Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball!

cowboy xmas paul coverLast year, we told you about the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball, a musical tradition held every December in Anson, Texas (in Jones County, roughly 25 miles northwest of Abilene). Because this year they’re celebrating the Ball’s 80th reenactment (and because we at the SWC enjoy it so much!), we’ve decided to tell y’all about it one more time. The event began at Anson’s Star Hotel in 1885 at a grand ball held in honor of the cattlemen of the region. William Lawrence “Larry” Chittenden attended that night and was so impressed by the festivities that he immortalized them in poetry. His “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball” was first published in the Anson Texas Western in 1890 and subsequently in his Ranch Verses of 1893.that livelygaitedsworrayChittenden’s poem was dedicated “To the Ranchmen of Texas,” and paints a vivid picture of a holiday celebration. The hotel was “togged out gorgeous” and decorated with candles, mistletoe, and “shawls” (which many have interpreted as blankets placed at the windows to insulate the hotel better). Lead by “Windy Billy,” who sang and called the dances, the crowded Star Hotel saw a very “lively gaited sworray” that evening. Chittenden even describes the original instrumentation: bass viol, fiddle, guitar, and tambourine.Image 0003.B+WAnson, Texas would continue to see some Christmas celebrations similar to the ball held irregularly in the early 20th century, but it wasn’t until 1934 that the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball was reborn when an Anson schoolteacher and local folklorist named Leonora Barrett helped stage the first re-enactment in the school’s gymnasium. Barrett insisted that the reincarnation of the ball retain the original dances, music, and customs of its predecessors, such as men removing their hats on the dance floor and women only allowed to wear skirts. Each year a newly-wed couple leads the ball’s opening grand march, one of eight dances that are traditionally performed there including the Paul Jones, the Virginia Reel, a polka, Schottische, two step, waltz, and ‘put your little foot.’pg002-3smallFrom the 1940s until the 1990s, few records exist of the ball. We know that it was a successful event based on newspaper articles, as well as the few surviving photographs, film reels, and one amazing ledger. The Southwest Collection is proud to house the original ledger (seen above,) started by Leonora Barrett in 1934 on the occasion of the first re-enactment. Each year she noted guests, hosts, broadcasts made by radio stations, the leaders of the grand march, and other pertinent details. The ledger was kept updated until 1994 and is one document that allows scholars to see the completely unbroken tradition.murphThe Cowboys’ Christmas Ball was reborn in a sense in the early 1990s, when Michael Martin Murphey began performing as its annual headliner. In 2010, Murphey began donating his materials to the Southwest Collection’s Crossroads Music Archive, as well as putting the archive in touch with the Ball’s organizers. That led to the recent publication of Texas Tech professor emeritus Paul Carlson’s book on the Ball, Dancin’ in Anson, the cover of which headlines this article.

Though the music has been electrified and grown beyond four instruments, and historical dress is not required, attending the ball is still a festive step back into an older tradition. Each year, the ball is held on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday prior to Christmas. If you would like to attend this year’s event, you can do it on December 18th, 19th, and 20th. For information on tickets, times, and directions, visit the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball website.

– Elissa Stroman & Robet Weaver

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Texas Tech University Football Firsts

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During football season last year we told you that the SWC archives hold the entirety of the old Southwest Conference’s records, as well as a large portion of Big 8, Big 12, and NCAA archival material. But the Southwest Collection is located at Texas Tech University, so it’s high time that we focused on Red Raider football, a story that began almost 90 years ago. McMurray1925 ttu first game

This is the cover of the program for the first football game played by the newly-opened Texas Technological College (you can see the whole program here courtesy of our University Archives!) It was a heated contest held on the afternoon of October 3rd, 1925, at Lubbock’s South Plains Fair. The McMurray [sic] College Indians traveled north from Abilene to face off against the Matadors, and the game resulted in a 0-0 tie. An inauspicious beginning, perhaps, but things would soon turn around.

