By Jessica Crabtree
Every fourth weekend in October, cowboys, their families, poets, their families and overall western lifestyle lovers forge the trail to Fort Worth to the historic Stockyards for the annual Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering. For 27 years, Red Steagall and his associates have been hosting a three-day event to showcase the cowboy way of life at its finest. This includes poetry, youth contests, chuck wagon cooking contests, a three-day ranch rodeo, a wagon train, trade show, live western swing music and much more. The event is attended by as many as 40,000 people annually. Known as one of the largest cowboy gatherings, fans travel from all over the world to attend.
The event was created 28 years ago when Jaylynn Burkett and John South approached Steagall with an idea. Both worked for the Ag Extension Service at the time and wondered if Steagall would get involved with a cowboy gathering held in the historic Stockyards of Fort Worth. Other than being a fan of the western way of life through agriculture and country music, why would Steagall want to be involved you ask. Steagall answered by saying, “In 1985 the whole world of country music fell apart and took a different direction. As I like to say, that was the year, ‘Sad songs and waltzes quit selling.”‘
That same year Steagall searched for a new platform to present his music, which led him to attending the first annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev. “I fell in love with the people and the art form,” Steagall admitted. At this time, he’d written and recorded nearly 200 songs; however, the singer/songwriter was hesitant to write poetry, afraid it would take away from his creative time to write songs. Steagall started writing poetry and did not write a single song for five years. In turn, he traveled to various cowboy gatherings and western swing festivals sharing his talents. So when Jaylynn and John came up with the idea for a Fort Worth cowboy gathering, Steagall immediately felt that the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards would be the obvious place for the best cowboy gathering in the country, and he considered it an honor for the event to bear his name.
Along with the help of Jaylynn, John and Don Edwards, sponsors were contacted, locations were secured, and the Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering and Western Swing Festival was off and running. The chuck wagons competed on the lawns of the Cowtown Coliseum and Livestock Exchange Building. The first two years the dances were held in Billy Bob’s Texas and the poetry sessions were held in the exhibit building across from the coliseum. Twelve teams competed in the ranch rodeo. The first event kicked off with one obstacle: rain. “The rain started on Friday and by Sunday evening we had gotten 11 inches. Every time the cooks started to build a fire, it would rain and extinguish it. There were open fronts on a couple of buildings on the east side of Rodeo Plaza. We were able to build fires under the roof and the cooks completed the competition.”
Very little has changed in the past 26 years. The fundamentals are the same, including the date and location. As Steagall said, “We have and will always present a real western experience, one you can come to and step back in time 100 years. You will get a sense of heritage and spirit as well as meet liked-minded people who love the western lifestyle.” On top of it all, the Cowboy Gathering is a family event, something for all ages to enjoy.
To read more pick up a copy of the October 2017 NTFR issue. To subscribe call 940-872-5922.
This year’s dates are October 27th, 28th and 29th. For directions, event schedules, and visitor information and to purchase tickets visit www. redsteagallcowboygathering.com. Note—buying tickets early saves you money, and you better get them while you can. This event is a Texas-sized, authentic showing of all things cowboy no one should miss.