Another Year, Another Cowboys’ Christmas Ball!

It’s that time of year: the ol’ holiday season, and that means that folks from the Southwest Collection will be headed south to Anson, Texas, for the annual Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball. Down in Jones County, roughly 25 miles northwest of Abilene, the event has been held almost-annually since the first grand ball thrown at Anson’s Star Hotel in 1885. That night, attendee William Lawrence “Larry” Chittenden was inspired to compose his poem, “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball,” promptly published in Anson’s Texas Western and, subsequently, in Chittenden’s Ranch Verses of 1893. “Born in the idle hours on a Texas ranch” where he lived for almost two decades seven miles outside of Anson, the poem is still a hallmark of the event today.

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The poem was dedicated “To the Ranchmen of Texas.” It captures the spirit of the occasion, with its “togged out gorgeous” hotel festooned 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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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. People from Anson and surrounding communities gathered in the school gymnasium for the event. 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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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, suggested by Mrs. Ophelia Keen nee Rhodes, whose father owned the Star Hotel in the 1880s, wrote a letter to Barrett that was then published in the Anson newspaper Western Enterprise of December 19, 1935. In it, Keen remembers wedding at an early Ball. As a result, each a newly-wed couple leads the Ball’s opening grand march. Several other dances follow, including the Paul Jones, the Virginia Reel, a polka, Schottische, two step, waltz, and ‘put your little foot’.

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Soon after its rebirth, the Ball began to gain attention. It was part 1936’s Texas Centennial. In 1938 Anson residents danced on the lawn of the White House during the National Folk Festival. Soon after, it expanded from one night to three, including a parade of historic vehicles (although that tradition has since passed.) Because of the Ball’s continued success, Barrett helped to copyright the reenactment and created a board of directors, who are now known as the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball Association. Pioneer Hall, its current residence, was built in 1940 and was designated a historic site (and the Ball a historic event) by the Texas Historical Commission in 2010.

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 housed at the Southwest Collection. Started by Leonora Barrett in 1934 on the occasion of the first re-enactment, the ledger details yearly guests, hosts, radio broadcasts, leaders of the grand march, and a myriad of other facts. The Ball kept the ledger updated until 1994, ensuring that future scholars can appreciate this unbroken tradition.

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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. At this time he also put the archive in touch with the Ball’s organizers. As a result, in 2014 Texas Tech professor emeritus Paul Carlson published Dancin’ in Anson, a definitive account of the Ball’s rich history.

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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. This year’s ball will be held December 17th, 18th, and 19th. Michael Martin Murphey will be performing on the first evening. For information on tickets, times, and directions, visit the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball website.

by Elissa Stroman

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Women Who Shaped Texas Tech: 2015 Edition!

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Last March we told you about our Women’s History Month exhibit, “The Women Who Shaped Texas Tech,” celebrating several women whose influence on Texas Tech University is still felt today. The exhibit has received several new additions for 2015 who we’d like to share with you!

The first of this year’s celebrated women is Lucille Graves (above.) 40 years ago she sat down with one of our oral historians for an oral history interview to share her story as the first African American student at Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University.) Having already received her bachelor’s degree in 1961, Graves tried to attend Texas Tech to receive her masters. Yet she was repeatedly refused entrance on the grounds that its charter stipulated that the university was established for white students only. With the help of the NAACP, she confronted the university and was at last admitted after a phone call from Texas Tech President R. C. Goodwin himself. Soon Tech saw a peaceful, non-violent integration of the traditionally white college. Graves was also the founder of Mary and Mac, the first black private school in Lubbock, Texas, in 1955. She chose the name of her school after the children’s nursery rhyme on the reasoning that “This poem depicts the act of boys and girls in their desire to become useful in this society.”

FayeBumpass-ADJ Faye Bumpass is also featured in the exhibit. She received her bachelor’s (1932) and master’s (1934) from Texas Technological College, then went on to teach Latin and Spanish in Texas high schools until 1941, serve as a visiting instructor in Spanish during the summer at Texas Tech, travel to Latin America to teach Latin and English as a second language (primarily in Lima Peru,) and acquire a Doctor of Letters (1948) from San Marcos University. Returning to Texas Tech in 1957, she became an assistant professor in both English and Foreign Languages, wrote several textbooks on bilingual education, and testified before Congress in May 1967 about bilingual education. In 1969, she became one of two women to acquire the Horn Professorship, TTU’s highest faculty rank and one previously held only by male professors.mary jeanne van appledorn2

