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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When the Matador Ranch Came to the Southwest Collection

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The Matador Ranch was established in 1879 by Alfred Britton, Henry Campbell, and their associates. It covered one and a half million acres in Motley, Cottle, Floyd, and Dickens counties of Texas. In 1882 the founders sold their cattle and range rights to a syndicate based in Dundee, Scotland. And it is there that the story of one of the Southwest Collection’s first and greatest collections begins.

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With rare exceptions, such as during periods of drought, Matador stockholders received substantial dividends. In 1951, however, they sold their shares to Lazard Brothers and Company. Many of the ranch records that were now no longer needed were quickly given into the care of the Southwest Collection. The Matador Land Book, pages of which can be seen above and below (and here!) was one such item. Another was a Payroll Ledger that names every cowboy in the employment of the ranch. These are only 2 among thousands of treasures that were donated.

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But one thing continued to plague Dr. Seymour V. Connor, the director of the SWC when the records arrived. Although many items of interest to researchers–such as the map of Matador lands provided to the Texas Pacific Railroad (below)–were now housed at Texas Tech, the remaining records remained in Dundee, Scotland, home of the ranch’s international administrators. As long as these documents lay overseas, they remained out of the hands of eager researchers. And so Dr. Connor set out to bring them back to Texas. Years of heartfelt, patient negotiations with past and present Matador investors and their families paid off in 1957 when, at long last, boxes full of Dundee records rejoined their brothers in our archive.

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Some at the time hailed the now-complete Matador Records as “one of the most valuable collections ever received by a college in Texas.” Its contents back up this assertion: reams of legal documents, payroll records, herd books, range diaries, and international correspondence can be found alongside mile-by-mile accounts of herds driven north. Detailed outlines of time-tested methods used by ranch superintendents to manage herds are also present. How much money would a top hand (or significantly lesser hands) receive in wages? The Records can tell you. They even noted the location of lands set aside for community projects, such as the Lee County School Lands shown below. As the news program “Texas in Review” declared, the Southwest Collection could now boast “a complete portrait of one of the most fascinating ranch stories in history.” We may be a little biased, but it’s hard not to agree!

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Folks interested in the Matador Ranch’s history should contact our Reference Staff who are always eager to help get these items into curious hands. Also, The Handbook of Texas has published more in-depth online biographies of the Matador Ranch and the Matador Land and Cattle Company.

150 Years Later: The United Confederate (Civil War) Records of Fort Worth, Texas

century war book-3In the spring of 1864, during the U.S. Civil War, Union forces under General Ulysses S Grant in the East and General William T. Sherman in the West began a coordinated campaign against the Confederacy. Now, 150 years later, we’d like to share some of the accounts of this, and other campaigns, written by Confederate veterans decades later when they began joining various Confederate Veterans organizations. The records we hold can be found primarily among our United Confederate (Civil War) Collection (UCV), which documents the history of Fort Worth’s UCV branch, the Robert E. Lee Camp No. 158.

The well-weathered item above is one of the dozen or so Century War Books in the UCV papers. It was published in 1894, at about the time R. E. Lee Camp 158 was gathering stories such as B. S. Landon’s (see below.) According to its authors, the Century War Book was “issued with the idea of bringing its picturesque features before a larger body of readers” than its predecessors. The mammoth volume that collected all of what would become the Century War Books, as well as THE CENTURY MAGAZINE. Altogether, the entire cost of the history in all its forms reached nearly $250,000.

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“Descriptive Lists” are the handwritten accounts of war service that veterans submitted to the UCV. This one was written by B. S. Landon, a Confederate cavalryman under J.E.B. Stuart in the Army of Northern Virginia. “I was never in any regular battles or engagements,” he claims, but that wasn’t entirely true. He “rec’d during the war two balls through the body–one through the leg & one in the bottom of the left foot,” which no doubt kept him out of action for a time. But not forever: Landon was shot 3 additional times before the end of the war.

Roster-1 E. Lee Camp 158 had a large membership, as this roster can testify. Created by compiling the information gathered from hundreds and hundreds of Descriptive Lists, its pages aren’t as lively as veterans’ personal stories, but are equally useful because they gather members’ names in one place. To find a veteran they want to research, a researcher can avoid poring over pages and pages of Descriptive Lists and instead easily flip through this ledger. Names are most commonly found in the lists of those who paid their annual dues, as you can see in the page above.

j e johnson-1The final item we’ve got for you today is the Descriptive List of Pvt. W. C. Allen of the Army of Northern Virginia. Whereas B. S. Landon’s story was modest, W. C. Allen’s is an unpunctuated, brutally matter-of-fact account of a Private’s life. Once war erupted in April 1861, Allen wasted no time enlisting. He was present at the Battle of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and a host of others such as Sharpsburg where he was shot and left on the battlefield for 3 days while his wound “got full of worms.” After a surprisingly quick recovery, he went on to fight a bit more before he was captured. Released 22 months later, he was apprehended again after rejoining the Confederate army, put on trial for “bushwhacking,” jailed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then incarcerated in the “Penatenchury” in Nashville until April 1865. We’ve read a lot of these letters, and most of us agree that there are few stories to match Allen’s.

The entirety of this collection has been digitized and placed online, but if you’d like to see these incredible items with your own eyes then don’t hesitate to contact our Reference Staff who are always happy to make that happen.

