Monday, August 9, 2010

"Cowboy Capital of the World"

Off the hidden path of hill county roads rest a town known as the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Those who have visited this town quickly understand why it is given this prestige title. Many visitors take the town in to get away from the big city life. Some come for the slower pace living. Even more come to visit one of the dozens of ranches near by. The town is known for great country music, the cowboy life and has a history of western culture.

Several cities have desired to lay claim to the title “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Granted, each seems to proclaim the title for good reasons and the list of cities is large. The true Cowboy Capitol of the World might surprise the average green horn. One might believe it would likely be Oklahoma City or perhaps Cheyenne since both host great Rodeo’s and Cowboy culture.

Stephenville, Texas wants to take claim to this powerful title as their town once was the staging point for many pioneers heading west of the Mississippi and home to famous professional Cowboys such as Ty Murray, Seven times World Champion All-around Cowboy. Although Ty was born in Arizona and lived in Odessa, Texas during his first Championship. However, Stephenville is also home to World Famous Golf legend Ben Hogan and they don’t claim to be the Golf Capital of the World. Stephenville, Texas is a nice town but I’m sorry, it is not the “Cowboy Capital of the World.”

Oakdale, California has argued this point as they believe they should be the Capital. Stephenville, Texas and Oakdale, Ca. decided to do a fund raiser and who ever raised the most money could take claim to the title for the year. Although, neither city is the Cowboy Capital though they both are great towns of western culture.

Fort Worth, Texas also is home to famous Cowboys and maintains “The Cowboy Way,” with the famous Stockyards where they run Longhorn cattle twice daily down the streets just as Fort Worth did over one hundred years ago for today's visiting tourist. Fort Worth host features like Billy Bobs, the grand dance hall of modern ages, Hell’s Half Acre and the renowned White Elephant Saloon, once owned by F.A. Borodino in the 300 block of Main Street. Western card shark — Luke Short ran the gambling tables for Borodino of the White Elephant to the likes of famous men on the western frontier like Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Charlie Coe and Ft. Worth’s local bad boy Timothy Isaiah Courtright. A bitter feud grew between Courtright, a former City Marshall of Fort Worth known by his nickname “Long Hair Jim” and “Little Luke” Short. On the night of February 8th, 1887 Courtright called Short out which turned into a gun fight on Main Street as bullets flew and shots echo the street. Even then, Fort Worth merely claims to be the City of Cowboys and Culture.

Abilene, Kansas was known as Cow Town where once Texas Longhorn cattle would be driven too. Although, Texas longhorns carried a tick which was feared that it would spread Splenic Fever to other cattle. The Kansas State Legislature responded to pressure from farmers settling in central Kansas shifted the quarantine line westward, to cities as Newton, Ellsworth and Wichita Kansas. The final move was to Dodge City, also renowned for gambling houses and the likes of Wyatt Earp. Dodge City would earn the name Queen of the Cow Towns as the other Kansas cities were eliminated to receive the Texas herds. Even Prescott, Arizona holding title to America’s oldest Rodeo does not proclaim to be the Cowboy Capital of the World. Prescott’s motto is “Everybody’s Hometown.” The list of those who would try and claim such a title can go on, but only one town truly has the title and earned it. So where is this Cowboy Capital of the World?

The “Cowboy Capitol of the World” is a small town 35 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas known as “BANDERA.” The town remains one of the few places left where a Cowboy can ride his horse up Main Street, tie off at the hitching post and enjoy a cold beer at one of the few Saloons which operate in Bandera. “You can not toss a horseshoe in Bandera without hitting a dude ranch, rodeo ground, western wear store, or dance hall,” states Paris Permenter, author and editor of online Travel Guide and she is surely correct in her logic.

Bandera has a history of what once was the Wild West. It first starts in 1733. General Bandera, a Spanish Military Commander, defeated a large body of Apache Indians that used the small mountains located outside of the current town of Bandera for their rendezvous before attacking Spanish missions around San Antonio. The gap in these small mountains became known as Bandera Pass. A red flag was posted noting no Indians east of the flag became an unwritten border. The Apaches honored the border flag. Although a century later, the Comanche Indians had driven the Apaches out of Texas.

