Cowboy Camp Meeting: A Lasting Legacy and the End of an Era

After 36 years of trail-dust, gospel music and great fun, a Fourth of July tradition in the Northwest is coming to an end.

Cowboy Camp Meeting got its start along the Tucannon River near Dayton, Washington, in the summer of 1984. The Blue Mountain Chapter of the newly formed Adventist Horseman’s Association wanted to combine their love of horse camping and their love for Jesus into one joyful celebration.

“What began as a weekend camping trip with a few families quickly grew in popularity, and the Adventist Horseman’s Association soon adopted the event as an annual meeting for all its chapters,” said Charles Brown, founding member and current chaplain of the Adventist Horseman's Association.

The event grew to become a five-day Fourth of July celebration with 250 people and 150 horses and mules.

To accommodate the growth of the event, the AHA sought out new locations to camp. Sites as far south as Prineville, Oregon and north near Omak, Washington hosted Cowboy Camp Meeting. Other events held as far east as Stanley, Idaho, and as far west as Mt. Adams, Washington were home base for the festivities. The big tent would go up, the sound system set up, the portable toilets in place and the rigs would begin to pour in. Horses, dogs, mules and sometimes even an exotic animal or two would all unload and get ready for a week of trail riding, storytelling and worship.

“Each morning we would open with gospel music, stories for the kids and Christ-centered preaching to start the day,” said Brown. The remainder of the day would be filled with trail rides, mounted games, hiking and a lot of good old-fashioned relaxation in the beauty of God’s creation.

Over time, several traditions developed. A favorite was the children’s Fourth of July parade with decorated horses, patriotic dogs and enthusiastic spectators.

“Worship on Sabbath in the mountains was always special, and the amount of food that would be produced for potluck was a constant source of amazement,” said Brown. “The sun would set, and the lights would come on for the annual auction followed by stories and songs around the campfire late into the night.”

Word began to spread about Cowboy Camp Meeting. People from as far away as Colorado and California began to make Cowboy Camp Meeting an annual tradition. Similar events began to spring up in British Columbia, Colorado, Arkansas and Texas — each attracting people with a common love of horses and the outdoors.

But there was always a bigger purpose in mind for the AHA.

The Adventist Horseman’s Association was founded in 1984 by Charles Brown and friends who believed their love for horses and the outdoors could be more than just a hobby. They knew it could become a connection point where people with the same passions could also meet Jesus Christ.

Faith in God was never a prerequisite to join the AHA, but it was an ever-present part of local chapter meetings. At the annual Cowboy Camp Meeting, pastors, evangelists and lay people from across North America would come to proclaim the gospel. As a result, hundreds have committed their lives to Christ and more than 20 new Christians have been baptized in streams, lakes, ponds and even the stock tank in the North Pacific Union Conference.

“The Wise Man of Ecclesiastes pointed out that there is a season for everything under heaven, and that has proven true for the Adventist Horseman’s Association,” said Brown.

As the cost of owning horses increased and lives became busier, attendance at Cowboy Camp Meeting had begun to wane in recent years. With pandemic restrictions in 2020 and excessive heat in 2021, the cancellations spelled the end of an era. On January 6, 2022, the board of the Adventist Horseman’s Association voted to end Cowboy Camp Meeting and AHA.

“While it is hard to see such a wonderful experience end, we can celebrate all the lives transformed by its ministry through the years,” said Greg Middlestetter, AHA board member.

Even as the AHA closes its ministry, blessings continue to flow. Assets, such as a large meeting tent, PA equipment and other gear, will be donated to the Upper Columbia Conference youth department to bless their ministries. Remaining cash assets will be donated to the Upper Columbia Academy and Milo Academy horsemanship programs to help grow a future generation of riders. 

The final AHA Roundup happens on May 22, 2022, at the Hermiston Church fellowship hall (855 W Highland Ave, Hermiston, OR 97838). Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. and all are welcome. Come celebrate and enjoy:

  • Gospel music from the Jenks and Coleman families, Hand Picked, Randy Pierce and others

  • 34 years of Cowboy Camp Meeting pictures and memories 

  • Tributes and honors for those who have led this amazing ministry

  • Special stories for kids

  • And, of course, great food!

Featured in: May/June 2022