My wanderings have been constrained by the typical limiting factors – family, holiday obligations, time, work, funds and a poorly-timed bout with the upper-respiratory plague du jour. Almost every day for over a month I intended to explore some new area “out there,” but instead found myself literally and metaphorically stuck “in here.” For a while I was feeling as if I would be trapped exploring the kitchen and bedroom. Forget COVID – Cabin Fever had set in. Thank goodness for curiosity.
Weatherford, Texas in Parker County claims the title “Cutting Horse Capital of the World.” Cutting horses are competition animals. They are supreme athletes and their riders and trainers are the best at what they do. Cows like to be together, especially young ones, and the object of cutting is for a rider to move into a herd of calves, choose one, “cut” it from the herd and keep it from rejoining its buddies (or the buddies from joining the lone calf, for that matter). The horse and rider are scored on how difficult the situation is and how well they succeed. There’s athleticism, instinct and skill involved for both horse and rider; and of course, there’s teamwork. It’s easy to see how the competition developed from what cowboys do (pulling a calf out for branding or tagging or vetting; separating cattle for different places and purposes) and it’s easy to imagine how having winning horses, riders and trainers translates into good breeding horses, working horses and cowboys and cowgirls for ranch work (the ATV has not yet replaced the cowboy by any means).
The city and its surroundings as a center of cutting horse activity can be seen all over town. There are statues – I made sure to visit several in person. It is worth getting out of the car and walking around to look from every angle. There is a life-sized bronze sculpture by artist Kelly Graham in front of the Chamber of Commerce depicting a cowboy cutting a calf, there is a horse and newborn foal sculpture on Main Street near the orthodontist, and another more humble piece of sculpture in front of McDonald’s with Ronald on horseback in cowboy gear roping a calf. If I want to see a real person roping a calf statue, I just need to look out my kitchen window. My young neighbor practices in his front yard every day, swinging his looped rope from every angle at his calf dummy.
In addition to many a humble two or four-horse trailer on a simple hitch, huge goosenecks on pickups with grille guards and dual rear wheels rumble through and around town in every direction. During last fall’s wildfire outbreak, a drive into the hazy countryside found every horse vehicle in the county either at work or at the ready, many set up high on a hill on a farm to market road (the rural highway equivalent in Texas). Gathered, too, were the watchful caretakers with cell phones and radios and binoculars in hand. It was pretty intense. In fact, there have been times in the past several months when I’ve thought something looked like a scene straight out of Yellowstone. Well, this week I discovered (what everyone else already knew!) that scenes from Yellowstone are actually filmed down the road from me at a place called Bosque Ranch, owned by Yellowstone producer Taylor Sheridan, where I now know I can go to watch cutting horse competitions. Somehow knowing about this makes me feel like a true local.
It makes complete sense that horses would be important here in the county just west of Fort Worth which, of course, is famous for its stockyards and for the great cattle trail that is now called the Chisholm Trail. It ran straight through Fort Worth on its historical passage north through Oklahoma to the railheads of Kansas in the decades after the Civil War.
In reading about the Chisholm Trail and some of the colorful characters of the old wild west, I came across the names Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. If you have ever read Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” (and everyone should!) you may recognize Goodnight and Loving as the (very loose) inspirations for the characters Captain Woodrow F. Call and Captain Augustus “Gus” McCrae. I idolize McMurtry’s writing, so when I saw Goodnight and Loving associated with Weatherford I perked up quite a bit. Both the real and fictional versions of these men are fascinating and complicated and full of things to think about (just like the brutal, conflicted times they lived in) and I am easily engrossed in the tales.
The real Goodnight met and married his wife, Molly, in Weatherford and lived here for a time. Loving lived in Weatherford for 10 years. Both were talented scouts and cattle drivers. They became fast friends and business partners. In 1867 Loving was wounded in a fight with Comanches while on a cattle drive (the men and the cattle both quite justly considered ruthless invaders by the Comanche) and contracted gangrene. When Loving was slowly dying, his loyal friend Goodnight promised to return his body 600 miles to Texas for burial, which he did. (This is the central drama McMurtry borrowed for his novel.) Loving’s grave is at the Old City Greenwood Cemetery in Weatherford. Bose Ikard, a former slave and Goodnight’s trustworthy right-hand man (and the inspiration for the character Deets in McMurtry’s novels) is buried nearby. I took a stroll through the cemetery in the late afternoon sunlight the other day and noted their graves and the historical markers, and I suddenly felt like I had old friends around me.
An explorer, in the end, explores, and it turns out that my little liftings of the local rug corners and peeks into kitchen drawers have revealed pieces of Parker County, Texas past and present that make me feel both more at home and more well-traveled at the same time.
I’d forgotten that local history is cool in that way. I hope this gives a few readers the idea to explore close to home when your own cabin fever sets in.