Trail Rides and When Flags Fly

Posted on 06 February 2018

The Mesquite Trail Riders on their way to the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo passed by Audrey's place yesterday. Every year we hear the dogs wildly bark around mid-morning, and we go out to wave at the riders and wagons. It brings back lots or "rememories" of our family and trail riding.

My first memory of trail riding is from when I was very young. I remember it in little clips and flashes of time. The first clip is easy. It is me in a new straw hat and ruffled western shirt. My grandmother made two identical shirts - one for me and one for Hedy. The reason it is easy for me to remember is that its the image I have always used for my Facebook profile.

The next clip is of my dad with a scraggly beard. He was the "trail boss" that year, and I guess really got into "roughing it." Another is of my Aunt Marsha, Dad's sister. I see her looking beautiful, like Liz Taylor beautiful, in a lavender cowgirl suit, floral blouse and matching lavender felt hat. She is crying because she didn't win "Trail Ride Queen" or "Rodeo Queen" - a competition of some sort that is now lost to memory. I can still hear Dad consoling her,

Well, you were the prettiest one out there - the other girl just won because of her horsemanship.

And finally, I remember my little pony "Flicka" being tethered to Dad's saddle horn. Somehow Flicka got spooked and bolted. Dad came galloping up and rescued me.

Jump forward 30 years and the family is all together on another trail ride. This time on the grand-daddy of them all, the Salt Grass Trail Ride. We were the guests of one of the founding families. Travis Marks' father had founded the ride back in 1952, and he and his beautiful wife, Linda, had generously extended an invitation to ride with their wagon.

A little history of the Salt Grass Trail Ride - it is the largest organized ride that boasts over 2000 riders and 90 wagons. It starts in Wittenburg's Pasture in Cat Springs, Texas and culminates in Houston at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. The Saltgrass Steakhouse is named after the ride and features old photos and memorabilia as part of the restaurant decor.

CREDIT: "Cooking on the trail during the first Salt Grass Trail Ride in 1952 (left to right): John Warnasch, E. H. Marks, Pat Flaherty, and Reese Lockett." Photo by Atha Marks Dimon, for "The History of the Salt Grass Trail Ride," a Texas Local Legacies project. 

So back in 1994, the McMullens showed up to Wittenburg's pasture ready to ride. Dad had been wrangling horses and tack for weeks and was so excited, but was two mounts short. Not a problem for him, he just loaded up a couple of his old racehorses. I guess he reasoned they would make decent mounts for the ride.

So Dad was ready to get out of town, ride the trail, sleep by the campfire and all that good stuff cowboy songs are made of. I, on the other hand, was ready for a fashion show. Remember, to me, trail rides and fashion naturally go together - remember Aunt Marsha's lavender cowgirl suit. If Dad was excited about wrangling up everyone's mounts, I was equally excited about arranging everyone's outfits!

I went all out. We had just introduced the Scout Jacket, so it was a no-brainer - black for Audrey, red for me. Hedy would wear a fabulous deerskin with fringe. Then the accessories, because, hey, they are the most fun thing of any outfit. I grabbed vintage chaps from the DDR archive, old hats, and worn-in boots. We looked splendid - or at least I thought we did. I'm sure the old cowboys on the ride thought we looked like we just popped the "drug-store"!

On the Salt Grass, tradition has it that when you enter a town, you make a big splash of it. That means to bring out the flags and the color guard brigade. Since we were guests, Audrey and I had been offered the opportunity to carry the flags as the riders passed through the town of Bellville. Knowing this well in advance, I had our outfits coordinated and planned out. I had imaged us with our Scout fringe flying, bandanas flapping, and flags waving as we stylishly rode into town. We would wave like Miss Rodeo America and look so very authentic in our DDR.

Ah, yes...

What actually went down ended up something more like this: Audrey and I were given flag holster contraptions that somehow connected to our saddles. The flagpole went through the holster and was steadied with our free hand. So Audrey and I maneuvered our horses to the front of the line and started into town, I was proud as a peach that my fringe was flying, and my bandana was flapping, and our flags were waving...wait, the flag was waving too much! What? What the heck?!

Above our heads was the local news station helicopter. It was hovering too low above our heads, and it spooked the horses like the devil. Remember those old racehorses? Around and around one spun and let me just say when your horse starts to "rodeo," the last thing you want is to be tangled up in is a flag. And just like the first trail ride I ever went on, my last one ended up the same way. Dad to the rescue.

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1 comment

  • Chris Barton: February 17, 2018

    Loved your story of the trail rides – bet you gals turned some heads! I still have the deerskin jkt that Hedy wore & a deerskin vest that I think was hand-painted & blanket-stitched – don’t know if it was produced as I bought it in your sample room at market – your Dad was wheelin & dealin in there & serving up chili & margaritas in the showroom!

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