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"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

Looking back at:
Ace Reid's Cowpokes

Michael Barr
Cowboy cartoonist Ace Reid always said he was 21 years old before he saw a fat cow. I guess that's why the livestock he drew were all bone, hoof and hair. Even his scruffy, elongated, cowboys were skinny as cedar fence posts.

Asa Elmer Reid Jr. was born in the Texas panhandle in 1925 and raised on a ranch near Wichita Falls. I'm told he was a pretty good cowboy, but he preferred drawing pictures to riding and roping.

In West Texas a man named Asa is automatically called Ace. Asa has way too many syllables for native West Texans. They speak in a lazy nasal twang. They like to finish words before reaching the end.

Ace joined the Navy in 1943. Two years later he walked through the charred ruins of Nagasaki a month after an atomic bomb exploded over the city.

After the war Ace returned to the ranch, but he was no typical cowboy. He had a passion for drawing. He had an infectious sense of humor and the unique ability to translate his humor into words and pictures.

He loved the cowboy life but didn't want to live it. He wanted to draw it.

In 1949 Ace married Madge Parmley. After a trip across the Edwards Plateau, Ace and Madge fell in love with the Hill Country. They moved to Kerrville in 1952.

Those first years as a cowboy cartoonist were lean, but Ace slowly built a following. When he sold his first Cowpokes cartoons to National Quarter Horse Journal for $3 apiece, he thought he had struck the motherlode.

When he began drawing cartoons for West Texas Livestock Weekly, he livened up a publication filled with stock reports and valuable information but about as entertaining as the obituaries.

Ace did something few people thought possible. He turned the hardship of Depression-era ranch life into humor.
Ace Reid's Cow Pokes
With permission of Madge Reid and Ace Reid Enterprises
Ace and his cartoon characters became as familiar to West Texans as a pair of old boots. His earthy drawings of Jake, Zeb, Maw and Wilbur were simple and honest and in a style that was instantly recognizable.

In 1958 he began selling books and calendars. His calendars still hang in kitchens, barns and feed stores all over the western United States and Canada.

A glitch in production left the month of March out of the 1959 calendar. That was OK because it had 2 Junes. Besides, the cartoons were so funny, hardly anyone noticed.

Syndications for Cowpokes cartoons grew steadily across Texas and the western United States. By 1960 the Reid family began to eat regular again.

Then in 1961, Ace was diagnosed with leukemia. He believed he got the disease from his visit to Nagasaki.

His doctor gave him 5 years. He lived another 30.

That same year Ace and Madge bought 250 acres north of Kerrville. When he wasn't traveling, Ace hung his hat at the Draggin S Ranch on the Harper Road.

By the early 1960s over 50 newspapers in 16 states carried Cowpokes cartoons. At its peak, Cowpokes appeared in 500 magazines and newspapers making Ace Reid the most successful self-syndicated artist in the country.
Ace Reid's Cow Pokes
With permission of Madge Reid and Ace Reid Enterprises
Ace Reid's Cow Pokes
With permission of Madge Reid and Ace Reid Enterprises
His art influenced West Texas culture in ways he never dreamed. To this day ranchers west of the Brazos still refer to skinny cows as "Ace Reids."

Ace became a cowboy celebrity. He traveled the country, selling books and making funny speeches. He rubbed elbows with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

When Ace visited the White House, Lyndon Johnson squeezed through the crowd to shake Ace's hand.

"Ace, has it rained down home?" LBJ asked. His art was a gift he never took for granted. "Otherwise," Ace said, "I'd be livin' on the banks of the Red River, hangin' around the beer joint, tradin' cows at Vernon on Thursdays, diggin' postholes and stretchin' barbed wire."

"My old dad had the idea that if a fella wasn't up on a horse followin' a cow, he wasn't workin'. And he never could get into this head how bankers would lend me money to sit in the shade and draw horses with a pencil."


Michael Barr
"Hindsights" April 1, 2018 Column
Images used with the permission of Madge Reid and Ace Reid Enterprises, Kerrville, Texas.

Sources:
"Ace Reid, 1025-1991," Kerrville Daily Times, November 17, 1991.
"Cowpoke With a Corral of Laughs," Williamsport Sunday Grit National Section, March 9, 1975.
John R. Erickson, Ace Reid Cowpoke (Perryton: Maverick Books, 1984).

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    "Hindsights" by Michael Barr

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