The Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum hosted its sixth annual Cowboy Camp the week of August 1-5, 2016 with approximately three-dozen campers between the ages of 7 and 12 attending. During the five-day camp, which took place from 9:00 AM to noon each day, young buckaroos from the Cuero area participated in hands-on activities and were treated to talks and demonstrations by guest speakers and storytellers from around South Central Texas. This year’s event was once again organized and presented by Cowboy Camp program director Candy Glidden, CTHM board member and retired schoolteacher.
Monday’s activities began with a warm welcome from program director Candy and introduction of the camp volunteers and helpers. Awards and prizes were given to a select group of campers for excellence in their Cowboy Camp 2016 application essays. The day’s featured guest presenter was local antique weapon and firearm expert Dan Glidden, who demonstrated and spoke of the types of weaponry that were used in the old West by cowboys, settlers, and Native Americans, and provided authentic props for children to view and examine. Mr. Glidden also devoted a few moments to the discussion of the basics of firearm safety. Campers then took part in a sharpshooting practice and competition with carved, wooden rifles firing giant rubber-bands at paper targets. Competition winners received their own rubber-band rifles and a pack of rubber bands to take home. Following the mid-morning snack time, campers worked in their activity books and Candy led a sing-along with her ukulele and banjo. Activities were moved downstairs to the museum’s first-floor exhibit area, where Candy gave a brief demonstration on saddlebags and necessities carried by cowboys out on the trail. The group then assembled in the Stars Along the Rawhide Trail Theater to watch the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum short film, Pointing Them North. Afterwards, campers were free to tour and explore the entirety of the museum’s interactive exhibit, posing questions to Candy and the other volunteers about the many displays and artifacts. The day wrapped up with a song and a quick preview of the week’s activities.
On Tuesday morning, the children received their Cowboy Camp 2016 t-shirts designed by Dan Glidden. Hands-on activities included two separate, concurrent sessions of corn-husk doll-making and leather tooling. The featured guest presenter of the day was storyteller Joe Contreras of the Institute of Texan Cultures, who spoke about the vital dependence on the American buffalo (bison) by native tribes in the Great Plains and parts of Texas. Mr. Contreras presented authentic items for the campers to examine such as clothing, jewelry, and tools, made from bison hides, bones, teeth, and other parts, as crafted and once used by Native Americans. Following the presentation, a snack was provided, and students again divided into separate groups to participate in concurrent corn-husk doll-making and leather tooling activities. Day 2 was concluded with a group sing-along led by Candy and her ukulele.
The setting for Wednesday morning’s first activity was outside, behind the museum on the grounds of the adjacent historic Proctor-Green house. The featured guest presenter was local horse whisperer Van Hargis of Van Hargis Horsemanship, who spoke to the campers about tenets of good horsemanship and communication, types and usage of the right equipment, and proper roping technique while on horseback. Mr. Hargis also stressed the importance of a positive attitude both in life and especially when working with horses. The group temporarily moved back indoors for snack-time, followed by the continuation of leather-tooling, and a hands-on lesson in knot-tying techniques commonly used by cowboys in the old West and today. The final special activity for the day was a visit from returning favorite Ron Sitton and his longhorn steer ‘Tumbleweed’ from Luckenbach, during which the campers posed for individual photos in the saddle on Tumbleweed’s back, and Mr. Sitton took questions and spoke about his specific work with the longhorn breed as well as its history and traits.
Thursday’s activities began on the green space behind the museum with lessons in calf-roping, presented by Cuero’s own Tod Slone Saddles. After a lengthy practice session, campers participated in a rope-off competition, and winners designated ‘best’ and ‘most-improved’ received their own ropes to take home with them. The group then moved indoors for snack-time and the next presentation. The day’s featured guest presenter was Ricky Dolifka of Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Buffalo Soldiers Heritage & Outreach Program, who gave a two-part presentation on the Buffalo Soldiers and on two specific Native American tribes indigenous to Texas, the Kiowas and Comanches. Mr. Dolifka’s storytelling included the tale of Captain Cathay Williams/William Cathay, the only known female to secretly serve in the Buffalo Soldiers while posing as a man. Campers and volunteers were also roused to their feet to participate in a circle-dance with authentic Native American drum rhythms and chants led by Mr. Dolifka, which he contrasted with the inaccurate version commonly depicted in films and TV shows. Mr. Dolifka’s presentation included the demonstration and display of many items of period clothing, tools, and other artifacts, which the campers were invited to examine up-close on the table, afterwards.
On Friday, the final morning of Cowboy Camp, all of the day’s activities took place outside on the green space behind the museum. A period-authentic chuck wagon, provided by Charles Nagel, was set up next to the CTHM canopy, where campers learned about cooking and baking with a Dutch oven, a staple food preparation tool found in the chuck wagons in the cattle-drive era. Assisted by Mr. Nagel, and special guest volunteers Joe Adams and John Paul Barre, campers made dough for biscuits that were baked in Dutch ovens nearby just as they would have been out on the trail of a real cattle drive. Mr. Adams took questions and spoke about the features and functions of a typical chuck wagon, and then prepared a special honey-butter dipping sauce. Once the first batches of biscuits were ready, Mr. Nagel rang the dinner triangle, and campers snacked on the biscuits they helped to make, along with slices of cold watermelon, and juice drinks and water. After snack-time, the day’s featured guest storyteller, Glynis Holm Strause of the Dobie West Performing Arts Theatre in George West, Texas, spoke to campers about the vital function of a cattle drive’s lead steer and recounted the legend of one of Texas’s most famous lead steers — George West’s longhorn, Geronimo. Local musicians Matt Thigpen and the Rev. Charlie Sumners then entertained and led the campers in a sing-along of several old Western standards plus a few newer songs, and even some dancing! The final activity was a demonstration of proper branding techniques by Mr. Adams and Mr. Barre on patches of rawhide leather which the campers got to keep and take home with them. The day and the week were concluded with one last sing-along of ‘Happy Trails’ led by Candy Glidden and the Cowboy Camp volunteer crew.