68 Amazing Things I Learned At A West Texas Cowboy Symposium

The 24th annual Cowboy Symposium took place last weekend in Lubbock, Texas. Did you know there’s a cowboy version of The Night Before Christmas?

1. People collect antique “chuck wagons.”

The main event of the whole symposium is the Chuck Wagon Cook-Off, where teams cook lunch from antique old turn-of-the-century chuck wagons, just like the cowboys would have used. They are judged on both the wagon’s authenticity (if all the parts and cookware are old) as well as the taste of the food they cook. This year, 14 teams of wagons competed.

2. This guy won 1st place for the most authentic wagon.

Randy Whipple inherited this chuck wagon from his father, who bought it in Oklahoma. He and his family were not only among the youngest competitors, but they were also the friendliest and offered me beer and pizza, and made me drink some crazy shot with Everclear and apple juice.

3. The chuck wagons are judged on how authentic all their accessories are.

Here, they have an old timey washboard, and bucket for water.

4. The John Deere company started out making ploughs and wagons.

I had no idea the company was this old (turns out it was founded in 1837). Several of the chuck wagons were made by John Deere in the 1890s.

5. Wood barrels are made by the Amish.

Since the unpainted wood barrels tend to rot, chuck wagon restorationists buy new ones from the Amish in Pennsylvania, who are still making wood barrels the old way.

6. Horses are really confusing.

A guy from one of the biggest ranches in Texas, the 6666 Ranch, gave a presentation in how to saddle your horse. It’s really complicated — you have to use lots of body language.

7. Playing the fiddle is popular.

This is Dottie Douhit. She invited me to a jam session back at the hotel afterwards, but I declined. There’s only so much fiddle music I could take over two days.

8. You can buy a vintage mail truck for pretty cheap.

Only $4,000! That seems really cheap for something that’s probably 100 years old and in working restored condition. I expected it would be way more.

9. Cowboy food is really good.

I had never had chicken fried steak before, and I realize now I had truly never lived.

For $20, you could buy a meal ticket to a chuck wagon. They all served the same thing — chicken fried steak, potatoes, beans, biscuits, and a fruit cobbler for dessert. Chuck wagon teams could win prizes for the best of each dish, as well as an overall cash prize of $700.

10. Western art is sold in a trailer.

11. Western art rules.

This painting of a dog is called Lil’ Scamp. Toss out the Mona Lisa and put this in the Louvre!

12. There are Penguin Classics about cowboys.

13. There’s a cowboy version of “The Night Before Christmas.”

Also a Spanish language version that appears to be set in Mexico.

14. This is what cowboy Santa looks like.

15. This is Alvin G. Davis, cowboy extraordinaire.

Davis founded the Cowboy Symposium 25 years ago. He’s 84, fought in WWII, and claims to be the only person to have been inducted into the 4H Hall of Fame twice (by clerical error). He has a big belt buckle with his name on it.

16. Members of the Comanche tribe make it out to the symposium every year.

These are descendants of a Comanche cheif named Quanah Parker. Parker was the son of a Comanche chief and a white woman who had been kidnapped as a young girl (she was kidnapped back by the Texas Rangers as an adult and spent the last 10 years of her life heartbroken over being separated from the tribe and her family), and an important figure in Native American history who was friendly with Teddy Roosevelt.

17. The cowboys and Indians are good friends.

The women of the Quanah Parker Society were delighted to see Mr. Davis, and they’ve gotten very close over the years. Mr. Davis was presented with a large painting of a Native American in appreciation of his work for the symposium.

18. There are a lot of Comanche veterans.

At the beginning of the Quanah Parker Society’s presentation, military veterans (almost all men) were honored. This was a ceremony where a whistle was blown in four directions in honor of those who were lost.

19. You can buy pralines and divinity.

I didn’t sample the pralines, so I can’t confirm they are divine.

20. The crown crease style of this is inspired by a character from “Lonesome Dove.”

The two creases in this hat are towards the front, instead of the middle of the crown. It’s sort of more comfortable, but I don’t think it looks as cool. It’s like a cameltoe for your head.

21. Cowboy hats are EXPENSIVE!


22. Hats vary in price by what percentage beaver fur they are.

The more beaver, the more expensive. This hat is 100% beaver, but other hats are 80%, 50%, or even 0%. Rabbit fur makes up the difference, but it isn’t as soft or water resistant. However, in Australia, everyone wants 100% rabbit fur hats, no beaver. I guess because there are no beavers in Australia.

23. This is a $2,700 cowboy hat.

Worth every penny (jk I didn’t buy it). But it’s fly as heck, right?

24. It’s made of 100% mink fur instead of beaver.

It was so soft. I wanted to keep stroking it.

25. You can get funny inscriptions in your hat brim.

26. Jared Coffelt is the owner of Flint Hat & Boot in Lubbock, Texas.

Jared got married just the weekend before to his wife, Kelsi. He proposed to her by inscribing “will you marry me” in the band of a hat he gave to her.

27. He inscribed their wedding date in his hat.

They also got matching cowboy boots with their wedding date made.

28. There’s no such thing as a 10-gallon hat.

No matter how much I kept asking about each hat, “is THIS one a 10-gallon?”, Jared denied its existence. I suspect a coverup.

29. This hideous table was up for a raffle prize.

It’s cowhide on top of a tree trunk stand. What happens if you spill?! It looked like something Teddy Roosevelt would own if he ran a brothel.

30. Here’s musician Washtub Jerry. He’s a hit with the ladies.

He plays the washtub. Chicks love washtub musicians.