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Although Texas Tech’s first bowl game was against West Virginia in 1937’s Sun Bowl (a 7-6 loss,) perhaps their most historically significant bowl appearance came after the 1953 season. As you can see from the cover of the 104-page program above (the entirety of which you can see here,) the Red Raiders squared off against the University of Auburn Tigers in the 9th annual Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day. Although the 17th-ranked Tigers led early, the Red Raiders surged back in the second half to win the game 35-13, handing Auburn one of its more lopsided bowl losses. Not surprising, perhaps, considering Tech’s 10-1 regular season record, but a closer look at the box score reveals that Texas Tech did the bulk of its work in 7 minutes, racking up 28 points in that short amount of time under the lead of now-legendary halfback Bobby Cavazos. He scored 3 times and also stopped an interception return that would have likely resulted in a defensive touchdown. Bobby and his fellow 1953 stars can be seen in the image below, taken from that same game program.

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“But this article is entitled Texas Tech Football Firsts!” you might be pointing out to us right now. And we appreciate the reminder, because while the 1954 Gator Bowl was one of Tech’s biggest wins up to that point, it was even more notable for two historic moments in Texas Tech Red Raider football history. First off, this was Tech’s first televised football game. In the 60 years since then, the Red Raiders have had their share of television coverage, but it all started with this game. But here’s what really matters to fans: this was the first official appearance of the Masked Rider! The Rider had shown up from time to time since 1936, but the Gator Bowl was the first time it galloped onto the field as Tech’s new official mascot. Thousands of spectators shared a moment of amazed silence before erupting into cheers. According to Atlanta Journal’s sportswriter Ed Danforth, who was also a press box spectator, “No team in any bowl game ever made a more sensational entrance.”

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In 2004, the saddle above was given to then-Chancellor Kent Hance to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Masked Rider. Generously donated to the SWC in 2014 along with many of Kent Hance’s papers, it is one among many unique Red Raider artifacts that we preserve. If you’re curious about those, our other Texas Tech collections, or the many, many sports-related archives we keep around, hurry up and contact our Reference Department and they’ll see about getting you a look at those!

The West Texas Historical Association

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The Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library has long been proud to house the offices of the West Texas Historical Association (WTHA.) Organized in 1924 in Abilene at Simmons College (now Hardin-Simmons University), the WTHA arrived at the SWC in 1996. The organization has two hallmarks. The first, its annual meeting, a conference at which lay and professional historians share their research over the course of two days, will be held for the 90th time in Odessa, Texas this April. The second is its annual publication, the West Texas Historical Review (formerly West Texas Historical Association Year Book), the most recent cover of which can be seen above.

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The WTHA also partners with other local and regional organizations to preserve the history of West Texas. Most recently it has worked with the Quanah Parker Trail to promote that organization’s installation of “Giant Arrows” marking locations of historical significance to the life of late-nineteenth-century Comanche chief Quanah Parker. The image above comes from the ceremony celebrating the arrow that was planted at the American Museum of Agriculture in Lubbock, Texas in July 2012.

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Although the West Texas Historical Review—which we’ll tell you more about below—is the repository of the WTHA’s scholarship, its newsletter The Cyclone is the main method through which it shares information about upcoming events, related organizations, and various other topics. The most recent issue of The Cyclone can be found here.

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The most significant contribution made by the WTHA to the preservation of West Texas history is the West Texas Historical Review. Its first volume appeared in 1925, and has continued publication to the present day. The forthcoming 89th volume will contain articles on a host of topics, including depictions of West Texas on television, reexamining accounts of Civil War battles in the region, and the unexpected connections between San Angelo, Texas and Africa’s 19th century Boer War. Reviews of books about West Texas history as well as a thorough bibliography listing books and periodicals published about the region’s history in the past year are also included.

So head on out to Odessa this April to attend the WTHA Annual Meeting. At the very least, take a look at the WTHA on Facebook to see the images documenting West Texas History that they regularly share. And if you’re interested in becoming a member of the organization (which includes a subscription to the Cyclone and the Review!), don’t hesitate to do so.