By MEL RHODES
Fort Worth has long been called "Cowtown," and for good reason. Between 1866 and 1890, drovers trailed some four million head of cattle through the burgeoning city on the rolling hills of the Grand Prairie. And when the railroad arrived in 1876, Fort Worth became a major livestock shipping point for Texas cattle destined for the beef-hungry masses in northern markets.
So it follows that Fort Worth is still home to cowboy/western themed organizations and celebrations. One such event is slated for Friday, July 26, at 7 p.m., at the Worthington Renaissance Hotel in downtown Fort Worth.
The National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum plans that night to honor 10 2012-2013 Hall of Fame inductees, some living, some passed. According to the museum, "eight legendary Cowboys and two Cowgirls" will be inducted during the ceremony and banquet.
"We are honored to be able to recognize the contributions of these living legends and pay tribute to those who have passed on for their dedication to the preservation of our western heritage and culture," said NMWHM Co-founder Jim Austin. "We have an amazing weekend of events planned, and we really want to encourage everyone in the community to bring their families out and be part of this historic celebration," he added.
Considering Palo Pinto County's storied past, steeped in famous cattlemen and trail-drive lore, this might be an interesting outing for many in the "Cradle of the Texas Cowboy" area.
As alluded to earlier, this is not just a "feed" and induction, but the beginning of a weekend of events associated with the ninth annual National Day of the American Cowboy, Saturday, July 27.
"The NMWHM and Hall of Fame is dedicated to honoring the men and women who have made exemplary contributions to the history and preservation of western culture past and present," NMWHM Co-founder and Executive Director Gloria Reed Austin stated in a press release.
According to the release, "Additional weekend highlights include a Benefit Concert featuring vocalist Avery Sunshine, George Huff, Aquile and comedian Kenn Coxx; free Western Heritage Symposium; a Living History presentation - 'An Evening with Wild Bill Hickcok,' featuring television veteran Walt Willey in a one-man show; Zydeco Music Festival; and Hall of Fame Rodeo!"
If you feel like "cowboying up" next week, costs for the western do are $150 for individuals and corporate tables starting at $2,500. Costs for weekend events are listed at the bottom of this article.
Following are short biographies of this year's inductees:
LAWRENCE HOMER COFFEE
Lawrence Homer Coffee broke the color barrier in the rodeo profession with a horse and "two wraps and a hooey" which is cowboy talk for a half-hitch knot. In the late '50s, early '60s, segregation was wide spread – from restaurants, to restrooms and the rodeo arena. Stepping out on faith, Lawrence, "Big Buckle" as he was known on the CB Radio, along with friends, took on the issue of race and rodeos one Texas arena at a time.
Lawrence went on to compete in calf-roping; team roping; and ribbon roping. He roped in open rodeos from 1967-1998; competed in the Texas Senior Pro Rodeo Association 1985-1995; competed in the National Senior Pro Rodeo Association 1996-1998. Lawrence won such titles as; Texas Sr. Pro Rodeo Champion 1986,1988, 1989, 1995, (tie down; breakaway and ribbon roping), National Senior Pro Rodeo Champion 1996 Reserve Tie Down Calf Roper and World Champion Ribbon Roper; 1997 World Champion Tie Down and Ribbon Roper 1998 Reserve Champion Tie Down and World Champion Ribbon Roper. Other qualifications included National Senior Pro Rodeo Association 1996 and 1997 in team roping.
Lawrence resides in Blanco County, Texas, where he was born and raised. He has had movie appearances, such as "All The Pretty Horses," 2000, starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz. His life story, including narrative and photographs, has been featured as an exhibit in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "The Amazing Faith of Texas," by Roy Spence, 2006, featured Mr. Coffee, as well as multiple articles in the Austin American Statesman. He continues to work as a farrier, breeder and trainer. He is married to Patricia Coffee. Lawrence has two daughters Sharon Coffee Baxter, a lawyer and professor, and Vicky Coffee Fletcher, licensed professional counselor. If you're looking for Deacon Coffee you can always find him at Mount Horeb Baptist Church, founded in 1874 by his forefathers, with a song on his heart and praise on his lips, sharing the word of God.
