Stephenville, Texas! Cowboy Capital of the World, and a Whole Lot More

Besides Stephenville, Texas, there are several cities across the nation that refer to themselves as the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Whoa! Now, wait a minute! How can Dodge City, Kansas, Banderas, Texas and Oakdale, California ALL claim the same title as Stephenville? Somebody ain’t tellin’ the truth.Git a rope.True, Oakdale, California had the first outdoor rodeo in the West, started early in the fabulous 50’s. Nineteen fifties, that is. What’s so “Cowboy” about the era of Rockabilly, Elvis, 3-D movies and the hoola-hoop?Banderas, Texas got its start as a staging area for the great cattle drives of yesteryear. The town is known for its “dude” ranches which came into being when ranching fell upon hard times. When was that? During the Great Depression of 1929. One enterprising rancher decided to open up his ranch to city-slickers as a means for generating earn extra money and a new industry was born. Perhaps it should be called the City Slicker Capital or the Dude Ranch Capital, since that’s what Banderas has hung its hat on.Dodge City, Kansas is known by several nicknames including Queen of the Cowtowns, Wickedest Little City in America and Buffalo Capital of the World. C’mon, Dodge, surely you don’t need another moniker, do ya? Famous for the likes of Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp and Boot Hill, these days, Dodge is keeping its heritage alive through historical preservation programs. Dodge, stop “dodging” the issue….honor your past but stop living in it. That’s just sad.WILL THE REAL COWBOY CAPITAL PLEASE STAND UP?Enter Stephenville, Texas! The REAL Cowboy Capital of the World located in what’s referred to as the Cross Timbers region of the state. How can one small town, 70 miles south of Fort Worth and almost 2 hours from Abilene, make such a bold claim? Easy! The Cross Timbers region has been a thoroughfare to the American Cowboy since Americans crossed the Mississippi westward. The lush, timbered basins of the Trinity, Brazos and Bosque Rivers (the timber ranges “crossed” at this juncture, hence the name “Cross Timbers”) yielded thousands of unbranded Longhorn cattle. Essentially, it’s where the longhorns came to graze. The famous Goodnight-Loving trail originated from the Cross Timbers region; the Great Western Trail passed right through the heart of the Cross Timbers area. One old-timer told me that one of those trails started right where the Sonic Drive-In is located on Washington Street and insisted there should be an historical marker placed there.This Cross Timbers area is one of very few places in the United States that is directly involved in the evolution of the “professional cowboy.” During the period from 1930 to 1950, the ranch cowboy discovered that the general public was enamored with the idea of the Cowboy. A significant number of movies produced by Hollywood glamorized the myth of the Cowboy and the public yearned to get more of him. To meet this need, rodeos were held in Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden, etc. These rodeos played to packed houses, even during the Great Depression. Since the first indoor rodeos were held in Fort Worth at the Cowtown Coliseum, much of the expertise for these big-building rodeos came from the Cowboys of the Cross Timbers area, many of which called Stephenville their home.This being the Cowboy Capital, you are quite likely to find all things Cowboy just as you had hoped, in every direction you turn. For example, here’s where you’ll find the largest private Country and Western club in the state, with live CW bands and two steppin’ all night long. Then there’s the Cross Timbers Country Opry, a thriving equine industry, and the fact that Stephenville is the county seat of Erath County, the largest milk producer in Texas.Stands to reason that where there are horses and cows, there are cowboys and cowgirls. Yes, people shopping with spurs on can be seen in these parts all the time. It’s not uncommon to see a world champion cowboy or musical celebrity around town, sharing in day-to-day community life. Around the town these days, it might be the singer Jewel or Rodeo Cowboys Ty Murray, Tom Reeves, Tuff Hedeman or Cody Ohl. Time was, when 20,000 spectators would crowd into Everett Colburn’s Rodeo Bowl from 1940 to 1959. Colburn’s Lightning C Ranch was the world’s largest ranch devoted entirely to Rodeo livestock. Lightning C was operated by Colburn but he was joined later by TV Cowboy star Gene Autry. This rodeo made up its events and contestants each year in Dublin and then rode the train to New York’s Madison Square Garden and the Boston Garden. In those days, the likes of Autry, Roy Rogers, Audy Murphy and more of Hollywood’s Western stars and Rodeo greats were spotted regularly around the Cross Timbers area, especially Stephenville and nearby