Anson, Texas’ Cowboys’ Christmas Ball

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This drawing is used annually in Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball promotions. It depicts the instrumentation described by Larry Chittenden in his poem, as well as depicting dancers performing a quadrille.

The Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball is a nearly unbroken Texas musical tradition held every December in Anson, Texas (in Jones County, roughly 25 miles northwest of Abilene). The event began with a grand ball thrown at Anson’s Star Hotel in 1885 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. “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball” was first published in the Anson Texas Western in 1890 and subsequently in his Ranch Verses of 1893. He describes his Ranch Verses as being “born in the idle hours on a Texas ranch.” Chittenden’s ranch on which he lived for almost two decades was located seven miles outside of Anson. For more information, check out the Texas State Historical Association’s biography of Chittenden.

Chittenden’s “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball” was dedicated “To the Ranchmen of Texas,” and paints a vivid picture of a holiday celebration. He describes the hotel as being “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 in 1885. Chittenden even describes the original instrumentation: bass viol, fiddle, guitar, and tambourine.

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Larry Chittenden

Though the hotel would be lost to a fire in 1890, Chittenden’s poem immortalized the spirit of a cowboy Christmas celebration for generations to come. Many folklorists reprinted his words through the years (including John Lomax first in his Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads in 1910. Lomax eventually attended the Ball in 1939). Even to this day we see the Chittenden’s poem in pop culture. Anson Texas would 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.

In 1934, an Anson schoolteacher and local folklorist named Leonora Barrett helped stage the first re-enactment of the 1885 ball in the school’s gymnasium. Once again, people from Anson and surrounding communities joined in to celebrate the Christmas season. Sadly, Chittenden passed away in September of 1934 and would never get to see the ball reborn. Barrett insisted that the reincarnation of the ball retained the original dances, music, and customs of the first ball. This tradition, which includes men removing their hats on the dance floor and women only allowed to wear skirts, is kept to the present day.

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Photo from the Frank Reeves Collection (http://ow.ly/rOf5t). We believe this to be a rare image of Cowboy Christmas Ball founder, Leonora Barrett at one of the 1930s balls.

Barrett, along with Hybernia Grace (another local historian), meticulously researched the conditions surrounding the original ball and worked diligently to preserve as much local history as possible. For example, another tradition kept to this date is one suggested by Mrs. Ophelia Keen nee Rhodes, whose father owned the Star Hotel in the 1880s. She wrote a letter to Barrett that was then published in the Anson newspaper Western Enterprise of December 19, 1935. Keen remembers that one of the early Christmas balls celebrated a wedding, and so at the ball each year, you will see a newly-wed couple lead the grand march at the beginning of the ball. The grand march is one of eight dances that are traditionally performed at the Ball; others include the Paul Jones, the Virginia Reel, a polka, Schottische, two step, waltz, and ‘put your little foot’.

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Several couples dancing at the Ball in the late 1940s or early 50s. The Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball Association members emphasize that the event is a recreation of an 1885 celebration, and therefore have rules about dress. Men must not wear hats on the dance floor, nor should they wear spurs. If women are on the dance floor, they must be in skirts but no split skirts are allowed. Because of the spirit of the event, many participants attend in period attire. Notice in this picture the attempt for historically accurate western clothing. But also notice the many onlookers in the background; pioneer hall has plenty of seating for those who just want to watch the festivities and not dance or dress up.

Soon after its rebirth, the Ball became part of the Texas Centennial festivities in 1936, and in 1938 Anson residents danced on the lawn of the White House during the National Folk Festival. The Ball was expanded from one night to three, with a parade of historic vehicles even being featured in the late 1930s. Because of the Ball’s continued success, Barrett helped to copyright the reenactment, as well as creating a board of directors, who are now known as the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball Association. Pioneer Hall was built in 1940 as a permanent home of the three day festivities. The Hall was designated a historic site (and the Ball a historic event) by the Texas Historical Commission in 2010, after 75 years of re-enactments.

From the 1940s up until the 1990s, few records exist of the ball. We know 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 started by Leonora Barrett in 1934 on the occasion of the first re-enactment. Each year she details 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.

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The ledger that Leonora Barrett started with the first re-enactment of the Cowboys’ Christmas Ball in 1934 and was kept until 1994. This is the first page of the ledger, which details some of the earliest Cowboy Christmas Ball activities and participants. The original ledger is kept in the Southwest Collection, and the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball Association displays a facsimile copy at the ball each year. (Click on the image for a larger version!)

The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball was reborn in a sense in the early 1990s, when Michael Martin Murphey began performing in Anson as the annual headliner. In 2010, Murphey began donating his materials to the Southwest Collection’s Crossroads Music Archive. It was also at this time that he put the archive in touch with the organizers of Anson’s Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball. In 2014, Texas Tech professor emeritus Paul Carlson’s book on the Ball will be published through Texas Tech University Press.

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Cowboy singer and songwriter Michael Martin Murphey has been the annual headliner at Anson’s Cowboys’ Christmas Ball since 1993. Here he performs one of tunes with his daughter, Sarah.

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 Cowboys’ Christmas Ball, it is this weekend! December 19th, 20th, and 21st. Michael Martin Murphey will be performing on the final evening.  For information on tickets, times, and directions, visit the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball website.

by Elissa Stroman, Southwest Collection Audio/Visual Department