MOLLIE TAYLOR STEVENSON JR.
Mollie Taylor Stevenson Jr. is a native Houston, Texas rancher, cowgirl and historian. She is the daughter of deceased Mollie Taylor Stevenson Sr., a Fisk graduate, and Ben Stevenson, 1930s Tuskegee University football legend.
Stevenson is a 1963 graduate of Jack Yates High School and attended Texas Southern University as a business major from 1963-1967.
She spent 15 years as a professional model in Houston, New York and Kansas City, Mo. before she returned to Houston to live on the family owned,150-year-old working ranch (where she was raised). It is one of the oldest black-owned ranches in the United States.
Stevenson's great-grandmother, Ann Taylor, was purchased as a slave for E.R. Taylor, (the white son of a major land baron). Together they had six children who inherited the land that the family currently owns.
Today, Stevenson and three of her siblings live on the premises. One other sister, Barbara Marshall, a retired college professor, lives near the ranch property. The youngest sibling, deceased, Major Stevenson, was a long-time esteemed master educator and historian. Stevenson is married to Elicious Scott, whom she met on a trail ride in 1993 and married one year later in a historic western-African wedding on the ranch grounds. Her hobbies are entertaining, cooking and craft making.
In 1988, Stevenson assisted her mother in establishing The American Cowboy Museum in Houston, Texas. The mission of this museum is to preserve the multicultural history of the west. Thanks to Stevenson, thousands of visitors and school children have learned about contributions of African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and women's history and culture of the West. The museum conducts heritage tours, picnics, a Historical Traveling Exhibit with oral presenters and a petting zoo.
Stevenson and her mother are the first living African-Americans inducted in The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth. She is a member of the Diamond "L" Riding and Roping Club, volunteers for the Black Land Owner's Association, FFA and 4-H Clubs. She has appeared in numerous radio, television and newspaper interviews, and has been featured as a woman in a nontraditional occupation in such magazines as Texas Highway, Ebony, Essence and others.
Fred Whitfield was born Aug. 5, 1967. Growing up in Cypress, Texas, he joined the PRCA in 1990. That same year he qualified for his first National Finals Rodeo and won the Resistol Rookie of the Year award. In 1991, he broke the NFR average record roping 10 head in 91.70 seconds en route to his first world championship in calf roping.
Six years later in 1997, he again broke his own NFR average record roping 10 head in 84 seconds, which has stood for 21 consecutive years through 2011 and is considered one of the greatest performances in the history of the NFR.
In 1999, Whitfield won rodeo's most prestigious award, the All-Around World Title along with the calf roping title. He became the first African-American to win the all-around title in the history of the PRCA. He also finished the season winning the Texas Circuit All-Around and calf roping title.
Always cool under pressure, Whitfield has made a name for himself in Pro Rodeo by consistently coming through in clutch situations. His signature “raise the roof” salute caught on with fans across the country who have now grown accustomed to his dramatic victories. Befitting a cowboy of his stature, Whitfield has won titles at virtually every major rodeo, including four NFR average crowns. In July 2011, Whitfield became the third cowboy in PRCA history to cross the $3 million mark in career earnings. He surpassed the mark at the 115th edition of the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days Rodeo. He continues to compete in the rodeo arena at a championship level and credits much of his success to his horses – Moon, Reno, Ernie, Gator and Jewels.
Fred resides in Hockley, Texas, with his wife, Cassie, and two daughters, Savannah and Sydney, who like their father are following their heart and competitive nature in sports.
Other Awards: Inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, 2003; inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colo., 2004; inducted into the Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame and honored into the National Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Okla., 2005.
