Since I wrote about traveling in West Texas last week, I’ve had a few folks remind me I did not get to their town. You do know that Texas is BIG, right? Unlike Hank Snow’s country song, I’ve not been everywhere.
One is Muleshoe. We drove through Littlefield and Dimmit, but did not go a few miles farther west to Muleshoe. Will Rogers, at age 18, worked there a few months, on the Mashed-O Ranch (120,000 acres), which was originally part of the famous 3-million-acre XIT Ranch. Years later, Will returned three times. He wrote about two visits in his syndicated columns: “Down here at the Mashed-O, my old friends the Halsell’s ranch, branding thousands of calves. I have been roping at ’em all day and they just look around and say go on comedian and do your stuff on the stage, but don’t try a real cowboy’s racket. I’ll catch one of the little rascals yet if I have to bribe him.” (DT #1849, July 8, 1932)
And, “Flew all night just to get over here to the Mashed-O outfit to the calf branding. They are branding 5,000 calves, but the whole cattle country is mighty dry. The government is doing what they can to help ’em out, but even a Democrat can’t make it rain. But they are going to bring that up at the next Congress. There is no finer and more satisfying business in the world than the cow business when you get half a chance, but when the elements are agin’ you, you are just like a candidate that runs second.” (DT #2476, July 10, 1934)
Two other towns we missed are Dalhart and Higgins. In our drive we stopped in Hereford and Amarillo, but did not go farther northwest to Dalhart (Headquarters of the XIT), or northeast to Higgins on the Oklahoma border. In 1898 Will quit school and wound up at Higgins, “I not only left (Kemper Military School) during a dark night, but I quit the entire school business for life. Not wanting to face my father, I landed in Higgins and Mr. Ewing gave me a job on his ranch. His son Frank, about my age, really run the outfit. We took a trail herd to Kansas and I worked with him for some time. I got enough to buy me an old horse, and I went out to Amarillo, Texas. I rode in there in the summer of ’98. Got a job with another big trail Herd going away out in Western Kansas.” (WA#169, March 7, 1926)
Another place we did not get to was Stamford. During a popular cowboy event, Will flew in from California and showed up, unannounced. When he walked in, of course everybody recognized him. They wouldn’t let him sit in the stands; they got him on a horse and sent him out into the arena with the other cowboys. “Cowboy sports and contests are about the most popular thing there is, especially where they know what it’s all about. I had often heard of the great time this little city (Stamford) holds every year. It’s called a cowboy reunion and it is. It’s put on by real ranch hands. This is the heart of the old Texas ranch country. The outfits send in their chuck wagons and they have a great time. Lots of good horses and lots of good ropers. Grass is high and cattle are a good price and everybody feeling fine.” (DT #2780, July 3, 1935)
I did not tell you much about Lubbock, other than Buddy Holly. I mentioned talented song writers in that area. A current one is my young cousin, Charlie Stout, nephew of my host on this trip, retired TTU Prof. Betty Stout. He wrote “West Texas in My Eye,” recorded by The Panhandlers. It’s easy to find on YouTube. Key lines: “Lately I’ve been thinking, I could leave this town…I ain’t crying, that’s West Texas in my eye.”
The statue of Will Rogers on Soapsuds (called “Riding into the Sunset”) at the main entry to the Texas Tech University campus was funded by Will’s good friend, Amon Carter. Amon was the creator and publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and was famous for saying, “Fort Worth is where the West begins, and Dallas is where the East peters out.”
Amon Carter was a fascinating, prominent person, and not just in Texas. My friend, Dave Lieber, wrote a book, “Amon! The Ultimate Texan,” and a one-man play that stars Kevin Delk. Dave was a columnist for many years for the Star-Telegram. Now he writes the “Watch Dog” column for the paper in a little town east of Fort Worth. Yes, it’s Da _ _ _s.
Amon graduated from Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University), and served as the first chairman of the Board of Directors for TTU.
Will Rogers entertained in Lubbock in 1926. He donated $1500 for uniforms for the new TTC band, matched by $1500 donated by Amon Carter.
The Will Rogers statue is one of four identical ones sculpted by Electra Waggoner Biggs. She was the granddaughter of another one of Will’s friends, W.T. Waggoner, owner of the famous Waggoner Ranch at Vernon, Texas (another town I need to visit). Will wrote, “I am on 600,000 acres, belonging to W. T. Waggoner, with 25,000 cattle and some of the best horses in any State. He is one cowman that was smart enough to solve the low prices of cattle and make ranches pay. Every cow has got her own oil well.” (DT #1847, July 6, 1932)
In every “Will Rogers” presentation, I use that W. T. Waggoner story. The last line always gets a big laugh.
Next time I get to Texas, I had better plan on staying more than a week. There’s so much to see. As Will wrote, “I been flying, train riding, automobiling, horseback riding and buggy riding over Texas for thirty-three years and I’ve never seen a tenth of it.” (DT #1926, Oct. 6, 1932)
Historic quote by Will Rogers:
LUBBOCK, Tex.: “They say it’s wrong to buy votes, but you notice from the election returns that the fellows in Pennsylvania and Illinois that bought the most, got elected. A bought vote is better than no votes at all. The counters can’t tell whether they are bought or just bargained for.” DT #73, Nov. 4, 1926