.

Yes. You read that correctly. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of buttons alone, in 1956.

The desirability of the ’49er was immediate, despite the introductory retail price range of $14.95 to $17.95. Says Parker, “We have many testimonials of how young women saved their babysitting and strawberry-picking money in order to buy a ’49er.  Women everywhere had it on their wish list of gifts.” The first consumer was the collegiate girl, who were in the grips of a menswear inspired trend. The ’49er was perfect over a white cotton dress shirt over “trews,” narrow wool pants.

The first print ad for the ’49er ad was done by Fred Love in 1950. A college girl in a MacLamond tartan ’49er pretends to ignore the cartoonish interest of the college boy behind her, snug and stylish in her ’49er. Love continued to illustrate the ads through 1951, when famed illustrator Ted Rand took over the job of communicating the Pendleton ’49er with ads that are still iconically beautiful. He changed the focus from the teenager to the woman, and incorporated elements of the Western landscape when he could.

The first Pendleton ad for Womenswear featured a drawing of a "college coed" in her Pendleton plaid pieces, with the caption, "Stunning News - Pendleton Add-a-piece Casuals."

The ’49er’s simple, casual styling continued to be a perfect fit for the emerging suburban lifestyle of post-war America. During the post-war years, it served as one of the easiest solutions for outerwear over all the Baby Boom baby bumps. Parker explains, “I personally think that Ted Rand shares some of the kudos for making the ’49er a household name with his inspired illustrations.”

An Artistic Genius

A classic vintage ad for Pendleton sportswear from 1952, featuring a Pendleton 49'er jacket, art by Ted Rand.

Another classic vintage ad for Pendleton sportswear from 1957, featuring a Pendleton 49'er jacket, art by Ted Rand.

Ted Rand began illustrating Pendleton ads in 1953. His elegant women and echoes of the Western landscape moved the jacket from the campus to the suburbs, where it became the staple of a woman’s wardrobe. The popularity soared and knock-offs abounded, to the point where the company had to seek legal protection of the design. Yes, the ’49er is a patented jacket!

From the Archives

The earliest ’49er in the Pendleton archives is a red, yellow and chartreuse version owned by Mrs. Sarah Brourink, who sent it to our archives in the year 2000 after wearing it for 51 years. Here is a vintage example in the exact plaid.

The original Pendleto 49'er jacket in a bright block plaid.

In the years of its prime (1949-1961), over a million Pendleton ’49ers were sold to American women. And it continues to sell well now, after re-introduction in the early 2000s. Collectors still chase after the originals, and beautiful examples can be seen on elated bloggers. Our re-issues do extremely well whenever they are included in a Fall or Holiday line.  Whether in the arresting brights of a bold Buchanan tartan, or the shaded colors of a subtle ombre plaid, the silhouette is still unmistakable. Still made of 100% virgin wool woven in our USA mills, the ’49er works dressed up with a skirt and a belt, or dressed down with jeans. Like a good wool men’s shirt, it serves as a go-to second layer for the backyard or the office.

Fashion is fleeting, but style endures.

The Pendleton 49’er is a perfect illustration of that.

A young model wears heans and a Pendleton 49'er jacket.

Check out the 49’er here: Pendleton 49’er jacket

Twin Peaks and Pendleton

a collage of Pendleton garments as they appeared on the original Twin Peaks.

The original

Yes, there’s a new one, but this is the old one. It arrived with muted fanfare and a creepy score by Angelo Badalamenti. Twin Peaks, that is. With its overhung skies, tall trees and abundant Pendleton clothing, it briefly took the national psyche by storm. It also stormed right to the top of the Nielsen ratings. Remember those? Well, that’s okay. Nielsen ratings used to mean a little more than they do now.

Twin Peaks was a phenomenon. We all wandered around the day after an episode, confused and asking each other, who were these people? What happened to Laura Palmer? Was that really the blonde chick from Mod Squad? And exactly why was that lady carrying around that log?

the log lady wears a vintage Pendleton sweater and carries her log

We’d like to give you a little tour of Twin Peaks territory, especially the Pendleton aspects.


Let’s start with Audrey, because Audrey was so…timeless. Oh Audrey, your nature was obvious. Your taste in men was terrible. But your taste in skirts was impeccable.

Audrey from Twin Peaks in a Pendleton reversible skirt.
Audrey from Twin Peaks in a Pendleton reversible skirt.

For reasons no one understood, even though the show was set in the late eighties, Audrey wore a 1950s bad girl ensemble of sweaters and reversible Pendleton skirts. No one complained. No one at all.

Audrey from Twin Peaks in a Pendleton reversible skirt.

Audrey, we were never sure why you were dancing. Or really sure why we were watching. But you always held our attention.

Audrey from Twin Peaks in a Pendleton reversible skirt.

Bad Boys

Not much happened in the diner, but it was clearly the heart of the town.

shelley_bobby_and_leo in the Diner, wearing plaid Pendleton.

One of our favorite shots. Leo, Shelly, Bobby. Leo’s bad attitude is just barely contained by his vintage Pendleton shirts.

Eric Dare as leo in a plaid Pendleton shirt.
Eric Dare as leo in a plaid Pendleton shirt.

Bobby was bad, and the shirt, well, it was badder, man. His hair is a little extreme, but the Pendleton shirt is on point.

Bobby on Twin Peaks in a Pendleton shirt.

Again, the nineties never arrived in Twin Peaks. The bad boys were Brando-esque, and the bad girls seemed more tired than wild.

Bad boys on Twin Peaks.
An actor in a vintage Pendleton Topster.

This dude was scary. Even in a Topsman, he was scary.

Good Guys

But the good guys liked plaid, too. Agent Dale Cooper was straight arrow upon his arrival, but soon he was blending in with the locals in his fine Pendleton shirt. And he was impressed by the local coffee, as we recall.

Sheriff and Agent Cooper in their offices.

We were contacted by the costumers for the new show about this particular jacket, worn by Sheriff Harry S. Truman. It was a vintage Pendleton, and they were hoping we had one in our archives. Sadly, we did not.

Sheriff and Agent Cooper in their offices.
Steal His Shirt

Men, mystery, and wool shirts. But even in Twin Peaks, men’s shirts were not safe from girls who insisted on stealing them.

Audrey in a men's plaid shirt talks to an agent.

Mr. David Lynch, the twisted mind behind the show, rocking his own plaid.

David Lynch

Yes, Twin Peaks was a place of Pacific Northwest mystery. To be honest, it wasn’t really the Pacific Northwest that most of us have ever lived in. There was more to life in Twin Peaks than we could ever understand. We still don’t quite understand it.

But when we hear that music, we will always think of plaid shirts, tall trees, misty skies and a damn good cup of Joe.

Made in the USA label

Thanks to Miss Arrow for the collage; read her post here.