By AMANDA KIMBLE
STEPHENVILLE (September 5, 2016) – World champion cowboys and cowgirls. They rode hard, making their way to Las Vegas and the National Finals Rodeo. Currently, about 20 of them call the Cowboy Capital – Stephenville and the surrounding area – home.
The rough riding, rope slinging, fast racing, tight gripped, steer wrestling personalities will shine in a new arena this fall when Sundown on the Square (SOTS) honors their achievements and notoriety with a festival full of everything rodeo. The outdoor festival is set for Saturday, Oct. 8 and is centered around the Erath County Courthouse.
Local rodeo professionals tout world champion titles dating back to the late 1940s and through the 2015 finals. As a part of the festival, they will be recognized by Mayor Kenny Weldon presenting a memento on behalf of the city and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller representing the state.
The idea to honor the rodeo professionals was proposed by SOTS co-chair Patricia Weldon, who said she believed the committee needed to honor their place in history and the community.
“There are not only are they our heritage, they bring financial viability to Erath County,” Weldon said. “Sometimes I feel like our community forgets how important it is. We understand the significance of Tarleton and the city, but sometimes forget the real importance of rodeo.”
the event benefitting the Stephenville Historical House Museum honors a different aspect of local history each year as a “living celebration of all those who came before.”
In 2015, the effort brought together a sizeable crowd with estimated attendance of 800-900 attendees and proceeds totaling $40,000. This year organizers hope to triple the turnout.
“We’re anticipating 2,500 or more,” said SOTS co-chair Meta Collier said.
With this year’s theme paying homage to an important part of local history and current economy, that goal is attainable. To be certain, the committee has organized a full slate of events that promises plenty of fun for attendees of all ages, including the folks from Rodeo Zone Mini Ranch.
Jim Donnelly said Rodeo Zone, which will be set up on College Street, offers something fun for both kids and adults, as well as professional cowboys and cowgirls and those who have never been on the back of a horse or fathomed getting anywhere near a bucking bull.
“People get an opportunity to ride and compete in our three arenas, and it’s a hoot,” Donnelly said.
The Rodeo Zone crew is loading up all of its stock for SOTS including the motor ponies and robotic steers, which give participants the chance to hone their heading and heeling skills.
“I would like to get some of the professional team ropers out there to give it a shot,” Donnelly said.
The motor ponies, horse-like robots that measure 32 inches tall and are outfitted with real saddle, can also be used for barrel racing, pole bending or a leisurely ride. But, individuals who prefers a wilder ride will enjoy the robotic rough stock, which include a bucking bull and bronc machine.
“We will also have peddle ponies for the little bitty kids” Donnelly said, adding that kids of all ages line
Meanwhile, more fun will be set up on the courthouse parking lot, including a children’s activity area will offer bounce houses, slides, mazes, face painting, temporary tattoo, corn hole and a photo bull.
All of the fun comes with a price of 1 to 3 tickets. Tickets will be sold in $2 increments and ticket outlets will be set up at various locations around the courthouse square.
But, when the committee says the event is family friendly, that means there’s also plenty to offer the older crowd.
North Belknap Street will have a wine and cheese tasting tent, featuring selections from Pemberton Cellars, Wedding Oak Winery, Brennan Vineyards and Veldhuizen Cheese. Wine connoisseurs and others who just want to wet their whistles with local flavors will get nine tastings for $20
There will plenty of entertainment according to co-chair Marion Cole, who said Jody Lee Caudle with Texas Homegrown Radio will serve as the event’s official emcee and DJ, setting the mood around 4 p.m. C.B Sutton and the Outcast will also take the stage, followed by headliner Michael Martin Murphy.
A Blu Dornan art Exhibit will be located inside The Cellar, at 230 West College Street, and an array of western craft vendors will include Capital Hatters, custom cowboy hats; Twisted J, custom western apparel; Dudley Barker, “Decades of Rodeo” book; David Farkas, custom belt buckles; Frames. Etc., custom framing and gifts; and Clint Newman, custom leather.
The event will also feature a raffle with works of western artists, including prints from Ruth Buzzi, Charles Russel, Robert Summers, Frank McCarthy, Luann Bond and Hugh Riker, as well as an original framed piece by Blu Dornan and a custom-made belt buckle by David Farkas
Raffle tickets are currently available at Scott’s Flowers on the Square, Stephenville Chamber of Commerce, Frames, Etc., L Bar West Art, Stephenville City Hall and SOTS committee members for $10 each or three for $25.
Other attractions will include a mechanical bull, Sundown Store with festival merchandise and food vendors and food trucks.
The history of rodeo in and around Stephenville dates back almost 100 years. Tarleton State University, which was founded in 1899 as John Tarleton Agriculture College joined the Texas A&M system in 1917. And local history buffs will tell you as early as 1920, the college advertised rodeo events following football games. The tombs of history show cowgirls showing off their talents at the College Farm.
But the county’s importance to the world of rodeo was never so apparent as in 1940 and the days of the Dublin Rodeo. Everett Colborn partnered with big names like Gene Aurtry and Roy Rogers, and Dublin saw its hay day as the rodeo trail stopped in the city for a completion before moving on the New York City.
Today, cowboy and cowgirls from around the country – and world – come to the local area. Whether they’re here for a shot at the prize in September when the Cowboy Capital of the World PRCA Rodeo headlines as the final showdown of the competition year each September or here they’re for a lifetime, cowboy and cowgirls will always have place in Stephenville.
And, the professionals aren’t the only ones calling the area home. Many come to ride with the Tarleton Rodeo Team, and others are mere equine enthusiasts searching for open space for their horses to roam.
But, not matter who they are or why they’re here, Collier said SOTS recognizes their contributions to the local area and will honor their historical significance.
“This is about the people of Stephenville,” she said. “We’re honoring all of the cowboys and cowgirls living in Erath. A we hope to do that by providing a fun event for the community to come together, celebrate and learn a little about our heritage and past.”
For more information on SOTS, including details on becoming an individual or corporate sponsor, visit the festival website.
Putting the proceeds to work
SOTS was organized to benefit various projects at the Stephenville Historical House Museum. Proceeds from this year’s event have been earmarked for ongoing renovations related to the Oxford House Preservation Project (OHPP).
Dianne Wilson, OHPP chair, said funds raised at SOTS will be used for hardscaping, or the grading and development of the parking area and entry area from Washington Street, as well as sidewalks, curbing, guttering, installing a handicap accessible entry to the house and preparation of the location for planting beds and lawn spaces.
“The Stephenville Historical House Museum Board of Directors and the Oxford House Preservation Project Committee appreciate the continued interested of people regarding the progress of the renovations,” Wilson said. “We know that everyone wants to see the house finished, so that it can become a beautiful, useable space for wedding receptions and other events to be held there.
“We want people to know that great efforts are being expended, even when no visible work is taking place, because fundraising is always an ongoing process and no work can take place without the funds to purchase materials and pay the people with the skills to do the needed work.”