Dublin, according to local old-timers. Many of these are honored off downtown Stephenville’s Heritage Square where you’ll find the Cowboy Capital Walk of Fame, here to recognize the significance of the Western heritage that is an integral part of Stephenville and the Cross Timbers Area.SMILE WHEN YOU SAY THATSo, what do we mean when we use the term “cowboy” anyway? Stephenville backs up its Cowboy claim by declaring that Erath County is the home of more professional cowboys and cowgirls, per square mile, than anyplace else on the planet. Who did the math? Well, that’s a mystery the likes of Marfa’s lights, but there’s no question that there are lots of horse trailers, pick-ups and Western Wear stores to accommodate all the ‘pokes in these parts. Our cowboy culture is the real deal, and all one must do is take a look outside – or sniff our dairy air – to attest to that fact.The REAL Cowboy Capital is home to Lone Star Arena, a huge, indoor rodeo complex featuring a regular schedule of barrel racing, horse shows, bull riding, team roping, and more (www.lonestararena.com). The USTRC calf roping finals are held there annually and the Bayer Legends Celebration of Champions will be here in February 2006. Other crowd favorites that are held in Stephenville each year include Larry Joe Taylor’s Texas Music Festival and Chili Cook-Off in April at Melody Mountain Ranch & RV Park (www.larryjoetaylor.com) and rodeo champions will herd into town for the Cowboy Capital of the World Pro Rodeo (www.stephenvilleprca.com) in May at the Erath County Livestock Arena. DairyFest, an annual celebration of the local dairy industry with all the free dairy products you can stand, takes place in June at City Park.CAPITAL IDEA FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUMIs Stephenville the Cowboy Capital? You bet yer boots! But it’s more than that. Whether your focus is commerce, education, culture, recreation or just a great place to settle down, Stephenville is a “capital” idea. The town is known as one of the country’s most desirable places to live and earn a living. In fact, it is included in Norman Crampton’s “The 100 Best Small Towns in America,” published by Prentice Hall.Yes, City Hall is committed to aggressively providing services that encourage the highest quality of life to the citizens of Stephenville.Promoting a business? Nobody helps you maximize your business capital like The Chamber… the award-winning Stephenville Chamber of Commerce, that is! In five years, this organization has blossomed from less than 300 to over 700 local businesses and tourism income is consistently higher than it’s ever been. As a business professional, you’ll definitely want to capitalize on Stephenville’s ready and able workforce, many of whom attend our local university.Where Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic are concerned, Stephenville spells “Education” with a capital “E!” The Stephenville Independent School District has a total enrollment of nearly 4,000 students. There are two elementary schools for children in grades K through 4, and intermediate school for grades 5 through 6. Junior High includes grades 7 and 8 and High School, grades, 9 through 12. Scholastically, musically, athletically…the success of these schools have truly made Stephenville a City of Champions!Located in the heart of Stephenville is Tarleton State University. Founded in 1899 as John Tarleton College, in 1917, the college became a part of the Texas A&M University System, gaining official status as a university in 1973. Tarleton University has experienced considerable growth over the past decade (about 8% annually), with a current enrollment exceeding 8000. Students come from over 200 Texas counties, as well as 30 states and ten foreign nations. Tarleton is dedicated to providing outstanding instruction and concern for the individual, ensuring that students acquire the tools they need to achieve successful careers, gain cultural enrichment, and become productive citizens and leaders in a diverse and ever-changing culture. Tarleton offers the community the Clyde H. Wells Fine Arts Center as well as the TSU Planetarium, giving the community a wonderful array of visual sensations to enjoy.While we’re on the subject of higher education, let’s talk about the Highest Education, developing one’s spiritual life. Whatever your worship preference, you’ll probably find it here in Stephenville. With a large variety of churches to choose from, many with a passion for unity, you’re sure to find your next home church here! That includes (what else?) the thriving Cowboy Church of Erath County.Yes, Stephenville is the Cowboy Capital of Texas… and proud of it. But overall, whether your interest includes business, family, education or recreation, you’re bound to find Stephenville, Texas to be the “capital” idea you’ve been looking for!

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