JAMES BUTLER “WILD BILL” HICKOK (POSTHUMOUS INDUCTION)
James Butler Hickok, also known as "Wild Bill,” Hickok is remembered for his services in Kansas as Sheriff of Hays City and Marshal of Abilene, where his iron-handed rule helped tame two of the most lawless towns on the frontier. He is also remembered for the cards he was holding when he was shot dead – a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights – since known as the dead man's hand.
Hickok's iconic status is rooted in a shootout in July 1861 in what came to be known as the McCanles Massacre in Rock Creek, Neb. The incident began when David McCanles, his brother, William, and several farmhands came to the station demanding payment for a property that had been bought from him. Hickok, just a stable-hand at the time, killed three men, despite being severely injured. The story quickly became newspaper and magazine fodder. Perhaps most famously, Harper's New Monthly Magazine printed an account of the story in 1867, claiming Hickok had killed 10 men. In July of 1865, in Springfield, Missouri's town square, Hickok killed Davis Tutt, an old friend who – after personal grudges escalated – became an enemy. The two men faced each other sideways for a "quick draw" duel, where each quickly turned and drew their weapons before firing. Hickok was the first to draw his weapon, and shot Tutt instantly, at a close range.
Hickok himself did little to diminish the attention. His legend only grew further when other stories about his fighting prowess surfaced. One story claimed he killed a bear with his bare hands and a bowie knife.
The Harper's piece also told the story of how Hickok had pointed to a letter "O" that was "no bigger than a man's heart." Standing some 50 yards away from his subject, Hickok "without sighting his pistol and with his eye" rang off six shots, each of them hitting the direct center of the letter. Press reports increased after he was romantically linked to Martha Jane, also known as "Calamity Jane," who'd become famous for her riding and shooting skills. Hickok's national reputation as the West's finest and fastest gunslinger soon led him to the stage. He starred as himself in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show in 1872 and 1873. But the frontier called to him, and Hickok returned. During a heated poker game in 1876 in Deadwood, SD, he was shot and killed by Jack McCall, whose motives for the murder were never revealed.
McCall was convicted for murder and hanged.
WOODROW WILSON WOOLWINE “WOODY” STRODE (POSTHUMOUS INDUCTION)
Woodrow Wilson Woolwine "Woody" Strode, born in Los Angeles, Calif., July 25, 1914. Strode was the son of a Creek-Blackfoot-black father and a black-Cherokee mother. Woody was a decathlete and football star who went on to become a pioneering African-American film actor.
He served in the US Army during World War II. In 1946, Strode signed with the Los Angeles Rams, thus (along with two others) integrating professional football (National Football League) in the United States. After leaving football, he made his film debut in "Sundown" in 1941 and later appeared as the king of Ethiopia in "The Ten Commandments" (1956). He also gave a memorable performance in Sergio Leone’s "Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968) as a gunslinger and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."
He was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Spartacus" in 1960. He remained a visible character actor throughout the '70s and '80s in such films as Scream (1981), and has become widely regarded (along with Sidney Poitier and Brock Peters) as one of the most important black film actors of his time. His last film "The Quick and the Dead" (1995) with Gene Hackman and Sharon Stone, was released after his death.
"Black Rodeo" is a 1972 documentary by filmmaker Jeff Kanew that captured the events surrounding the first-time performance of an all African-American rodeo in Harlem, New York City. The documentary depicts that the people who attended the rodeo were awed to find African-American men and women actively involved in skills like bronc riding, calf roping and brahma bull riding. Actor Woody Strode attended the rodeo and appears in the film as its narrator. He imparts a number of stories that show the participation of blacks in the development of the American Old West.
Strode’s first wife was Princess Luukialuana Kalaeloa (aka Luana Strode), a descendant of Liliuokalani, (the last queen of Hawaii). They were married until her death in 1980 (almost forty years). In 1982, he wed Tina Tompson, and they remained married until his death Dec. 31, 1994. Strode was a dedicated martial artist under the direction of Frank Landers in the art of SeishinDo Kenpo.
