Saddle Up: Looking Back on 85 Years of the Texas Cowboy Reunion

1940 TCR Parade
1940 TCR Parade

By Will McClure


With the 85th edition of the Texas Cowboy Reunion well underway, it is clear that the event continues to bring people far and wide together over a few days. From the many events taking place in the arena to the nights of music and dancing, there has always been something for everyone to enjoy. So, as we are enjoying this momentous time of the year, we take the opportunity to look back at the milestone years of what has become an annual tradition for Stamford, Texas.

1st - June 26-28, 1930

Officially created in February 1930 when thirteen Stamford businessmen met to discuss establishing some type of celebration to counteract the low morale brought on by the Great Depression, the first edition of the TCR brought in 12,000 spectators, with competitors coming from all parts of Texas as well as New Mexico. Events included the Opening Day Parade through downtown Stamford, a tradition that has continued to be a part of TCR festivities even today. A public program was held in the auditorium along with registration of Pioneer Cattlemen. Another parade of Cowboys and Indians took place on the second day of the TCR. The rodeo itself took place during all three days, which also included an “Indian show” that preceded the rodeo each night. A Cowboy Dance closed out each night on the reunion grounds. The first events featured 98 participants competing in four events, with winners awarded for each night of competition. With awards going to those that finished first through fourth in each event, the first place winners were as follows: Bronc Riding: Day 1 – Lyn Huskey of Greenville, Day 2 – Willie Edwards of Newark, Day 3 – J.O.W. Warren of Baird; Calf Roping: Day 1 & 2: Joe York of Snyder, Day 3 – Bill Eaton of Jai, New Mexico; Steer Riding: Day 1 – Odell Betall of Archer City, Day 2 – Chubby Gowan of Seymour, Day 3 – Rueben Crenshaw of Benjamin; Wild Cow Milking: Day 1 – John Ballard of Throckmorton, Day 2 – O.C. Shellenberger of Gainesville.

The final day of the first, successful TCR featured an “old fiddlers’ contest” where Alvia Anderson of Stamford won the first prize of $15. The Campfire Girls also won a prize of $10 for having the best decorated float in the Opening Day Parade while Mary Neille Smith of Stamford won $10 for having the best decorated car.

5th – July 2-4, 1934

While attendees are accustomed to the TCR taking place over the weekend, the fifth edition of the TCR began on a Monday where it was estimated that 55,000 people attended the event over its three days. TCR Sponsors made their first appearance in 1931, which eventually grew to 56 representatives by the fifth TCR who all participated in all three parades, rodeos and were honored guests for the dances that ended each evening. A Sponsor’s Ball would be held from 10:00 pm to 2:00 am on July 3. Judging took place on July 2 where the one winner, announced as Mrs. Ardeth Copeland from Blackwell, received a $350 hand-stamped, silver mounted saddle. Of the 115 entrants in the four events over the three days, the top winners of each day continued to be recognized, with overall champions named on the final night. These winners were: Calf Roping: James Kenney of Midland; Wild Cow Milking: Byrel Hittson of Breckenridge; Bronc Riding: Enry Birdwell of Grayford; Steer Riding Day 1 – A.C. Wike of San Angelo, Day 2 – Rueben Crenshaw of Guthrie, Day 3 – John Lindsey of Byers (no overall champion was named).

With the growing attendance of the TCR, the fifth edition was hailed as the “greatest in history of the cowboy reunion.” New grandstands were built for the year to help with the ever-growing attendance, with spectators being evenly distributed over the three day event. Dallas Mayor Chas. E. Turner was persuaded to attend the TCR by Walt Cousins at the previous year’s event, and stated his intention to return in 1935, proof of how the TCR can be entertaining and keep bringing anyone back for the next year. It was also at the next TCR where Will Rogers made one of his last public appearances, less than two months before he passed away.

10th – July 3-5, 1939

Completed in 1938 for the ninth TCR, the Cowboy Bunkhouse entered its second year of existence in time for the tenth edition of the Texas Cowboy Reunion. The Oldtime Cowboy’s Association also held its second meeting during the tenth TCR. The Hardin-Simmons Cowboy Band, who had last attended the TCR in 1935 and 1936, was named as the official band of the tenth annual TCR, and has continued to be a part of TCR weekend almost every year since. The TCR Hostess was named as Mrs. W.J. Bryant for the three day event, which was complete with a Cowboy’s Calf Roping contest, clown stunts, trick roping and trick horses, along with the now-traditional events. The champions of the tenth TCR were: Bronc Riding: Johnny Downs of Abilene; Calf Roping: Philip Williams of Plains; Wild Cow Milking: Aubrey Stokes of Snyder.

