An era of community pride and spirit fostered an extraordinary event. Heralded as Oregon’s greatest celebration, The Bend 4th of July Stampede and Water Pageant brought thousands of visitors to the banks of the Deschutes River from 1933 to 1965. At the height of the festivities in 1940, Bend’s population almost doubled overnight to over 18,000 people. The large crowd overwhelmed the local hotels, restaurants and auto camps prompting the Chamber of Commerce to ask residents to open up their homes to visitors.
The two to four day celebration, which included many events, took over 200 volunteers to organize. Most people come to the celebration to watch the grand Water Pageant on the Deschutes River. With the Cascade Mountains as the backdrop and the tranquil Deschutes River as the stage, the Water Pageant was one of the most unique events in the Pacific Northwest.
Each year a floating arch was built just downstream from the footbridge. Constructed from wood planks, and covered with 400 yards of muslin, the arch was built by local volunteer labor. Always striving to outdo the previous year’s design, the arch reflected the era in which it was constructed. Over the years the arch grew to the height of a four-story building and was over ninety feet long.
As dusk fell and darkness overcame the river, the anxious crowd anticipated the words “Let there be light”. Fireworks then lit up the night sky and a rainbow of colors illuminated the grand arch. The pageant was underway. Inside the arch, a panel of 32 switches controlled 300 lights that changed colors each time a float passed through.
The two-hour Water Pageant featured an average of 18 floats, which traveled from the arch to some 200 yards down river. The elaborate floats, designed and built by both locals and professionals, were initially pushed down the river by swimmers or oarsmen in boats. Later, a long wooden boom designed by Shevlin-Hixon engineer William Cone, was installed in the river and allowed the floats to be pulled by volunteers.
As they moved down the river, each float was lit from within and had its own special music and narration. Some floats, like the 40-foot scale model of the USS Missouri in 1953, had moving parts. Shevlin-Hixon’s scale replica of Mill A had logs which were set on a continuous chain that fed the logs from the river and into the mill.
Sponsored by various civic organizations in Central Oregon, each year a queen was selected to preside as host of the festivities. During the Water Pageant, the queen rode on a large swan float that was over 18 feet high. The queen’s court followed the swan on small cygnet barges.
Draped in a long royal cape, holding an ornate scepter and capped with a jeweled crown, each year the queen was announced with the following prose: “In Majestic and proud splendor floats the mirror pond swan, bearing his burden of royalty and charm. Behold the Queen! Let everyone bow before her majesty. This royal retinue shall reign supreme. Hail the Queen!”