FLOYD “BUCK” WYATT (POSTHUMOUS INDUCTION)
Floyd “Buck” Wyatt was born in Hendrix, Okla., to Walter and Rebecca Wyatt. He was number nine of a family of seven boys and eight girls. He was also a professional rodeo cowboy, livestock owner, entrepreneur and homeowner.
Wyatt began “rodeoing” in the early 1930s. As a professional rodeo performer, of the mid 1930s through mid-1950s, he was one of a handful of African-American Cowboys who performed professionally on the rodeo circuit. He specialized in Bull Riding and Bronc Riding. He is noted for originating the "Knee-Jerking" technique of riding which is still used in present-day rodeos. Wyatt won the Brahma bull riding championship at rodeos in Ellensburg, Wash., in 1941 and in Lewiston, Idaho, in 1946.
Additionally, he won the bareback (bronc) riding title at the rodeo in Reno, Nev., in 1949. Buck Wyatt won the World’s Championship (based on yearly cash winnings) three times in bareback bronco-busting and in Brahma bull-riding. During his rodeo days, there was no television to give early professional rodeo cowboys publicity or exposure, and only the throngs of people who saw them in action would remember them. These cowboys had no role models or mentors for them to follow. Only their undying love of the sport kept them competing.
Nevertheless, they left a legacy as the pioneers and veterans who paved the way for all of the future Black Professional Cowboys of America who followed.
After retiring from the rodeo circuit in San Bernardino, Calif., Wyatt operated a horse-riding academy where he trained and owned horses and gave riding lessons. He attended a reunion in 1986 for Veteran Cowboys held in Las Vegas, Nev., where he received the coveted and well-earned Professional Rodeo Cowboys of America Gold Card. Floyd “Buck” Taylor died Nov. 11, 1997. His wife Madelyn (Montgomery) Wyatt currently resides in Omaha, Neb., with one of her daughters.
WEEKEND EVENT SCHEDULE
THURSDAY, JULY 25, 2013
Celebrity Benefit Concert & Comedy Show - 8:30 PM
Featuring Avery Sunshine, George Huff, Aquile, Kenn Coxx)
Vee Lounge Restaurant and Bar
500 Taylor Street
Fort Worth, TX 76102
TICKETS: $45 General Admission; $75 VIP Tickets
FRIDAY, JULY 26, 2013
Hall of Fame Induction and Banquet – 7 p.m.
Worthington Renaissance Fort Worth Hotel
200 Main Street
Fort Worth, TX 76102
CORPORATE TABLES: $2500+
SATURDAY, JULY 27, 2013
Western Heritage Symposium – 8 a.m.-12 Noon
National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum
3400 Mount Vernon Avenue
Fort Worth, TX 76103
FREE ADMISSION – CALL (817) 534-8801 TO RSVP
SATURDAY, JULY 27, 2013
Living History Presentation – “Wild Bill Hickok” One-Man Show
Starring "All My Children's" Walt Willey - 1 p.m. (Doors open at 12 Noon)
River Ranch – Fort Worth Stockyards
500 NE 23rd Street
Fort Worth, Texas 76164
TICKETS: $25-Gen. Adm. $50-VIP Tickets (Meet & Greet Walt Willey after show)
SATURDAY, JULY 27, 2013
Zydeco Music Festival
Featuring Step Rideau & the Zydeco Outlaws and more
Gates Open at 4 p.m. - Music Starts at 5 PM
River Ranch – Fort Worth Stockyards
500 NE 23rd Street
Fort Worth, Texas 76164
TICKETS: $25-General Admission $45-VIP
Children Under 12 admitted free with adult general admission ticket purchase
SUNDAY, JULY 28, 2013
NMWHM Hall of Fame Rodeo
Doors Open @ 6 p.m. - Rodeo Begins at 7 p.m.
Cowtown Coliseum – Fort Worth Stockyards
121 E. Exchange Avenue
Fort Worth, TX 76164
TICKETS: $30 Box Seats; $25 Adult General Admission, $12 Children General Admission