wouldn't get much publicity at the time, but in 1893 a historian
named Frederic Jackson Turner proffered a paper in Chicago at the
annual meeting of the American Historical Society declaring that
the U.S. frontier had ceased to exist as of 1890.
Even so, West Texas remained fairly wild and wooly in the early
1890s, at least compared with the older, more densely populated
eastern half of the state. But with a new century approaching, it
was not lost on some that an era was fading. In the cattle
had replaced trail drives as the primary means of getting a rancher's
four-legged product to market and to some that meant that the cowboy
was, in a figurative way, riding off to the last roundup.
At the least, cowboying had entered a transitional stage. By the
mid-1890s, the way things had been only 20 years back had begun
to look like the good old days.
the summer of 1896, as a long-defunct magazine called the Illustrated
Texas Monthly noted the following year, the people of Baylor County
put together a reunion for old-time drovers and "[an] exhibition
of horseback athletics...." In other words, a rodeo.
year, during the first week of August, Seymour
saw its second cowboy reunion. An estimated 20,000 people showed
up for an event featuring "bronco bustin' by which the tenderfoot
will understand the breaking and riding of wild mustangs; steer-roping
in approved cow-boy style; and a notable gathering of Comanche Indians
under their chief, Quanah
The magazine's editor opined that the Baylor County reunion-exhibition
had proven "creditable alike in its conception and its execution."
Clearly someone who remembered the trail-driving
era, the unnamed editor sought to define the old-time cowboy:
"Instead of the 'border ruffian' he has been pictured to be by the
sensational newswriters of the East, he was never worse than a very
lively embodiment of abundant courage, wild and reckless enthusiasm
and an untamed contempt for civilized conventionalities."
Not that the cowboy did not do some of the things those Eastern
"newswriters" had them doing in fiction. In fact, the editor continued,
"His six-shooter was frequently called into requisition with unnecessary
alacrity, and his propensity to 'clean out' a border town, or to
tantalize a raw recruit from the 'States' with familiar exhibitions
of marksmanship at his hat or shoes, was sometimes a trifle irregular."
Here, the Illustrated Texas Monthly editor was doing his own exaggerating.
While gunplay certainly did happen, since 1874 it had been illegal
in Texas to carry a pistol. If a cowboy had a handgun, he generally
kept it in his saddlebag.
No matter the occasional casual discharging of a .44 or .45, the
cowboy was generally regarded as an all-round nice guy:
"But the Texas Cowboy was and is a genuine product of a great and
worthy industry, and a rude type of all the qualities that have
made life heroic and high-minded at every age," the editor went
on. "Shorn of his rough and local peculiarities, he is indeed 'The
Last Knight of Chivalry,' as [Frederick] Remington has depicted
Perhaps, the editor mused, at least in his "original Homeric simplicity
and vigor of character" the cowboy was indeed passing away. "But
enough of his tribe remain to keep alive the fires of his wonted
enthusiasm and to preserve the sports and feats of his splendid
horsemanship and dexterity with rope and pistol."
When the Baylor
County cowboy reunion played out is not known, but the concept calved
again in 1930. Despite the ongoing Great Depression, 13 businessmen
(which is on the border of Haskell and Jones
counties) met to talk about organizing an event calculated to cheer
people up -- and maybe stimulate the ringing of local cash registers.
their town lay near two large ranches, those civic leaders decided
to put on a rodeo called the Texas Cowboy Reunion. In addition
to giving dispirited Texans something to whoop and holler about,
the event would help preserve the state's cowboy heritage. Whether
the first cowboy reunion in 1896 led to the later reunion can only
be speculated on, but some if not all of those organizers would
have been old enough to remember the pioneer cowboy reunion in Baylor
Interestingly, in chartering the Texas Cowboy Reunion Old-Timers
Association, the Stamford
men stipulated that members had to have worked on a ranch prior
to 1895 and be at least 55 years old. Now, the only requirement
is that a member has to have cowboyed and be 45 or older.
The annual gathering continued even during World
War II and is still held for three days every summer around
"Texas Tales" October
12, 2017 column