ESSAYS FROM WEST OF 98: REUNIONS, RODEOS, AND LEGACIES

Reunions, Rodeos, and Legacies

The arena lights have been turned off. The stock has been loaded. The crowds have drifted away. Except for finalizing the accounting and cleaning up the aftermath, the 88th Texas Cowboy Reunion (TCR) is in the books, so I wanted to say a few words about this year’s event and what the event means in general.

Photo: Texas Cowboy Rodeo

Photo: Texas Cowboy Rodeo

In 1930, amidst the Great Depression, thirteen community leaders met in Stamford to propose a celebration to boost morale and stimulate the local economy. These leaders organized an event, centered around Independence Day, that would promote the legacy of the West Texas cowboy, a way of life that was quickly disappearing in the face of 20th century mechanization. That first year, 12,000 people watched three days of rodeo events and participated in cowboy fellowship and historical commemoration.

The event quickly took off. Permanent facilities were built. In 1935, legendary cowboy humorist Will Rogers performed at the TCR in one of his last public appearances before his death. In 1937, at the peak of rural populations, a record 70,000 visitors attended. Wild cow milking, double mugging, the grand entry, and the signature cloverleaf pattern of modern barrel racing were invented in the rodeo arena at Stamford. In 1940, the newly-formed American Quarter Horse Association held its first show in Stamford.

Will Rogers described the TCR as a “real cowboy reunion…in a real cowtown.” Today, current TCR leadership and the many dozens of volunteers strive to uphold the mission of the thirteen founders and the vision so eloquently described by Rogers. That mission is why, in my humble opinion, the TCR continues to persevere. As rural populations have declined, many rodeos and other small town cultural events have struggled to succeed and some have disappeared entirely. The TCR has had its struggles, but this year, in five days, it is estimated that over 20,000 people visited the grounds and the event is growing each year in attendance, rodeo competitors, and sponsorship dollars.

The TCR was never intended to be a local rodeo, or even just a rodeo for the sake of having a rodeo. That’s why it was named the “Texas Cowboy Reunion.” The rodeo performances are an integral part, but above all, the TCR is designed to celebrate one of the most enduring images of America, the Texas cowboy. For 88 years, the event has brought together multiple generations of cowboys and non-cowboys, locals and non-locals, rural people and city people, from far and wide, all for that purpose.

The world has changed since 1930 and so has the TCR. Outdoor events in July are hot in an air-conditioned world and rodeos now compete against movies, sporting events, lake activities, and other recreation for entertainment dollars. To stay relevant in 2018, the presentation of the TCR has changed in some fashions, but the event stays true to its roots. As such, crowds still flock to Stamford for a true reunion, to celebrate the Texas cowboy through rodeo, music, art, cooking, shopping, and more.

So here’s to those original thirteen founders: Andrew John Swenson, William G. Swenson, Ray Rector, Rudolph Swenson, John Selmon, A. C. Cooper, F. Harley Goble, R. B. Bryant, W. G. Owsley, Charles E. Coombes, R. V. Colbert, Louie M. Hardy, and Roy Arledge. 88 years later, their legacy endures. May it continue to endure for another 88 years.

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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker.

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