By editorial board • 

For old-fashioned family fun, it's hard to beat county fair

Outside Native American culture, which dates back thousands of years, the American West lacks institutions and traditions with real age to them. After all, the huge waves of settlement by emigrants from Europe didn’t begin washing over the West until the 1840s.

But one local institution — the Yamhill County Fair & Rodeo, due to wrap up this year’s run Saturday — manages to combine one of America’s oldest traditions in its fair component and one of the West’s earliest traditions in its rodeo component.

Trade fairs date back to at least 500 B.C. And they were traditionally agricultural in nature, as agricultural goods dominated pre-industrial commerce around the planet.

By 1765, a decade before the Declaration of Independence set the colonies on their course to statehood, fairs were already being held in the New World. They were typically hosted by local agricultural societies.

The practice of staging such fairs on the state and county levels shifted west with the great migration of the 1840s, and Yamhill County was home to Oregon’s first. Sponsored by the Yamhill County Agricultural Society, it was staged in the then-county seat of Lafayette in 1854, five years before Oregon achieved statehood.

According to the Oregon Historical Society, “(The) exhibition commenced at the courthouse at 1:30 p.m.” It featured quilts, butter, cheese and such, judged by a jury of local dignitaries.

Down the way at Markham’s Corral, another panel judged livestock, including horses, mules, sheep, hogs and oxen, and field crops, including corn and wheat. According to a history compiled by former extension agent Louis Gross, “A specimen of corn on the ear was exhibited by F.B. Martin; Joseph Wall exhibited a stool of wheat supposed to be production of one grain of blue stem variety, numbering 96 full, large heads.”

A strictly New World invention, rodeo began with Spanish vaqueros in the early 1700s. Their duties included roping, breaking and riding horses, and roping, wrestling and branding cattle. That led naturally to competition to see who had best mastered such arts, and it was soon emulated by cowboys across the American West.

Exotic food options, including cotton candy, corn dogs and elephant ears, quickly followed. So did exotic entertainment options, including midway games, carnival rides, demolition derbies, barker pitches and stage performances.

You would be hard-pressed to find a more authentic slice of Americana available than the barrel of old-fashioned family fun that is the Yamhill County Fair & Rodeo.