O.M. Hart was the winner of the Oldtimer’s Calf Roping Contest, taking home the prize saddle that was presented to him by TCR President W.G. Swenson. It was announced at the time that attendance matched the record-setting number from the ninth edition of the event, set at 75,000 attendees, with the largest single attendance being 27,000 during the July 4 festivities. While the popularity of the TCR continued to grow, quickly becoming an annual tradition, it was in 1943 where the TCR would be canceled for the first, and only, time in its existence due to World War II. However, while the reunion grounds would be silent that year, the fourteenth edition would be held in 1944 where it would once again be the highlight of the year and bring people together like never before.

15th – July 2-4, 1945

In what was hailed as the largest crowd in the history of the TCR thus far, the 15th edition of the rodeo proved to be just as popular as ever, even with World War II still going on. Rain threatened to deter the crowds at the event, but it would do no good as cowboys battled the mud, rain and livestock throughout the three days. Thena Mae Farr took first place in the Sponsor Contest that year. Quarter Horse shows and even a Mounted Square Dance were a part of the festivities as the amateur rodeo participants competed in the traditional events, with the champions of the five events being: Calf Roping: Henry Carter of Thurber; Wild Cow Milking: Clinton Wright of Ivan; Bronc Riding (Saddle): Slim Metteer of Crosbyton; Steer Riding: Louis Blair; Bronc Riding (Bareback): Bill Weeks of Hereford.

Milton Sandell of Jayton also won the Oldtimer’s Calf Roping Contest while Tom Michael of Sweetwater took first prize in the fiddling contest. From the large crowds reported at each event, it was clear that the TCR would continue to be an annual event, a time where the troubles of the world can be pushed to the back, even if it is just for a few days.

20th – July 1-4, 1950

With Texas Governor Allan Shivers leading the grand entry into the rodeo arena, the 20th annual Texas Cowboy Reunion kicked off in grand fashion where tough competition made the champions earn their titles this year. W.G. Swenson once again had the honor of presenting the saddles to the winning cowboys in each event: Wild Cow Milking: Kenneth Stipp of Friona; Calf Roping: Glenn McWhorter of Throckmorton; GI Calf Roping: John Burrus of Hamilton; Bronc Riding (Saddle) and Steer Riding: Neal Collier of Wichita Falls; Bronc Riding: J.R. Keel of Roswell, New Mexico.

It was reported that this edition of the TCR had the largest number of contestants that had ever been recorded at the time with 627 contestants across all of the rodeo events. Scenes from this edition of the TCR would be featured in the Paramount News, a news reel for Paramount Studios that would play in movie theatres around the country.

24th – July 1-5, 1954 (25th edition missing from the Stamford American records)

The 24th edition of the Texas Cowboy Reunion proved to be a record-breaking year. Sherry Price of Addington, Oklahoma broke her own record of 19 seconds flat, making an 18.7 second run in the finals of the barrel race. It was also one of the final years for the Wild Cow Milking competition, where Rusty Bradley of Beaver Creek took home the saddle. The event would continue to be held until 1957 where it would be discontinued due to a lack of suitable cows for milking. Other saddle winners were: Calf Roping: Jack Newton of Abilene; GI Calf Roping: Booger Red Nixon; Pioneer Calf Roping: John H. Atkins of Concho, Arizona; Saddle Broncs: John Farris of Iowa Park; Bareback Broncs: David Rushing of Abilene; Steer Riding: Ernest Pope of Fort Worth.

Even with attendance dropping and eventually leveling off as the years went on, the TCR continued to be a destination event for amateur rodeo participants to test their skills.

