PENDLETON (AP) — Let ‘er Buck, Tripper Rice.
The young cowboy died seven years ago in a car accident, but family and friends continue to honor him during Pendleton Round-Up week.
Around and on his grave at Olney Cemetery are memento — a bottle of Pendleton Whisky and a weathered 2009 Round-Up poster left by a friend from Texas. A pile of beer chips from various rodeos where the 23-year-old roper competed. Rifle shells. Feathers.
The collection grows a little each year. Tripper’s mother, Cindy, gathers the items at the end of each Round-Up and packs them away until next time.
“People just keep adding to it,” she said.
The tribute fits Tripper like a roping glove.
During his short life, he attended each and every day of Round-Up, save one afternoon when his finger was practically cut off when a horse spooked and pinched the digit in the metal fence to which the horse was tied. Tripper was flown to Bend where the finger was sewn back on.
He returned to Round-Up the next morning.
“For Tripper, Round-Up was better than Christmas,” said his mom. “We knew he was always coming home for Round-Up.”
“He grew up down at the Round-Up Grounds,” said Tripper’s father, Paul, a championship steer roper (or tripper) who made it to the National Finals Rodeo multiple times.
Though his son never competed at the iconic Pendleton rodeo, Tripper kept busy with volunteer jobs that included anything from sorting cattle to carrying a flag. The roper competed in smaller, jackpot-style rodeos and was on his way up, said family friend and championship roper J.D. Yates.
“Tripper had a rope with him all the time,” Yates said. “It was part of his attire.”
The young man is everywhere in the Rice house. Photos on the fridge show him lying on the grass with his dog and lifting his sister playfully into the air. In the living room and downstairs in Tripper’s old basement hangout are more photos and artifacts of his life — hat and spurs hanging from a set of antlers, ropes, hunting knife and a beaded necklace he made in outdoor school. His dog, Slim, sleeps on the carpet.
Tripper moved to Midland, Texas, in 2005. He roped, but only when he had time off from work as a farrier and construction worker. The last year of Tripper’s life played like a country song. He lost his best roping horse to colic. Someone T-boned his pickup truck. His cow dog died after another dog attacked it. On Mother’s Day eve came the capper. Tripper died in a one-car rollover, a passenger in a Lexus driven by an intoxicated driver.
Paul said his son was a hard-working guy who saved his money and had decided to buy a home.
“He had it all penciled out,” Paul said. “He had just put earnest money down.”
Tripper’s death shook his family and friends. Yates said he drove the hearse carrying the roper’s body around the Round-Up Arena on the day of the funeral.
“I got to make the last trip with him,” said Yates. his eyes wet.
“Every year, I come here and ride slowly around track and think about the times I spent with him.”
The prospect of Round-Up without Tripper was daunting, but the family decided to include him. Cindy had a banner printed in town that read, “Let ‘er Buck, Tripper!” and placed it by the grave. The lettering is big enough to be visible by motorists traveling on Highway 395 and Tutuilla Creek Road. To their delight, his friends started leaving mementos.
“He’s gone,” Cindy said. “It’s sad for us, but the continuing support is awesome — it helps.”