story by: Roger Edison
The Academy of Western Artist gathered on February 2, 2013 for their annual Awards banquet recognizing the special achievement of various different western artist. One of the Award categories, is the Garnet Brooks Chuck Wagon Award which was presented to Shirley Richardson, of Bryson, Texas as the 2012 Chuck Wagon of the Year recipient.
The Academy of Western Artists "Will Rogers Cowboy Awards" came about in 1996, when western publisher, Bobby Newton, decided there needed to be some kind of recognition for the performers and artisans who were taking the contemporary cowboy and western movement to new and exciting heights.
A small non-profit group, the AWA consist of dedicated members and supporters who promote a greater visibility to the contemporary western artists who are working to make their art better and to also bring in more new artisans who stretch the boundaries to new levels. Selection of Awardees is through using a highly qualified blind jury that reviews each nominee for their body of work over-all and not for just one particular piece; Their standing within their peer community by promoting their form of art and working with others to improve their art; plus the quality of their work.
In additional to recognizing the Chuck Wagon of the Year Award, the AWA also recognizes the art of western heritage, which includes media, Cowboy Poetry, Western Music, Western Swing, Pure Country, Special achievements and Trappings which include saddle and leather work, braiding, spur and silversmiths, Hitchers, Boot making, and works of various Art mediums.
The Chuck Wagon Award, named in honor of Garnet Brooks who first conceived an idea for a special event decades now past with the Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Museum. The event was a cowboy gathering where Mr. Brooks felt the heritage of the chuckwagon was worthy to promote the heritage of the American Cowboy that became the annual Chuck wagon Gathering and Children's Cowboy Festival in Oklahoma City. Mr. Brooks, devoted his life to cattle ranching, farming, curating history and chuck wagons were one of his life's passions.
The chuck wagon has long been the home on the range for the cowboys and vaqueros who worked the trail drives so long ago. It was used to store all the gear needed for the trail. Everything from bedrolls to personal needs, gear to mend saddles or a pair of boots, equipment for shoeing horses too making repairs to the wagon. The ole cooks also performed the role as dentist, doctor or barber besides just cooking of the three square meals each day and enough rations carried to finish the drive. Water kept in an old wood barrel that provided enough drinking water to get from one watering hole to the next.
Today, many wagons are still highly relied on during round up season keeping the cowboys well fed. Some chuck wagon are also used for ranch catering, Chuck wagon cooking competitions and even racing. It is an honorable victory to be proud of winning cooking competitions or racing, but the most prestigious award for a chuck wagon to receive is the AWA (Academy of Western Artist) Garnet Brooks Chuck Wagon Award.
Representing the AWA, Wayne Mitchell presented the award to Shirley Richardson who had many family members present witnessing the ceremony. Family members included her daughter Christa Loftis, son-in law Thomas Loftis, granddaughter Rebeckah and great-granddaughter Lynzy along with nephew John McKee and his wife Renea.
Shirley's chuck wagon heritage dates to the turn of the twentieth century. Her grandfather, Carol Dodds was the ranch cook at the infamous Matador Land and Cattle Company that was founded by Texas cattleman, Henry H. (Hank) Campbell who took a herd of longhorn cattle to Chicago and sold them for a handsome profit in 1878. In, 1904, Carol Dodds wife, Lemmie gave birth to Shirley's mother, Lena while Carol was the cookie at the ranch. In 1906, Carol moved the family to Stephens County, Texas where Shirley was born in 1937 to Lena River Dodds McKee and Isaac McKee.
Shirley is co-owner of the Bryson Trading Post and a founding member of the American Chuck Wagon Association. Reflecting on her first chuck wagon competition, it began when a friend wanted to use their wagon. "We would go along to help with the set up of the wagon," states Shirley. As she was assisting her late husband Elmer and a friend load the wagon on a trailer to take to the event, she smashed her thumb in the process, declaring, "I will never do this again." Although, able to cook as well as their friend using the wagon, she questioned, "Where's the next cook-off" and "Ruidoso, New Mexico, here we come."
Renown Cowboy and coach builder, John Wolf who has also received the AWA - Garnet Brooks Chuck Wagon Award was one of the Shirley's first judges she faced. "We placed second with our wagon and first in beans and then it was off to the Red Steagall’s Cowboy
Gathering in Fort Worth. We didn’t know about his limit of wagons. However, we made it and placed in the desserts with our cobbler and had to face two more judges" as Shirley recalls. This past year, was Shirley's 22nd year to be part of the Red Steagall's Cowboy Gathering cook-off held each October.
"In the past, I favored Peter Schuttler wagons; now we show with John Deere Wagons," states Shirley who had competed for 20 years using Ponderosa Mule Ranch, but two years ago starting using the M-R. My late husband has perform wagon judging and I have also done many static displays" comments Shirley.
In 1987, Shirley was a founding member of the Western Heritage Wagon Train Association and their first secretary. She had also been invited twice too Washington D.C. as part of (Take Pride in America) promoting stewardship and educational awareness in schools using the chuck wagon to gain the interest of students.
Ten years later, 1997 Shirley became the first secretary with the newly formed American Chuck Wagon Association who's mission is to preserve the heritage of the chuck wagon and its use in the short, but significant, era of the cattle drives. The ACWA has expanded it's growth into 31 states and internationally into Canada, Germany and Switzerland since it's beginnings. Shirley's first job as the new secretary along with the appointed officers and directors was helped establish the groups by-laws.
Participating at many different competition over the years, Shirley has received numerous awards for her cooking, although, not all chuck wagon gatherings have been for competition where she has often used their wagon for education purposes or with cowboy churches. Additionally, she has participated with the Cowboy's for Hero's founded by Aubrey Lenamon, of Cowboys for Christ. The event is privately held for military service personal and their families through the Wounded Warriors Program held each spring at Fort Sam Houston Army Base.
Today, Shirley continues to compete at the Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering and has also chair the Youth Cook-off for the last 8 consecutive years. The youth division, ages 8 years old to 18 years of age allows many young folks a great opportunity to hone their culinary skills cooking just like the adults using authentic old west tools in addition to having fun and competing head to head against their peers. Shirley's untiring contribution has not only benefited the many youth who have participated in the events, but has allowed Shirley to witness her utmost influence of western heritage past on through generations as her children, grand children and great grand children have competed at the Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering.
When asked about receiving this award, Shirley modestly replied, "I am wealthy to have had this great opportunity to be friends with so many that have receive this award before me and all those I have come to meet. I have receive so much support from my family whether I share a passion or madness for the chuck wagon which I proudly try to do my part keeping the western heritage alive."
Past winners of the Garnet Brooks Chuck Wagon Award include, Kent Rollins 1996, Glenn Moreland 1997, Les and Lyda Darsey 1998, Bob Drake 1999, ( C - C ) Ken and Sue Cunningham and Jean Cates 2000, Henry Jennings 2001, Jerry Slaton 2002, John Wolf 2003, Bill Cauble 2004, Jerry Baird 2005, Bob and Nancy Sparks 2007, James and Shirley Stuart 2008, Cliff Teinert 2009, Don and Shirley Creacy 2010
Story by Roger Edison
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