30th – July 1-5, 1960

This year saw the return of one of the original directors of the Texas Cowboy Reunion as L.M. Hardy returned to the event he helped mold thirty years prior. Many of the first officials of the TCR continued to be a part of the annual tradition. Five saddles were awarded at this event, two of which were events that had been with the reunion since its inception. These winners were:

Oldtimer’s Calf Roping: Arnold Morris of Wichita Falls; Calf Roping: Jack Bridges Jr. of Glen Rose; Double Mugging: Horace Carter of Dalhart; Sponsor’s Contest: Becky Sumerlin.

It was a year of continuing traditions and new events, but it was clear that it would always be the Texas Cowboy Reunion, even with the changing of the times and the arrival of new individuals that would carry the torch.

35th – June 30, July 1-4, 1965

A square dance opened up the week of activities for the 35th annual Texas Cowboy Reunion while the Stamford Junior Sheriff’s Posse provided an escort into town for a covered wagon that traveled from Pampa. It had traveled from Aspermont under mule power until it arrived in Sagerton where the posse would take over. Stamford residents were called upon to help make Stamford look beautiful for the TCR visitors. An estimated 7,500 people looked on during the final night of the TCR where the saddles would be handed out to the deserving winners: Oldtimer’s Calf Roping: J.E. King of Amarillo; Sponsor’s Barrel Race: Nancy Tucker of Wichita Falls; Calf Roping: Larry Guy of Merkel; Double Mugging: Bobby Burrus of O’Donnell; Bronc Riding: Windy Murray of Throckmorton.

As the years wore on for the TCR, the competition continued to step up as more local competitors stepped up their game to try and take home one of the coveted saddles that are still handed out to the champions of today.

40th – July 2-4, 1970

The sponsor competition heated up when the 40th Texas Cowboy Reunion rolled around as 101 cowgirl sponsors registered in the barrel riding for the coveted saddle. This served as an all-time high at the time for the TCR, with Kay Proctor of Odessa winning the event. Governor Preston Smith arrived at Stamford Municipal Airport to lead the rodeo, showing once again how the TCR was and still is recognized all over Texas. Jennifer Craig covered the rousing finale to the 40th edition of the TCR with the saddles going to: Double Mugging: Jerry Knox of Quanah; Calf Roping: Tommy Wilson; Oldtimer’s Calf Roping: L.D. Ivy; Saddle Bronc: Bob Wilfong; Bareback Bronc: Mickey Sherley; Steer Riding; Bill Freeman.

Poet Ranchman Larry Chittenden was also honored at this year’s events, with Governor Smith speaking at the dedication held at the Will Rogers Memorial Bunkhouse. He stated that “If we honor and value the past, we will seek a better future and a better life for all our children.” These words proved to be symbolic of the TCR as it closed its 40th year of existence.

45th – July 3-5, 1975

Making its debut during the 44th edition, the art exhibit was produced for the second time during the 45th annual TCR, with Slim Pickens, star of films such as Dr. Strangelove and Blazing Saddles, hosting the Collector’s Preview on July 2, the day before the planned grand parade that would kick off the rodeo. More than 100 sponsors were expected again for this edition, proving once again that the competition was competitive as ever. The rodeo itself brought amateur contestants from all walks of life, including a saddle winner who helped his father win the double mugging saddle in 1967 and a long-time competitor who always seemed to miss out on the saddle finally claim the prize. The winners were: Calf Roping: Joe Chick of Stephenville; Old Time Cowboy’s Calf Roping: Eli Wallace; Double Mugging: Keith McCarson; Bull Riding: Russ Baize; Bareback Riding: Ken Speck of Wichita Falls; Saddle Bronc Riding: Royce Wallace of Graham; Wild Mare Race: Lon G. Avery (Thursday) & Donnie Criswell (Friday).

The wild mare race was held for the first time at the Texas Cowboy Reunion, once again providing new events that have helped the longevity of the TCR, at the time nearing half a century in existence.   

50th – July 2-5, 1980

The 50th anniversary of the Texas Cowboy Reunion lived up to the “golden” distinction with a bigger than usual parade added new attractions along with the appearances of former hostesses and sponsors. Musical entertainers, one of the staples of today’s TCR, made their mark on the TCR with Cal Smith and Jeannie C. Riley performing for rodeo goers. Five special belt buckles were crafted for this occasion. A golden two-horse trailer waited the winner of the calf roping competition, which came down to a sudden-death loop. Randy Ogden of Gail took the honors after the dust settled. Other winners included: Double Mugging: Steve Dame of Blanket; Oldtimer’s Calf Roping: J.W. Green of Hawley; Oldtimer’s Breakaway Roping (the first time this event was held): Will T. Smith of Stephenville; Bull Riding: Kenneth McKee of Lubbock; Saddle Bronc Riding: Forrest Henderson of Eldorado; Bareback Riding: Kris Brown of Gorman.



