Members of the board that organizers the annual Hells Canyon Junior Rodeo in Halfway will ask residents during a meeting there this evening whether they support continuing the July event for a 63rd year or whether it should move, possibly to Haines or Baker City.
The meeting was set to begin at 5 o’clock at the Pine Valley Grange Hall in Halfway, said Tina Griffin, president of the Board for Hells Canyon Riders, the nonprofit that organizes the annual youth rodeo.
Griffin said the organization, which was formed in 1957, has been plagued by harassment from a former member of the rodeo court who served on the newly organized Board last year before she was asked to resign.
Griffin claims the woman, Kaylie Henderson, has recruited family members and friends to cause trouble for the organization and for two teenage girls who are members of the 2019 Hells Canyon Rodeo Court.
The Hells Canyon Riders Board has sought legal advise attempting to stop the behavior and to protect the court members, Griffin said.
Laura Eckstein, a La Grande attorney, has written cease and desist letters demanding that Henderson and her friend, Shyla Melchior, stop their “unlawful and malicious behavior” toward the Board members and their children or face legal action.
Henderson declined to answer specific questions for this story.
But she wrote in an email to the Herald: “I feel there has been false statements made about me and I am trying to move on with my life and start fresh outside of the Baker County area with my family. The Hells Canyon Junior Rodeo is no longer any of my concern and I have wiped that clean out of my life.”
Griffin said Henderson has made similar claims in the past. If she does continue with her behavior, there will be consequences in the future, Griffin said.
“This is not going to be tolerated any further,” she said.
Griffin’s granddaughter, Emma Beard, 14, served as queen of the rodeo court last year and was selected as this year’s queen as well. She and princess Isabella Huston, 15, the two court members from Halfway, have faced bullying and harassment to the extent that they have withdrawn from classes at Pine-Eagle Charter School and are now being home-schooled, Griffin said.
Three 10-year-old Baker girls also serve on the Court, but have not participated in any events at Halfway yet because of the problems, Griffin said. Ella Wilde is a second princess and Winter Smith and Brooke Parsons are flag bearers on the court.
Griffin said she and other new directors took over planning for the rodeo after the former Hells Canyon Riders Board advertised in 2017 that they would be disbanding the rodeo for lack of volunteers interested in continuing the work needed to organize the event, continue fundraising and recruit rodeo participants.
Griffin, her daughter, Stephanie Beard, and their friend, Ashley Walker, met with former Board members to say they’d be willing to step into leadership positions in order to save the event.
Although the women weren’t rodeo experts, the three were eager to use their skills as organizers to keep the event going for the benefit of the young people from throughout the region and for the community, Griffin said.
On recommendation from others, they recruited Linda Miller and her granddaughter, Kaylie Henderson, a former queen of the rodeo court, who could bring rodeo experience to the Board.
That’s a decision the Board has since come to regret, Griffin said. The other Board members asked Henderson to resign in June 2018, and she later was removed from her position as rodeo secretary after Board members received complaints from community residents about Henderson’s rude, condescending and bullying approach.
Henderson also was accused of refusing to return rodeo property and registration materials submitted by junior rodeo contestants, Griffin said.
Henderson’s mother, Josie Huston, did eventually return most of the missing items after the Board met with the district attorney and the Sheriff’s Office.
“Her family has always run the rodeo down there, and when we asked her to step down it caused a big fight,” Griffin said.
Henderson’s grandmother, Linda Miller, resigned from the Board a short time later, but was not involved in any of the harassment and bullying Henderson has been accused of, Griffin said.
The intent of today’s meeting is to inform the community of the cyberbullying, harassment and intimidation the two Halfway court members have endured, Griffin said. The Board will seek community support to protect the two girls, but if none is forthcoming, plans will progress to move the Hells Canyon Junior Rodeo to another location this summer, Griffin said.
Representatives from Baker City and Haines have both said they would welcome the Baker County event to their communities, Griffin said.
She said she and other Board members want the rodeo to stay in Halfway.
Moving the event is “a last ditch resort,” Griffin said.