Six recipients honored with 2013 Cowboy Keeper Award®
Weathered Wheels by Val Moker
In 2006, the National Day of the Cowboy nonprofit began a tradition of formally recognizing individuals, organizations, and projects that contribute significantly to the preservation of pioneer heritage and cowboy culture. The six 2013 Cowboy Keeper Award honorees are Phil Spangenberger, R.J. Vandygriff, American Chuck Wagon Association, New Mexico History Museum, Bob Fox, and the late Mary Ann Goodnight.
Phil Spangenberger is not only a western history expert and meticulous re-enactor, but a man who embodies the ethos and persona of the cowboy in his everyday life. He is internationally recognized for his expertise and knowledge of the world of the “Old West.” Fellow Spirit of the West Rider, Brent Slutsky, declares, “If you’re making a documentary, writing a story, or need to know how it was in the older days of the cowboy, Phil is the man to see as a reliable source of accurate information, be it guns, ammo, tack, clothing or the feel of the cowboy lifestyle.” Indeed, as Marshall of the “Spirit of the West Riders,” 20-plus years in the Tournament of Roses Parade, Phil’s charge is to bring to the world a group of riders accurately and colorfully depicting our Old West, by ensuring every horse and rider displays authentic period dress and tack.
Another riding pal, Larry Brady, says of Spangenberger, “I have known, worked, and ridden with Phil for over 20 years and I’m here to tell you if you want it done right, you call on Phil Spangenberger as your technical advisor.” As a man who has coached A-list actors on wardrobe, deportment, and gun skills, he also produces American Adventure Wild West Shows, known to excite crowds worldwide with horsemanship, gun handling, and Californio lancing, while he wows ‘em, riding and shooting, guns in both hands and the reins between his teeth. On the History Channel Old West re-enactments, he works his magic, both on screen and behind cameras. He has unlimited knowledge of firearms, period clothing, horses and tack; from the time man first used a gun to today’s modern Old West clones. He has devoted his life to the lore, legend and reality of the American Cowboy past and present. He is an award winning horseman and a prominent consultant on authenticity and gun coaching in the movie industry, recognized with the prestigious Golden Boot Award in 2005. Phil has helped immortalize the Cowboy as a professional writer in books and magazines, serving as Black Powder Editor for Guns and Ammo magazine and currently serving as Executive Editor for the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association’s™ Rundown. He provided the inspiration for the sport of Cowboy Mounted Shooting™ with his Wild West Show mounted shooting demonstrations, has been inducted into the Cowboy Mounted Shooters Hall of Fame, and has served as a member of their Board of Directors since its inception in 1994. These are but a few of Phil Spangenberger’s accomplishments that have contributed significantly to the immortalization of the Cowboy.
Award winning singer, songwriter, poet, actor, playwright, and genuine real-deal cowboy, R.J. Vandygriff, hails from Lipscomb, Texas. He grew up riding horses and strumming a guitar and includes bareback and saddlebronc riding on his resume, as well as rodeo clown and bullfighter stints. As an actor, R.J. had a recurring role as Ranger Mike for seven years in the hit series ”Walker, Texas Ranger,” and has appeared in movies and numerous regional and national commercials. He’s performed his songs and poetry for Americans from shore to shore, and in Canada and Europe. His tour offerings include a highly acclaimed, one-man, one-act musical comedy, ”The Cowboy Ain’t Dead Yet!” which has taken on legendary status in its own time. In it, R.J. plays one of the most fascinating character to ride through history; the American Cowboy. As cowboy Joe Texas, R.J. tells the true story of the cowboy from the 1860s to present time, through songs, poems, and stories. Renowned cowboy poet and author, Baxter Black, declares the play, “The best one man show since Churchill swam the English Channel.” R.J. also offers Cowboy 101, a concert/lecture on the life of the cowboy. He frequently performs concerts featuring cowboy songs, poems, and stories. R.J. was the winner of a 2004 Will Rogers Award, and the 2012 Wrangler Award for Outstanding Original Composition. He’s been described as both a soulful balladeer and a comedian of impeccable timing. R.J. has been selected for the Texas Commission of the Arts 2014 Touring Roster, where he’ll be showcasing The Cowboy Ain’t Dead Yet!, as well as another of his entertaining programs, Cowboy ABCs.
Colorado Public Radio’s Western Belle, Barb Richhart, said it this way, “Consider R.J. Vandygriff for the Cowboy Keeper Award! His one-man play is a delightful and positive portrayal of cowboy way of life. As evidenced in his music and stories, R.J. is an extraordinary example of the Cowboy Code he lives by. The quality and tone of his writing, singing and teaching make him a guiding light to old and young alike.” RJ is proof positive of the good news we always love to hear, “The Cowboy indeed, Ain’t Dead!”
In 1996, at an Amarillo, Texas, chuck wagon competition, a group of Old West enthusiasts and wagon masters talked about an association whose mission would be to preserve the heritage of the chuck wagon and the story of its use in the short, but significant, era of the cattle drives. In 1997, by-laws and articles were adopted and the American Chuck Wagon Association was born. It has since expanded to a world-wide organization preserving the American past through competitions, demonstrations, charity and school events, and participating at variety of other venues. Today, there are members in 31 states, as well as in Canada, Germany and Switzerland. Current President, Wayne Calk, proudly describes the ACWA this way, “We hold the spirit of western heritage in high esteem and want others to experience that same feeling, so we banded together with a common goal to preserve and share a heritage that the pioneers helped create.”
