Moseying: Locations of Interest
Pecos at rodeo time
July 17, 2002
Our friends, Cara and Donald Alligood, invited Deborah and me over to see the Pecos Rodeo. Our grandson is spending the summer with us. His daddy is a caballero from Michoacan, and the boy loves rodeos. We drove over about noon on Saturday, July 6th. As is always the case in Pecos, it was hot. Despite what a local television weatherman says, Midland is NOT in a basin, but Pecos is in the valley of the Pecos River the lowest area in 100 miles. 112 degrees Fahrenheit is a common summertime temperature. On the sixth it was just 98, so Don and Cara invited us out for a tour of the town while the weather was cool.
At Maxey Park, over a hundred people were gathered around the grills and picnic tables. Folks of all ages and races were gathered in groups in the shade of the trees. Several waved at Don. He grew up in Pecos, cowboying and rodeoing in his teens. Don rode rough stock on the professional circuit for a number of years, too, until the last time he landed on his head. He was known as the cowboying nurse during his service in the United States Air Force. Nowadays, he runs the local communications service company, and enjoys playing golf on the weekends. Don served on the Sheriffs Posse for a number of years, but it ended up taking too much time away from married life especially when it came time to prepare for the annual rodeo.
We took a quick pasear through the zoo, which has a few animals in small enclosures. All of the animals stood in the shade, flipping their tails (if they had them) at flies, shuffling their feet as they dozed, and waiting out the heat of the day. Two burros came to the fence to entertain Terrance. The bear wallowed in his swimming pool in the shade. Sweat dripped off us and the little boys face glowed pink despite his spf 40 sunscreen.
We returned to Dons old Suburban with its new-fangled 4-80 air-conditioning (drive 80 mph with all four windows down) and drove to the West of the Pecos Museum where it was a lot cooler inside. Cara was greeted by a coworker who was also giving a tour of the town to folks who had come in for the rodeo. Cara is a counselor at the prison a little ways out of town.
Having Don along to talk about the old-timers featured in some of the display rooms was a wonderful bonus. One room was full of memorabilia from the Pecos Rodeo, which is purported to be the oldest rodeo in the United States, having started on July 4th, 1883. Although beginning their cowboy contests on July 4th 1888 a good five years later! Prescott, Arizona also claims to hold the title and applied for and received the trademark Worlds Oldest Rodeo from the U. S. Patent Office in 1985. Even so, Im putting my money on Pecos.
We wandered through all three stories of the museum, which was once the old Oasis Hotel. The second story has a wonderful balcony overlooking a shady courtyard that can be rented for weddings, parties and other social gatherings. There is also a wonderful little gift shop with one of the best collections of books on Texana that I have ever come across. We bought two, as well as a cowboy hat for Terrance. Next door to the museum is a replica of the Jersey Lilly, Judge Roy Beans courthouse and executive office down in Langtry. The old railroad depot stands across the street and the city is planning to use it to house the West Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame. A trip to the cemetery will reveal the grave of Clay Allison, a famous gunfighter of the area who died ignominiously by falling off his wagon while driving drunk. On the way back to Don and Caras, we stopped at a little tienda so Deborah could look through the remedios for something she doesnt already have.
As we wandered around town, we watched a huge thunderhead over the Davis Mountains to the southwest, and another one mushrooming above the Guadalupe Mountains to the north. Pecos only receives an average of 7 inches of rain each year and, in the summer, it rarely ever hits the ground. Tornados seem to soar over the valley Don remembered three twisters that damaged areas on either side of but not in town.
Back at their house, grillmaster Don entertained us on the back porch with cowboying and rodeoing stories as he bustled about cutting onions and salad fixings. Several of the worlds best rodeo riders grew up in Pecos. Its a way to forget about the heat, Don told us. When you are about to straddle a bull that has busted your best friends leg, you stay focused on the job at hand. When your death might be seconds away, it doesnt matter if the gate of the chute is hot enough to cook fajitas. As the baked potatoes started smelling good, clouds built up right around us. The grandkid stayed inside and watched Disney movies.
Don knows the history of the Pecos valley. In the boom days of the farming industry back in the 1930s, Pecos had 30,000 people. Even in World War II, with the Rattlesnake Squadron flying school on the edge of town, Pecos remained prosperous. The petroleum industry kept folks in town until the 1980s, but the population has shriveled down to less than 10,000 these days. If not for the prison, Pecos might be little more than a few service stations along I-20, 600 acres of cantaloupes, and a few onion fields. Pecos cantaloupes were famous for years and years, but cotton was king, all the way up to the 1960s when Billy Sol Estes came to town and swindled a bunch of the growers. Now there are only two gins running between here and the mountains. The soil wore out, got alkaline. Wells dried up. And then lots of folks moved away looking for indoor jobs.
A chilly wind began whipping Don and Caras little corn patch, and despite stakes to hold it up, several stalks leaned over almost to the ground. The ears were no longer than a persons pinkie finger. Before he could walk the 25 feet to the patch to stand them up again, rain began to pound and kept on blustering all through supper. It finally slowed to a pitter-patter as Don switched to long pants, cowboy boots, and cowboy hat.
We drove the three miles to the rodeo grounds (windows up, this time), but as we parked, heavy rains returned sheets of rain so heavy that we could not see the stands 100 yards away. It wont last long, we all agreed, so we sat in the old Suburban and listened to Bob Seger sing Against The Wind. Ten minutes went by. Lets go see if Toyah Lake has filled up. Don is the restless sort and likes to do. The trip was a bit scary. When dry, the salt loess of the playa blows across the highway, and the fine silt it leaves behind makes the wet road slick as deer guts on a doorknob when it rains.
Back at the rodeo grounds the parking lot was a lake. Well, folks, this is a first. I cant remember another rodeo final having to contend with this. The cowboys will ride no matter what the weather, but it is not good to sit on wet metal seats as lightning crashes. It continued to rain until 10:30. As we prepared to head back to Midland the next morning, Don promised to have some t-shirts made proclaiming I got rained out at the Pecos Rodeo. They will be collector items, I guarantee. It wont happen again for another 100 years.