Each event proved to be close competition, coming down to tight finishes to see who went home with the saddles and buckles, a testament to 50 years of the Texas Cowboy Reunion that also saw no signs of slowing down.

55th – July 3-6, 1985

With the Main Street Committee leading the parade to open the 55th annual Texas Cowboy Reunion, 414 competitors prepared to take home a buckle or a saddle in fierce competition over the four day period. Overall, five saddles and $37,840 in prize money were given away to the winners of the events. The calf roping event, a staple of the TCR since its inception, proved that it was still a popular event with 217 entrants vying for the saddle. In the end, it was Don Ed Eddleman of Graham that took home the prize. The sponsor barrel race proved to still be a popular event as well, with Marion Gramith of Stephenville outlasting 89 other competitors to win the event. Other winners were: Old Timer’s Calf Roping: Odell Blackwell of Iowa Park; Old Timer’s Breakaway Roping: John Hosea of Mullin; Double Mugging: Rusty Addison of Lipan; Bull Riding: Jay Jordan of Alvarado; Bareback Bronc Riding: Travis Howe of Portales, New Mexico (tied for first, won the buckle in a coin toss).

Even 55 years later, the TCR continued to grow with more competition coming each year. What started with only four events continued to grow and bring cowboys from all over the state and even outside of Texas. However, the TCR would keep moving on.

60th – July 4-7, 1990

Even in its 60th year, the TCR continued to reinvent itself with new events, including the return of the wild cow milking competition, to bring in competition and spectators to the annual event. TCR President Gary Mathis thought the overall attendance was better, with 50-80 percent of the stands being filled for each night. Mathis said that the cooperation and support from the community helped bring the “reunion back to the rodeo”, a testament to the tradition that the TCR brings every year. The winners were: Old-Time Cowboy Calf Roping Tie-Down: Harvey Lynch of Mesquite; Old-Time Breakaway Calf Roping: Bobby Seals of Justin; Calf Roping: Morris Ledford of Comanche, Oklahoma; Double Mugging: Dale Crowder of Hobbs, New Mexico; Sponsor Barrel Race: Becky Peterson of Hockley; Bareback: Jason Jeter of Arlington; Saddle Bronc: Bob Wilfong of Aquilla; Bull Riding: Darrin Cook of Odessa; Wild Cow Milking: Fred Tharp of Seymour; Team Roping (first time this event was held): Terry Fowler; Old Time Sponsors Barrel Race: Sue Overton of Graham.

The new events proved to be popular, but Mathis stated that the next year would bring new changes and attractions to continue bringing people to Stamford for the TCR that has continued to evolve over time.

65th – July 1-4, 1995

The grandstands were renovated for the 65th Texas Cowboy Reunion, keeping with the theme of constantly updating and evolving as the years have gone by. The first-ever AQHA historical marker was placed at the Texas Cowboy Reunion grounds, commemorating the first American Quarter Horse Show in 1940 during the eleventh TCR. At the time, the Quarter Horse Shows had grown to 2400 throughout the world, thanks in part to the first show ever that took place at the Texas Cowboy Reunion in 1940. Even with all of these celebrations, the competition continued to be as fierce as ever, with the winners being: Calf Roping: Gene Baker of Anson; Double Mugging: Carl Hopkins and Brand Cude; Sponsor Barrel Race: Connie Landry; Oldtimers Calf Roping: Ronnie Parks; Oldtimer’s Breakaway Roping: Bill Stanley (took a buckle as he had been a previous saddle winner); Invitational Ranch Horse Show: Bill Smith of Spur; Saddle Bronc: Cole Hardin; Oldtime Sponsors: Sharon Miller; Bull Riding: Anthony Lopez; Bareback Riding: Buddy Lankford; Ranch Bronc Riding: Cutter Jones; Wild Mare Race: Bubba Withers; Team Roping: Jess Stuart and Shawn Scrogum.