Another Shaper of Texas Tech, Mary Jeanne van Appledorn, studied both piano and theory at the University of Rochester’s prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where each year she was awarded the George Eastman Honorary Scholarship, and in 1948 received her Bachelor of Music with Distinction in piano. She subsequently received her Master of Music Degree (Theory) from Eastman in 1950 and accepted a position at Texas Technological College that fall. She earned a Ph.D. (music) from Eastman in 1966 while teaching at Tech courses ranging from undergraduate music theory to graduate composition courses. Her list of chairmanships, composition commissions, and other honors are too many to list here. Suffice to say that in 1989 she received TTU’s prestigious Horn Professorship. Dr. van Appledorn held the distinction of being one of the longest serving faculty members at Tech (58 years!), and her papers are held in our University Archives.mina wolf lamb1Mina Marie Wolf attended the newly established Texas Technological College where she received her B.A. in chemistry in 1932. While in graduate school at the University of Texas, she was discouraged from pursuing a career as a chemist by a faculty member due to the difficulty of finding jobs in that field for a female. So she returned to Texas Tech in 1935 to get her M.S. in Foods and Nutrition, and, after a brief stint away from Lubbock, she returned to TTU in 1940 to serve as associate professor in the foods and nutrition department of Home Economics, picking up her Ph.D. in Nutrition and chemistry from Columbia University (1942) along the way. Mina married Arch Lamb in 1941, and together the couple left a lasting impression on Texas Tech through their support for the college and its students. Dr. Lamb was a member of numerous professional and local campus organizations, taught Red Cross nutrition and canteen courses during World War II, and also served on the Lubbock Food Ration Board. TTU honored her as a Piper Professor for her teaching and work with undergraduate students, and just before her retirement she donated $10,000 towards a new laboratory for assessment of nutritional status in humans. Yet in an interview in 1990, she stated that her proudest accomplishment was establishing the federally funded Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental food program at the Lubbock Children’s Health Clinic where she had volunteered for 18 years.OpheliaMalone1964

Ophelia Powell-Malone is our final Woman Who Shaped Texas Tech. She holds a unique place in Texas Tech history as the first African American to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. After transferring from Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, to attend Texas Tech shortly after the college integrated, she became a home economics major. Receiving her degree in 1964, Malone went on to become a teacher in New Mexico, then a dietitian at Langston University and at nursing homes in Lubbock and Houston. Mentor Tech chose Powell-Malone as one of two trailblazing individuals to honor in the naming of their program, which was established in 2002.

If you’re curious about the archival collections of these women, or of those honored last year, why don’t you give our helpful Reference Staff a call? They’d be happy to help you out!

by B. Lynn Whitfield, University Archivist

Women of Texas Music

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Mary Jane Johnson (photo courtesy of Texas Monthly™)

March is Women’s History Month, and in recognition of that the Crossroads Music Archive at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library has curated an exhibit entitled The Women of Texas Music.

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The most prominent musician among those featured is Mary Jane Johnson. Counted among the great dramatic sopranos and considered one of opera’s premiere interpreters, Johnson has toured North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Among her many heralded interpretations, that of Minnie in La Fanciulla del West stands out. It has been heard on stages around the world including the Teatro Communale in Bologna, the Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago, at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, on tour in Japan with La Scala, and with the Santa Fe Opera Festival. Her career went to the next level when she appeared with Luciano Pavarotti in a televised performance as Musetta in Puccini’s La Boheme with the Opera Company of Philadelphia.

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Susan Grisanti, known as the “First Lady of Classical Guitar in the Southwest,” was a recognizable figure in Lubbock, Texas music for over four decades. A gifted guitar instructor, she taught over 5,000 students during her career and served as a resident house musician at local Lubbock institutions. The Crossroads Music Archive contains the materials donated after her death in 2013. In fact, the “Susan Grisanti Memorial Fund” was established to help preserve her music legacy at the Crossroads Music Archive.

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Beginning in the 1950s, the Hancock Family helped usher in the era of modern Lubbock Music. The family has participated in notable bands from The Roadside Playboys to the Texana Dames. The Dames was an all-female trio, with mother Charlene Hancock and siblings Traci and Conni Hancock. Their career spanned some 25 years. The Dames music varied from cumbia to country, and was a favorite for dancers.

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The Heart Beats were an all-female garage rock band based in Lubbock and founded around 1966. They were led by drummer and lead vocalist Linda Sanders, along with younger sister Debbie Sanders (guitar), Debbie McMellan (bass guitar), and Jeannie Foster (guitar and keyboards.) They attracted nationwide attention in the summer of 1968 when they won the battle of the bands on the popular ABC-TV variety show Happening 68, hosted by Mark Lindsay and Paul Revere of Paul Revere & the Raiders.

The materials documenting the lives and careers of musicians both female and male can be found at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library. In fact, our always-helpful Reference Staff would be happy to arrange for you to view them yourselves.

– by Curtis Peoples & Robert Weaver