The Comanche’s became problematic to the new nation Texas, raiding Victoria and Linnville, Texas known as the Great Raid of 1840. President Sam Houston felt he had to strengthen the frontier defenses to prevent future “Great Raids.” He then appointed Captain John Coffee Hays known as Captain Jack to recruit a company of rangers to specifically contain the Indians where that company confronted the Comanche’s in the 1841 Battle of Bandera Pass. The Rangers numbered only fifty men defeating the several hundred Comanche’s. The Rangers armed with the recent invention of Colt’s repeating revolver “six shooter” pistols marked a change in the way the frontier wars would be fought and the turning point in the war between Texas and the Comanche tribe. The Ranger team lead by Captain Jack would become renowned as “The Texas Rangers.”

By 1852 the area was being surveyed for township. “Bandera” meaning flag in Spanish received the name for the township. Although it is unclear today if the name came from the flag once placed at the pass or for the Spanish General who first fought off the Apache Indians. A sawmill was built along the near by Medina River which attracted settlers providing employment. In 1855 a hand full of Polishes settlers moved to the township working the mill. Texas had been annex into state hood and the United States provided the near by Camp Verde that hosted the US Army Calvary to protect against Indians. Camp Verde would also receive Camels used by the Army in the 1856 by petition of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, later President of the Confederacy. The camels proved to be idea for packing and handling the terrain better than mules or horses.

The Saw mill cut mostly cypress wood shingles that were sold in San Antonio. By the end of the civil war, the great cattle drives were developing with several staging points throughout Texas. One of these points was Bandera, Texas for the Western Trail. The town would grow to add a post office, saloon and local farm boys became cowboys, ranchers built holding pens and signed on as trail bosses, storekeepers contracted as outfitters, and the town of Bandera briefly boomed becoming much the town of Cowboys.

As the great cattle drives wandered down, the cattlemen turn to sheep herds by 1889. Sheep were easier to feed on the sparse vegetation in the county, gradually replaced cattle. The local economy declined after 1900; a series of floods destroyed sawmills, gins, and businesses, and the cattle drives ceased. Population would decline for years to come. In 1920, Ranchers Cora and Ed Buck began taking summer boarders at their ranch on Julian Creek. Other ranches followed advertising for guest. By 1930, Bandera was developing the Dude ranch get away offering riverside camping, restaurants, dance halls, rodeos and the Cowboy way of life.

Today, the town continues to promote the many Dude ranches in the area which offer everything from rustic camping, chuck wagon cooking, trail rides or to the elegant spa retreats and golf courses. It also again attracts immigrants near and far to its western culture and living.

Andrea McGilvray found Bandera by accident. Born in Bad Hall, Oberoestereich, Austria before moving to Calgary, Alberta, Canada she became a gourmet chef graduating from the culinary school of Southern Institute of Technology. Although, in 1988 she moved to Ottawa, Ontario starting a high tech business that specialized in Custom Screen Printing of CD/DVD's. A long time client purchased a press which Andrea had engineered and built for him. He had moved to Utopia, Texas in the fall 2002 needing assistance programming and set up. Andrea agreed to assist in the set up unknowing she would meet the man of her dreams. She met David who worked full time with the Bandera County Sheriff’s Department and at the business. “We fell in love,” states Andrea getting married to the Cowboy of her dreams. However, during the move, her Canadian company left under a General Manager suffered selling off the business and entering Texas Real estate. Andrea owns Cowboy Capitol Realty 251 Lost Oak, PO Box 1923 Bandera TX 78003 Office Phone: 830-796-4711 as a successful Broker Realtor. While assisting one client sell a Bandera property, she decided to purchase it herself. The home had a large oak tree growing from the floor of the living room through the roof. The house also was formerly rented to Willie Nelson and his band. Andrea since removed the tree and remodel the home. She is always ready to assist anyone moving into the area or is looking to sale a Texas Hill Country property.