70th – July 1-4, 2000

Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the founding of Stamford, the 70th edition of the Texas Cowboy Reunion continued to bring competitors far and wide to celebrate the tradition that the TCR brings every year. A rainstorm threatened to delay the rodeo, but as TCR rodeo announcer Tommy Blanton stated, “the show must go on,” and it did, as the clouds parted in time for the rodeo to begin. Although attendance was expected to be the biggest in years, the rain cut down attendees by almost 1,500, but it did not stop the competitors from taking the arena. The winners were: Double Mugging: Carl Hopkins; Calf Roping: Carter Edmonson; Pioneer Sponsor Contest: Leslie Harrison; Old Timer’s Tie Down: Zach Henley; Old Timer’s Breakaway: Martin Webster; Bull Riding: Robbie Dillard; Wild Cow Milking: Billy Lamb; Bareback Riding: Bill Brown, Jr.; Saddle Bronc: Kyd Kelley; Ranch Bronc Riding: Tanner Johnson.

This year’s event also featured the second annual Casey Mathis Memorial Steer Riding where Chandler Caddell, Riley Neal and McKennon Wimberley taking home buckles.

75th – June 29-30, July 1-2, 2005

With over 600 contestants competing, a big difference from the 97 in the very first year, the 75th edition of the Texas Cowboy Reunion continued to bring competitors from all over the state as well as local competitors, such as Chad Plumlee, looking to take home a coveted saddle or buckle. With four different bands providing music for the dances during each night, the competitions served as a testament to 75 years of the TCR, with the winners of the events being: Ranch Horse Show: Monte Holm; Casey Mathis Memorial Steer Riding: Stewart Urich of Rochester, Skylar Jones of Sweetwater and Stormy Rasberry of Roby; Calf Roping: Randy Carlisle; Ranch Bronc Riding: Logan Furlong; Wild Cow Milking: Brian Stoval; Barrel Racing: Latricia Duke; Old Time Cowboys Tie Down: V.W. Grable; Old Time Cowboys Breakaway: Doyle Strain; Double Mugging: Jake Degeer; Bull Riding: Harve Stewart.

80th – June 30, July 1-3, 2010

The World’s Largest Amateur Rodeo entered its 80th year continuing the tradition set forth by the thirteen Stamford businessmen in 1930. While the Great Depression eventually faded away, the TCR continued to grow and prosper even with one cancellation. The 80th edition of the event was no exception which included Cowboy Poetry, Campfire Songs and Cowboy Humor coming from the likes of Dennis Gaines, Brad Lewis and Ray Clark who entertained attendees when the rodeo was not taking place. However, when the rodeo itself began, the competition heated up and saddles and buckles were once again awarded to the winners: Sponsor Barrel Racing: Lacy Hollabaugh; Pioneer Barrel Racing: Mary Harman; Pioneer Tie Down: Brad McReynolds; Pioneer Breakaway: Charlie McIlwain; Ranch Horse: Jimbo Humphreys; Double Mugging: Carl Hopkins; Calf Roping: D.J. Smith; Team Roping: Jeff Hilton and Trey Whiteman; Cow Milking: Reece Clark; Saddle Bronc: Ty Kirkland; Ranch Bronc: Zane Peters; Bull Riding: Nate Perry; Casey Mathis Memorial Steer Riding: Josh Mueller, Riley Moore and Tyler Terrell.

With the 85th edition of the Texas Cowboy Reunion still underway, who knows what memories, winners and traditions will continue on? To find out, the easiest way is to attend the TCR rodeo on any of the remaining nights where the competition will sure to be just as exciting as it was 85 years ago. The names and events may have changed over the years, but the tradition will always be there. 


Write a comment

Comments: 3
  • #1

    Tommy Blanton (Friday, 20 January 2017 14:32)

    Stamford is a blessed place. The best people and the wildest rodeo. What more could anyone want? Throw that IPhone in a drawer and go to the TCR.

  • #2

    Leslie Harrison (Wednesday, 10 January 2018 05:14)

    Who won the open Barrel Racing in the 2001 Texas Cowboy Reunion in Stamford Texas???

  • #3

    Rocky Crenshaw (Sunday, 07 April 2019 15:50)

    My daddy was Reuben Crenshaw and my namesake was Louis Blair. Thank you for this