31. You can play the bass with only a stick, a washtub, and a single string.

Washtub Jerry played bass accompaniment to several performers. He’d lean the stick in or out to change its tautness, which made different notes.

32. There are cowboy magicians.

This guy was not funny.

33. Cowboy poetry is really popular.

There were rooms where people told stories and recited poems. This is Chris Isaacs, a popular cowboy poet. Cowboy poetry is usually a long rhyming story. It was pretty good.

34. You can have a carriage drawn by mini horses.

35. You can even have a Cinderella-style carriage drawn by mini horses!

Inside were the women of the Quanah Parker Society.

36. Kids riding horses are cute.

I liked this horse’s legwarmers. They’re like “YOLO,” amirite?

37. You can fence in your babies.

Baby ranchin’.

38. You can dress in reenactment clothing if you want.

The guy in the coonskin cap is a 16-year-old who came with his sister to help out at a friend’s chuck wagon. They both love chuck wagon cooking and go to several reenactments and cookoffs a year.

39. Some people got really into it.


This man told me he loves coming to cowboy events because he loves doing Western dancing. He’s not a cowboy — he just likes cowboy culture.

40. There are goth cowboys.

Ok, at least they look kinda goth. Steampunk, at least. Note his Texas leather cuffs.

41. There are really hot cowboys.

This guy was 22 years old and works as a rancher on his family’s ranch. Every morning he gets up at 5am, picks a dog for the day (!!!), picks a horse, and rides out to check on the cattle, mend fences, and do other cowboy things. He also rides broncos in the rodeo for fun on the weekends.

He called me “ma’am” and looked like Tim Riggins meets Luke Perry in 8 Seconds.

This photo doesn’t do him justice.

42. The only hipsters there were foreign exchange students from England.

These two are studying geography at nearby Texas Tech and heard the Cowboy Symposium was fun. They had been in Lubbock only 2 weeks. Good luck, boys.

43. If you’re on your phone, old people will come over and bug you.

What is up with this? I was sitting quietly by myself off the the side as to not be rude, and old people would just come up and start making fun of me for looking at my phone. This guy stopped me while I was writing an email. This also happened a lot when I went to a Mormon pageant. Hey old people, the new rules state it’s more rude for you to interrupt me than it is for me to be on my phone not bothering anyone. Capiche, gramps?

By the way, this man was absolutely lovely and friendly and charming. I was glad he stopped me to chat.

44. Only sugar and Sweet’n Low is served in the Lubbock Civic Center.

No stupid gross Splenda. Yes! Sweet’n Low is the best!

45. Father/son matching outfits are cute.

Hi-ho lil’ ranger!

46. Everyone there was old.

This is the crowd watching a harmonica player perform.

47. Old people get tired.

They love sitting!

48. You can buy wooden wine glasses.

49. Wooden travel mugs.

50. Longhorn horns aren’t as expensive as you’d think.

Depending on size these were only $100-$200. Not exactly cheap, but way less than I would’ve guessed.

51. The cuts in the horn are from bulls fighting each other.

The rest of the horn gets polished so it’s smooth and shiny. There are still deep cuts from the bulls locking horns.

52. There’s lots of turquoise jewelry.

Cowbelles love turquoise.

53. There are cowboy scented candles like “old boots.”

I bought “horse breath,” which is supposed to smell like grass and sweet alfalfa. It’s pretty nice.

54. Cowboys love playing the harmonica.

I went to a harmonica workshop. I learned to make a train sound. I’m pretty sure this is only going to annoy everyone around me.

55. This old guy really wanted to get in on the harmonica action.

He had a briefcase full of different harmonicas with him. This is some giant one.

56. Harmonica duet!

57. There’s such a thing as business-casual cowboy dress.

The man in the tie is a Texas Ranger. When I took their photo, the guy on the left said, “I’ve always wanted to have my picture taken with a Texas Ranger!” and I think he wasn’t totally kidding.

58. There’s a museum of Ranching Culture. You can’t being your firearm inside.

Ranching culture is a big deal in West Texas. People feel very emotionally attached to it — even if they’re not ranchers or cowboys themselves, their parents or grandparents were. I assumed the cattle industry was all corporate and mechanized now, but there’s still about 150 big ranches out there that raise cattle the old-fashioned way.

The museum was really fancy and seemed extremely well-funded. It had several rebuilt outdoor barns and structures as well as a collection of ranching memorabilia.

59. Barbed wire is a “significant American invention.”

60. The museum has an impressive collection of antique cattle branders.

61. There was something called screwworm that someone advocated eradicating.

No idea what that is but it sounds gross.

62. The Amateur Radio Club of Lubbock was there to broadcast live from the event.

63. These brothers love ham radios.

64. “Come in come in! Over and out!”

Ok, I think that’s what they say.

65. Texas frats are kind of awful.

These two were going to a frat party later at Texas Tech where new pledges were supposed to dress as “illegal immigrants.” Later that night at the Sonic Drive-In, I saw a car full of young men dressed up in ponchos and somberos, clearly on their way to the party.

66. There’s a catering company out there that serves fins & hens.


67. It is not cool to have a piano tuner racejacket.

Sorry, Carrell’s. It’s not cool or badass.

68. Everyone remembers that salsa ad where they say “New York City?!”

I can’t tell you how many people did a reenactment of this commercial when I told them I was from New York. Maybe like 10 people, which is really a lot, when you consider this ad is probably 15 years old.

All photos by Katie Notopoulos for BuzzFeed.

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