Friday, January 2, 2009

"Cowboy Capital of the World"

One of my mental pictures of Texas was that it was filled with large cattle ranches. I'd heard of the King Ranch, which at 1289 square miles and covering parts of six counties in southern Texas, was larger than the state of Rhode Island (1214 square miles).

So we expected that a short trip to Bandera, "Cowboy Capital of the World," would lead us to some of these ranches. It seems that this title was given to Bandera in the 1920s and 30s by San Antonians who wanted to escape the heat of the summer and travel to what became known as "dude ranches" in the Hill Country.

On the way to Bandera, we passed rural scenes like this one and several ranches that had elaborate signs and entrances. Almost all had long driveways leading over the horizon.

I liked the Menagerie Ranch because it had a windmill near its entrance. Ranches and windmills seemed to be essential pairings for my idealized image of the West.

Arriving at Bandera, with a population of fewer than 1000, we found what seemed to be three towns in one. The Bandera County Courthouse, built in 1890, served as the keystone for the three towns--the Bandera of today, the Bandera of yesteryear, and the imagined Bandera.

We began by walking around a part of town that looked like something from a movie set. There was Judge Roy Bean's office and across the street was a building that looked like it had been a saloon in an imagined time.

The hitching post and windmill only added to my concept of a town out of the old West.

The Bandera General Store (formerly the Lee Risinger Store) provided a connection between the past and present. It was built in the late 1800s and has served as a movie theater, a dance hall, and a furniture store over the years.

All I had to see were the words "Soda Fountain" above the entrance to the General Store to know that I had to grab a stool and enjoy a cold drink.

Sitting at the counter with a lemonade provided an opportunity to imagine what it was like in Bandera 100+ years ago.

Next door was the Silver Dollar, the oldest continuously operating honkytonk in Texas.

To go or not to go.

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