The chuck wagon is the central element used by the chuck wagon cook to focus on preserving the spirit of the Old West.” Chuck wagon cook-offs are by no means the only way enthusiasts portray the cowboy spirit. Members gather at locations around the country, cooking the chuck wagon way for service men and women and their families. There are also ACWA individuals who provide wagons and fare for the Wounded Warriors Program. Others take wagons or Dutch ovens to schools and provide school children with a living history demonstration. Members participate in various museum functions, parades and cowboy days. Association members recognize that youth are our future and support numerous activities directly involving young people, even including them in their cooking crews at cook offs. Another way they involve and educate youth is with demonstrations where host wagons share their camps with students, telling them the history of the chuck wagon and trail drives. The ACWA offers a scholarship to selected individuals each year and they honor a young cook with the Rookie of the Year award.
On Memorial Day weekend 2009, thousands of people lined the streets of Santa Fe, New Mexico, waiting for a first glimpse of its New Mexico History Museum. A 96,000 square-foot building, the museum significantly expanded New Mexico’s ability to share stories that made the American West. The museum’s main exhibit, Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now, attempts to do that by sweeping across five centuries, telling tales that include a rich cache of information about cowboys, trail riders, and outlaws.
On April 14, 2013, a new exhibit, Cowboys Real and Imagined, opened. The exhibit impresses upon visitors the myriad details of what was (and is) a dangerous and often low-paying job. It begins with the Spanish Vaqueros and the introduction of horse culture to the American Southwest, and carries them through the role cowboys played in healing our divided nation after the Civil War. Cowboys Real and Imagined includes rare archival footage, oral histories, musical performances, and a programming series that includes screenings of classic western movies filmed in New Mexico. The exhibit anchors the cowboy story in the Land of Enchantment, a place that helped give birth to the real thing. The goal is to capture and convey the many images of the cowboy—from itinerant hired hand to outlaw, movie star, rodeo athlete and radio yodeler. It includes cowgirls and cowboys who are Spanish, Mexican, African American, Native American, and Anglo, and in the end, emphasizes that true blue cowboys and cowgirls still ride the open range.
California PRCA legislative consultant, Bob Fox, works closely and continuously with the California Cattlemen’s Association, the Farm Bureau, the California Veterinary Medical Association, the American Quarter Horse Association, the Friends of Rodeo, and other western and rodeo related organizations, to diffuse legislation that would restrict the use of livestock in rodeo, and to provide accurate information that addresses and dispels some of the myths advanced by animal rights activists. He works tirelessly to educate legislators and the public about the welfare of rodeo animals in an effort to promote and protect the sport of rodeo.
Along with other supporters, Fox also represented the National Day of the Cowboy bill in the California Legislature and protected it from unwanted modifications when it went to committee to be considered for permanent passage. After working with other NDOC volunteers to successfully guide California into becoming the second state to pass the NDOC in perpetuity, Fox continues to support the national crusade by promoting display of the NDOC flag at an untold number of rodeos and western related events in California and Nevada, including the California State Fair Rodeo. He often arranges to have rodeo royalty carry the NDOC flag at major rodeos and he provides NDOC details to rodeo announcers around the country in the form of scripts to be shared with the public. Fox also enlisted a campaign volunteer in Nevada, providing him with pertinent NDOC information, in order to secure a proclamation from the Governor of Nevada in 2012. Bob Fox goes out of his way to ensure the NDOC receives photos of the flag flying or being presented at these rodeos and that the NDOC organization receives positive publicity in quality publications such as Pro Rodeo Sports News, thus helping others to learn about the campaign and furthering the NDOC mission to preserve pioneer heritage and promote cowboy culture.
The late Mary Ann Dyer Goodnight, was fourteen when her family left Madison County, Tennessee, and moved to Texas. After her parents died, she worked as a schoolteacher and raised her five brothers. In 1870, at age 31, she married legendary Texas rancher, Charles Goodnight. In 1876 the Goodnights and another couple established the vast JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle, still the oldest ranch enterprise in the Panhandle. When the other couple left the area, Mary Goodnight (Molly) became the only woman on the ranch, which occupied the entire Palo Duro Canyon (1,500 feet deep, 10 miles across, and nearly 100 miles long).
As surrogate mother, sister, friend, homemaker, and nurse to the area’s cowboys, Mary Ann Goodnight soon became known as “Mother of the Panhandle.” Experiencing long periods with little companionship, Molly’s life centered on the traditional chores of ranch life, however, her interests quickly extended to protecting baby buffalo left to die after commercial hunters ravaged the Plains herd. Through rescuing and raising orphaned buffalo, Mrs. Goodnight helped establish the Goodnight buffalo herd, which became well known throughout the world. Goodnight devoted herself to saving baby buffalo of the southern herd of bison. She is credited with saving the herd from extinction and her orphaned buffalo produced the Goodnight buffalo herd. Today, the State of Texas owns the descendants of the Goodnight’s rescued animals and cares for them at CaprockCanyonState Park. In September 2011, 80 descendants of that great southern plains bison herd were released to roam an initial 700 acres of grasslands in the park, where from a safe distance, visitors can see these indigenous animals in their native habitat. These bison are the only vestige of a herd that once numbered an incredible 3.5 – 4 million strong. Now, as the official Texas State Bison Herd, they are being restored to their native habitat, fulfilling Mary Ann and Charles Goodnight’s vision of saving this herd of pure Southern Plains bison from certain extinction.
The artist image chosen for the 2013 Cowboy Keeper Award is “Weathered Wheels,” the work of gifted watercolor and acrylic Canadian artist and author, Val Moker. Phil Spangenberger, R.J. Vandygriff, Bob Fox, the American Chuck Wagon Association, the New Mexico History Museum, and the late Mary Ann Goodnight, are the outstanding recipients of the National Day of the Cowboy’s 2013 Cowboy Keeper Award. All six honorees have demonstrated a heartfelt, effective commitment to the preservation of pioneer heritage and cowboy culture. The National Day of the Cowboy tips its hat to each of these highly deserving recipients.