Bandera also host great western shopping at the store front of GUNSLINGER DRY GOODS owned by Melissa Benge who has been featured in several magazines for her creative designs in jewelry and western fashion wear. Home deco, boots, hats, or something special, Gunslinger likely will have your needs in Western Fashion. Recently, Melissa worked with Kathie Lee Gifford of “The Today Show” featuring Texas Vacation Spotlight. Melissa holds degrees in Commercial Art and Fashion Marketing launching her multi-faceted career including interior design, painting, photography along with her clothing and jewelry. She even books and promotes talented Texas musicians. Her artistic works of opulent velvets, shimmering sterling silver jewelry; silk, lace, and leather...changes even the dull into an elegant work of art. She shares her charismatic charm encompassed with a passion for style that turns the heads of those peering on her fashions as she outfits the Great American West. Melissa provides wardrobe consulting, both personal and professional; for fashion shoots, movie sets, music videos, artistic vignettes, or "wow" interiors, simply say... "Melissa... Style Me" states Celeste Sotola, designer of Montana Dreamweaver.

Today the western Cowboy atmosphere lives on in Bandera. The town host “Cowboys on Main Street” featuring gun fights and shoot out’s in front of the County Court house as entertainers take to the streets. The Frontier Times Museum sponsors the event every Saturday from 1:00 PM until 4:00 PM which also features horseback riding cowboys, storytellers, trick ropers, musicians, chuck wagon and a lot more. The museum dates back to 1927 and is a good place to learn more about Bandera's early days through cowboy paraphernalia, Native American arrowheads, and prehistoric artifacts. I remember viewing the two headed goat and an Amazon shrunken head along with many interesting things to see.

The Dude ranches also host Rodeo’s every Friday night offered by both the Twin Elm Guest Ranch and the BR Lightning Ranch located in near by Pipe Creek, Texas just outside of Bandera. The largest Bandera rodeo being the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) held in May. Bandera is well known for its many dude ranches, the perfect way for you and your family to experience life as a cowboy for a few days. Properties like the Flying L Guest Ranch, the Mayan Ranch, Dixie Dude Ranch, and Twin Elm Guest Ranch or the dozen more will keep you busy with horseback rides, hayrides, fishing, cookouts, and more. You don't have to have any previous riding experience to enjoy the ranches. Typically the guest rates include three meals a day as well as Western entertainment and even supervised kids' programs. During the peak summer months, expect a minimum stay at many ranches. Many celebrities have taken to the Dude Ranches as did Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie during a taping of their reality TV show called The Simple Life where they worked the Bandera County Jail.

Country music also plays a big part of Bandera. Several Honky-Tonks (night – clubs) offer local musicians along with many big name country artist. Jerry Jeff Walker lyrics “Banks of the ole Bandera” said it all, states one bar owner. Once home to the likes of Willie Nelson, Robert Earl Keen and hometown to singer-songwriter brothers Bruce and Charlie Robison, the Saloons of Bandera offer live music every weekend with jam sessions on Sundays. Don’t be surprised by the horses tied out front of any saloon nor a line of Harley Davidson motorcycles in front of any given establishment. Bandera is often the rally point for “Poker Runs” by many biker clubs that help support charities like the American Breast Cancer Foundation through the “Biker for Boobs” poker run fund raiser or the often Sunday morning “Breakfast run.”

One of the best known saloons is Arkey Blue's Silver Dollar. Don't miss the sawdust-covered floor (to encourage plenty of boot-scoot in'). Also others like 11th Street Cowboy Bar which states they are the biggest little bar in Texas. Blue Gene's reopen and the LONGHORN Saloon have continued to thrive.
So if you want to escape the world of big cities and bright lights, to Cowboy Up, Bandera likely will be holding the cards of that which you are looking for. Be it to take on the near by river for some summer inner-tubing down stream, eating great barbecue or listening to some good country tunes, or find yourself a new pair of boots to waltz across Texas, you just might need to find yourself in BANDERA, TEXAS the real “Cowboy Capital of the World.”

Story by: Roger Edison
Medina River

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