Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Cowboy Christmas Ball-An Old West Tradition

The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball Poem
By Larry Chittenden

“Way out in Western Texas,
where the Clear Fork's water flows,
Where the cattle are "a-browsin',"
an' the Spanish ponies grow; Where the Northers "come a-whistlin',"
from beyond the Neutral strip;
And the prairie dogs are sneezin',
as if they had "The Grip";
Where the coyotes come a-howlin'
round the ranches after dark.
And the mockingbirds are singin'
to the lovely medder lark" ;
Where the 'possum and the badger,
and the rattlesnake abound,
And the monstrous stars are winkin'
o'er a wilderness profound;
Where the lonesone, tawny prairies
melt into airy streams,
While the Double Mountains slumber,
in heavenly kinds of dreams;
Where the antelope is grazin'
and lonely plovers call-
It was there that I attended
"The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

The town was Anson City,
old Jones' county seat,
Where they raise Polled Angus cattle,
and waving whiskered wheat;
Where the air is soft and "bammy",
an' dry an' full of health,
And the prairies is explodin'
with agricultural wealth;
Where they print the Texas Western,
that Hec Mc Cann supplies,
With news and yarns and stories,
uv most amazin' size;
Where Frank Smith "pulls the badger",
on knowin' tenderfeet,
And Democracy's triumphant,
and mighty hard to beat;
Where lives that good old hunter,
John Milsap from Lamar,
Who "used to be the Sheriff,
back East in Paris, Suh."
'Twas there, I say, at Anson,
with the lively "Wider Wall,"
That I went to that reception,
"The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

To Read the rest of this Poem click Here

History of the Cowboy Christmas Ball

William Lawrence "Larry" Chittenden,(pictured above 1st pic) an American journalist from "Back East" attended the first "Cowboys' Christmas Ball" in Anson in 1885. Chittenden was in town visiting his uncle who owned one of the largest ranches in Texas. Chittenden’s original intent was to write about the burgeoning ranching industry in that part of Texas.

Back in 1885, there wasn't much in Anson but a few dirt roads, some cowhands and the Star Hotel, which was a fine hotel for its day. But Star Hotel operator M. G. Rhodes had big ideas, and one of them was to host a Grand Ball at his hotel for entertainment for the cowhands of the area. He picked the weekend just before Christmas and began to spread the word among the cowhands about the Ball at his hotel. M.G. Rhodes also imposed a bit of decorum. Rhodes made the men check their hats, spurs and guns at the door to prevent any fistfights from starting.

Chittenden attended the dance and became enthralled with the scene he saw; cowboys and their ladies danced the square, the schottische, the heel-and-toe polka, the waltz, and the Virginia reel.

He was so amused, he wrote the humorous poem, "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball", which was published in the Anson Texas Western newspaper on June 19,1890. The poem was published after the Star Hotel had been destroyed by fire earlier in the year.

Later, in 1893 the poem appeared in the first volume of Larry Chittenden's "Ranch Verses" a collection of his poems. This is one of the first books printed in the genre of Cowboy Poetry in the 1880s. The poem became one of the most popular humorous poems in the 19th Century- and has become a classic of Cowboy Poetry in the 20th and 21st Century.

Dances were held at Christmas in Anson at irregular intervals with little regard for the poem for several decades following its publication. In 1934 the event was revived under the title Cowboys' Christmas Ball by Leonora Barrett, Anson teacher and folklorist. This first reenactment was held in the high school gymnasium and continued on an annual basis thereafter. The Anson dancers attempted to retain the old dance customs, steps, and songs. The men bowed and the women curtsied. The music was slow enough to allow the dances to be done in an unhurried manner and with much grace.

In 1940 The Pioneer Hall, in Anson, was built solely for the Ball. The Ball has been held there ever since.

Still a Tradition Today

Today in Anson Texas a local organization, The Texas Cowboys' Christmas Ball Association keeps the poem and the old west tradition alive. The annual re-enactment of this 1885 Ball is open to the public and held the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights before December 25th.

The Hall has simple traditional decorations of quilts and beribboned cedar boughs. There is a mandatory dress code for both men and women. The women need to be wearing a skirt on the dance floor, just like in the old west, so most guests dress in 19th-century attire. Matching outfits are mandatory for association members; the men wear black vests and cowboy duds, and the women wear white Victorian blouses and voluminous burgundy taffeta skirts over hoop petticoats.

In 2010 the Christmas Ball and its venue Pioneer Hall were designated as a historical event and site by the Texas Historical Commission and honored with a Texas Historical Marker.

To be apart of this Traditional Cowboy Christmas Ball and old west history please visit The Texas Cowboys' Christmas Ball Association website.

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